The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

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I finished this book a few hours ago and I’ve been sitting here for over an hour, theoretically to write the review, but instead I’ve been scrolling through Twitter, reading blog posts, deleting categories and tags I haven’t used in forever, and generally just procrastinating. So, you know, this may not make sense, but just roll with me.

The Intuitionist (which for DAYS I mistakenly kept thinking of as The Institutionist, because apparently I didn’t look at the title very closely and just assumed) takes place in an earlier New York City, a city full of tall buildings that use vertical transportation, i.e., elevators. Racial integration is a hot topic, and black people are referred to as “colored” (or worse). The book surrounds Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector, and the story takes off when a high-profile elevator that she inspected just days before fails and crashes. She is of the “Intuition” school of elevator inspecting – that is, she rides the elevator and intuits it and its systems to detect problems. The rival school of inspecting is Empiricism, who inspect elevators the traditional ways with tools and physically testing its parts and functions. Lila is being framed for the elevator accident, and she’s on a mission to find out who’s behind it.

The book is about who framed Lila, and the hunt for the “black box” – the idea of the perfect elevator. But within that is an entire work of social commentary on race relations during that time – that time I’m guessing to be something like the 1940’s. You know, back when girl’s legs were “gams” and the Mob was a big thing. The book did a good job balancing mystery with racism and the effects it has. The Intuitionist had a great noir feel, like a black-and-white detective movie. Lila Mae is an great character – a little rigid, but necessarily so, intelligent and quick-thinking and ballsy. The idea of this world where there’s this whole rival elevator-inspectors thing is odd, but it’s what led me to pick up the book and it was an interesting choice.

Overall, it’s not exactly a quick read, even those it’s only about 250 pages. I read 10-20 pages a day initially, and then read the last 150 pages throughout the day today. Some parts definitely picked up the pace and had me hooked, wanting to know what was going on. I want to insert some quotes here, because I really enjoyed Whitehead’s writing, but the best ones are a little spoiler-y, so I won’t. Just know that there’s some great stuff in here. I’m glad I read this… it was good. I don’t think it’ll be a favorite of mine, but I want to read some of Whitehead’s other books (this was his debut novel). And this may turn out to be a book that I come back to thinking about again and again… it’s too early to tell.

 Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler

image” ‘Human beings fear difference,’ Lilith had told him. “Oankali crave difference. Humans persecute their different ones, yet they need them to give themselves definition and status. Oankali seek difference and collect it. They need it to keep themselves from stagnation and overspecialization. If you don’t understand this, you will. You’ll probably find both tendencies surfacing in your own behavior.” And she had put her hand on his hair. ‘When you feel the conflict, try to go the Oankali way. Embrace difference.’ “

Adulthood Rites is book number 2 in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy (review for book 1 is here). Hopefully you’ve read the first book, Dawn, and loved it and now you’re ready for the next book! If not, you really should go read Dawn. It’s good times.

Adulthood Rites picks up years, possibly decades, after the events of Dawn. The humans and Oankali are living on Earth – some humans live in groups with the Oankali, and give birth to half-human, half-Oankali children called constructs. Other humans have refused to live and breed with the Oankali, and live in towns or villages on their own. Humans are infertile unless they choose to breed with the Oankali, and the ones that choose to remain apart feel desperate and resentful. Lilith gives birth to Akin – the first male construct born to a human mother. He is somewhat of a test – more human than any of the other constructs, he will grow up to struggle to find a balance between his human and Oankali natures.

I love Octavia Butler. Akin was a great character – it was especially interesting seeing him exist as a baby, but being able to talk and comprehend almost like an adult. And as a relatively young kid, he has to tackle some major questions. Humanity destroyed the Earth once – do they deserve a second chance? Aside from watching Akin grow up and struggle with who he is, I just really enjoy the aliens that Butler has created here. They GROW space ships. And can screw around with things on a molecular level – heal people, cure diseases, grow exactly the right kind of nutritious food that they need, etc. And it just comes naturally to them! Being an Oankali would be awesome.

“Most Humans lose access to old memories as they acquire new ones. They know how to speak, for instance, but they don’t recall learning to speak. They keep what experience has taught them – usually – but lose the experience itself.”

“They could not exist without symbiotic relationships with other creatures. Yet such relationships frighten them.”

Anyways, this book ends on a pretty exciting note. I already have the third book, Imago, on my Oyster reading list, ready to start any day now.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

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“As I’ve reflected back on both, I realize that my neighborhood was just like The Wire. We had the drug dealing, the police brutality, the murders. Well, it was almost a perfect match. We had everything The Wire had except for the universal critical acclaim and the undying love of white people who saw it.”

I first heard about How to Be Black in a Book Riot post (which seems to be where I find a lot of my book recommendations lately.) I wrote down the name, and then later screwing around on Oyster, saw that it was available! Opened it to take a peek, and ended up reading almost the entire introduction out loud to the honeyman while we waited for our friends to come over.

How to Be Black is not REALLY a how-to guide – it’s kind of a memoir, kind of a satire, very tongue-in-cheek book about what it’s like growing up black, and being black in America. Baratunde Thurston recounts a lot of his own experiences, but also calls upon his so-called Black Panel of contributors to chime in on important issues such as “When Did You First Realize You Were Black?” and “Can You Swim?”. The Black Panel is a great group of black men and black women, and one white guy – just to mix things up a bit.

Were many parts of this laugh-out-loud hysterical? Yes. I cracked up at him referring to Denzel Washington as the “National Black Friend”. But underneath the humor and satire were a lot of critical points about race, privilege, and the dynamics of the world we live in. I basically want to type out all of my favorite passages and quotes here, but I won’t. Partly because I don’t have nearly the time for that, and partly because I don’t want to rob you of the joy (and sometimes the pain) of reading all the best parts yourself.

I think this book is perfect for all of those white people who have reached out to touch a black person’s hair, or who wonder why we don’t have a White History Month. If you know one of these people, shake your head at them and hand them this. You’ll be doing them a favor. And it’s perfect timing – the enhanced Kindle edition is on sale for $1.99 right now. I read this on Oyster, but when I saw it was on sale on Kindle too I grabbed it. I look forward to perusing it again, and lending it out to some people. Humor! Deep thoughts! Race! Social commentary! You definitely want to read it.

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

 

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

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Alright… Ancillary Justice. I felt the buzz about this book before I even really remember hearing concrete things about it, and then when I finally did, those things were good. I can’t resist the idea of an awesome space opera written by a lady, so I grabbed this during a Kindle sale. Here’s the description from Ann Leckie’s website:

“On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.”

I admit it – I was REALLY confused in the beginning. New words and phrases were just kind of thrown out there and it took me a long time to kind of get the flow. I feel like the world-building could have been a tad more clear. Either that, or I’m just the type that really needs things spelled out for me. Also, Justice of Torren/Breq doesn’t understand gender, and I guess Radchaai citizens don’t use gendered pronouns… another cool idea, but I feel like it could have been done differently. It’s a fun concept, but it made trying to picture people in my head confusing and distracting. On the plus side, I guess if you’re going to use all of one pronoun, it’s nice to pick the female pronoun for a change. On the downside, I basically pictured everyone in the book as a lady, whether they were or not. I pictured the Lord of the Radch as Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy, but with books, which I’m sure is 1000% inaccurate.

Besides all of that though, this is a great premise. I really love the idea of an entire ship and it’s “soldiers” or ancillaries being one A.I. consciousness, and then one of the ancillaries splitting. Reading “I watched this kid play out side. On the other side of town, I attended the Lieutenant, and downstairs I was doing repairs”, etc was a fun experience, and something totally new to me in fiction. And I can’t help but cheer for Breq. The best part of reading about an A.I. on a mission? Not so many messy emotions. Sometimes, I really just want my characters to get on with things and not be all emotional and dramatic. But that doesn’t mean that the characters didn’t earn my sympathy or attention. Once I understood the gist of what was happening, I was in it. I felt connected to Breq and her quest.

Soooo book is kind of a mind-fuck, and I might have to go back and re-read a few of the earlier chapters, now that I have a better grasp of the terminology and whatnot, but will definitely be reading the second book. I like it when a book messes with my perception and makes my brain think in ways it’s not used to.

“Thoughts are ephemeral, they evaporate in the moment they occur, unless they are given action and material form. Wishes and intentions, the same. Meaningless, unless they impel you to one choice or another, some deed or course of action, however insignificant. Thoughts that lead to action can be dangerous. Thoughts that do not, mean less than nothing.”

Sarah Says: 4 stars

 

I Mustache You Some Questions… (AKA, I literally cannot resist a survey thing)

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I was tagged by Brandie @ Brandie is a Bookjunkie

Because I have a free minute and zero self-control when it comes to answering questions of any kind…

Four names people call me other than my real name:

  1. babe
  2. Aunt Sarah
  3. “mom” (when Treland is talking as Gabby… which we do a lot.)
  4. …? Listen, my name isn’t very nickname-able.

Four jobs I’ve had:

  1. Standardized Patient
  2. Aging Clerk (dumbest title ever)
  3. Cash Office Manager at A.C. Moore
  4. Assistant Manager at Waldenbooks

Four movies I would/have watched more than once:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Love Actually
  3. Pride & Prejudice (BBC)
  4. The Avengers

Four books I’d recommend:

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  2. The Martian by Andy Weir
  3. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
  4. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Four places I have lived:

  1. My sister’s house
  2. My grandma’s house
  3. My mom’s house
  4. Home with the honeyman

Four places I have been:

  1. Niagara Falls
  2. NYC (YEARS ago)
  3. Pennsylvania (literally just over the border while my friends bought fireworks)
  4. Missouri

Four places I’d rather be right now:

  1. Home
  2. Home
  3. Home
  4. Home

Four things I don’t eat:

  1. Beef
  2. Pork
  3. Cranberry juice
  4. Spicy food.

Four of my favorite foods:

  1. Chicken (in any form but raw)
  2. Potatoes (in any form but raw)
  3. Mom’s baked mac and cheese
  4. Artichokes

Four TV shows that I watch:

  1. The Walking Dead
  2. Cougar Town
  3. The Mindy Project
  4. The Flash (even though I’m like 6 episodes behind)

Four things I am looking forward to this year (2015):

  1. June
  2. Reading
  3. Saving for a house
  4. Working out more

Four things I’m always saying:

  1. “I hate people.”
  2. “What in the actual fuck.”
  3. “This should be the gang.”
  4. “Gabby. Gabby. Gabbygabbygabbygabbygabby…”  (I annoy my cat, I’m sure.)

Four People I Tag:

Lol you guys know how this works. If you wanna do this, please do, and let me know so I can come and see your answers.

~Sarah

Sarah Sunday

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  • I’m not even going to pretend to not just jump right into bullet-points anymore.
  • Less than a week until the honeyman leaves for basic. I’m going to try to get some reviews scheduled for this week (Ancillary Justice, Adulthood Rites, How to Be Black), but I probably won’t be posting or blog-reading a lot. I’ll have all the time in the world for that later.
  • I finally got calendars! Almost three weeks into the new year, lol. It’s been driving me crazy.  The calenders were all still marked 50% off when we went in there. While we were looking around, the guy behind the counter got a call and we heard this “What the fuck? Monday? You know this isn’t a kiosk, it’s a whole damn store… The calendars are still at 50% right now…” And then he walked around telling all the customers that starting immediately, the calendars are 75% off. I got two calendars for $7! The pocket one is for the kitchen (I love sticking bills and stuff in those kinds of calendars), and the elements one is going to be my blogging calendar. Oh, and I got Daniel Jose Older’s new book while we were in the mall. I couldn’t resist.
  • I’ve been using Goodreads lately mainly to keep a running “non-white authors” shelf. If you’re also trying to read more diversely this year, check it out. Basically any time I hear of a non-white author whose works sound interesting, I add a book or a few of theirs to this shelf. If you have any suggestions, let me know, especially for comics.
  • I did a Humble Bundle Image Comics purchase – for about $20, it includes the first volumes of a whole bunch of series, the first 18 issues of Saga, the entire compendium one of The Walking Dead, and a ton more. I’m excited about it… except there’s supposed to be a “send to Kindle” option, and I can’t seem to freaking find it. And I can download them all to the computer and then move them to my Kindle Fire, but the best format for that is apparently MOBI files, which I also can’t see an option for. I messaged their support team, but it’s been over 24 hours… So far, not a super great experience. I guess I can eventually download all the PDFs and read them that way, but what a pain in the ass…
  • Cougar Town is back on! It’s the sixth and final season. I’ll probably just wait till next week to buy the first episodes on Amazon and watch them. I need to re-stock my wine first.
  • I got some awesome books out from the library this weekend, and I’m already super-excited for my February TBR. One of them is The Rosie Effect, and it’s so hard to not just dive into it right now.
  • Soooo, what am I reading right now? FIVE FREAKING BOOKS. I know, that’s ridiculous. I’ll finish How to Be Black today, and probably Deadpool Classic volume 2 too. I’m still listening to Undeniable by Bill Nye on Audible, and yesterday I started PRO by Katha Pollitt and The Institutionist by Colson Whitehead. And all are good so far. Damn.
  • And last update I guess is that I’ve been working out and eating better with the honeyman this week, and that feels nice.

I hope everyone is doing well and having a great weekend. I’ll catch up blog-reading and stuff a lot next week – with the honeyman leaving and me having a ton of stuff to do at work this week in only three days, it’s a bit hectic right now. Le sigh.

~Sarah

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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What do you even say about this??? Many people have written about Brown Girl Dreaming, about how wonderful and beautiful it is. I don’t know that I have anything to add, except that they’re correct. It’s the author’s story of growing up as a young black child during the 60’s & 70’s, first in South Carolina and then in Brooklyn. There’s some heartbreaking moments, and some hopeful ones. There are a lot of mentions about her growing love of telling and writing stories. And most interestingly, it’s written in verse! It’s a cool, unique way of doing a childhood autobiography.

“I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.”

“If someone had taken that book out of my hand said, You’re too old for this maybe I’d never have believed that someone who looked like me could be in the pages of the book that someone who looked like me had a story.”

“Everyone else
has gone away.
And now coming back home
isn’t really coming back home at all.”

I can’t wait to explore more of Jacqueline Woodson’s work, and to put her books into the hands of my niece and nephews. I hope schools embrace it and add it to their reading lists. Brown Girl Dreaming was a treat to read, and I’m glad I have my own copy to page through in the future.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

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Reason to show off my cute fox ornament that I forgot to put away with the other Christmas decorations.

 

Honestly, this is hardly going to be a review. Mr. Fox confused the hell out of me. I had never read Helen Oyeyemi before, but this came in the most recent Book Riot Quarterly box and she seemed well-liked, so I was excited to read it. The premise is that there’s this guy, Mr. Fox, and he keeps killing off the heroines in his novels. His muse, fictional Mary Foxe, comes to life and tries to kind of teach him a lesson. His wife, Daphne, thinks he’s having an affair. And ummmm it becomes a weird love triangle thing? And there are multiple short stories/chapters in which Mr. Fox and Mary Foxe seem to be different characters.

I don’t want to be unfair – I think I’m just glaringly not “getting” something. I was confused through most of the novel, and I think I mostly skimmed the last 30-50 pages because I was just ready to be done. HOWEVER. There was some beautiful writing happening here. I mainly decided to do this review just so that I could single out some of my favorite highlighted lines –

“It was interesting to know that I’d married someone who could cause this much destruction on a hunch. It made me like her more.”

“Miss Foxe liked to be near the flowers, especially in winter, when it was easy to forget that there had ever been such a thing as a flower.”

“And now that he’s gone she’d rather not talk to anyone else. Solitary people, these book lovers.”

“The words didn’t come easily. She put large spaces between some of them for fear they would attack one another.”

“There were days when he touched the tip of her nose and it was enough, a miracle of plenty.”

See? How wonderful are these?? Helen Oyeyemi is clearly a skilled writer, and I enjoyed the short stories in the book on their own… they just confused me as part of the major storyline. I’m going to try more of her work. The Icarus Girl is currently on Oyster, and Boy, Snow, Bird was a pretty popular novel last year and I can probably get it from my library. I think Mr. Fox just maybe wasn’t the right place to start.

Have you read any of Helen Oyeyemi’s novels before? Do you have a favorite?

Sarah Says: 2.5 stars

Watson and Holmes: Volume 1 by Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi

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It’s interesting that I’ve only ever read variations of Sherlock, but nothing actually written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle yet. I read some Disney versions as a kid (featuring mice as the characters, does anyone else remember that??) I just started watching the BBC show featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, which I’m enjoying and will finish in approximately three months, because crap those episodes are long. And as soon as I heard about Watson and Holmes, I added the first volume to my Amazon wist list and it was the first thing in my cart when I used the Amazon gift card I got for Christmas. Here’s the description, because I’m lazy and reasons –

“Collecting the entire first arc of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson re-envisioning as African Americans living in New York City’s famous Harlem district. Watson, an Afghanistan war vet, works in an inner-city clinic; Holmes, a local P.I. who takes unusual cases. When one of them ends up in Watson’s emergency room, the unlikely duo strike up a partnership to find a missing girl. Watson & Holmes bump heads along the way as they enter a labyrinth of drugs, guns, gangs and a conspiracy that goes higher and deeper than they could have imagined.”

This is a GREAT first volume. The case was interesting enough, the mystery was clear and not too complicated for me to follow, and the conclusion of this arc or mystery was a commentary on how black lives are treated in the media, which I loved. It shows what a modern-day, Harlem interpretation can bring to the table in terms of originality and uniqueness, and it’s clearly relevant to current events. Among the duo, the focus is a little more on Watson, and I’m hoping that as the series goes on (and yes, I certainly hope it continues) we’ll find out even more about his time in Afghanistan and his relationship with ex-wife. The art, for me, seemed a tiny bit inconsistent. Some panels I thought were fantastically done, some were… less so. But that’s really my only complaint so far.

Do you like comics with a focus on crime? Try Watson & Holmes. Like comics based on classic literature? Try Watson and Holmes. Like comics with some diversity? Try Watson and Holmes. With the exploding popularity of both comics and the Sherlock stories, Watson and Holmes should be on everyone’s to-read list. I’d like to say that I’m shocked that this hasn’t received more buzz, but given that it’s an all-black cast of characters, I’m jaded enough to say that I’m not surprised. Panels did a fantastic article about the series (which is how I heard about it), and I hope that love for this series spreads more and more through the comic-reading community. The second volume comes out March 1st, and it’s already on my to-buy list.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

Sarah Sunday!

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Going to make this a quick one, since I’m still boutofbooks-ing…

  • It was a rough start to the week… I was distracted and kind of out of it. My dad got out on the 8th… so far, no one has heard from him, so that’s good.
  • It’s been Bout of Books this week! Man I love this readathon, because the fact that I had several days where I was busy or tired are okay. Hopefully today, the last day, should be my best day. I got nothing to do but laundry.
  • I ran errands yesterday morning with my nephew. It wasn’t SO bad, except getting him in-and-out of the car like 16 million times. I can home and took a 3-hour nap, but at least I got all the things done!
  • Yesterday included a trip to the comic shop. I hadn’t gone since before Christmas, and I had a bunch of stuff waiting for me, as you can see above. I’m going to read some of those today :)
  • I also have a ton of reviews to write… should probably get on that.
  • And on a sad note, it’s only about two more weeks until the honeyman leaves for basic. We still have a bunch to do, but crap it’s so close.

cry my heart out

there there

Aaaand now I’m going to finish the episode of Friends that’s playing in the background, use ALL my willpower to turn it off, and read read read. How is everyone else’s weekend going?

~Sarah