24 September 2013

Fortunately, the Milk

Summary from Goodreads:
"I bought the milk," said my father. "I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road."
"Hullo," I said to myself. "That's not something you see every day. And then something odd happened."

Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

Neil Gaiman, just to top the amazing story success of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, also put out a chapter book this year.  It tells the story of a dad who returns from a milk run to the corner store, is gone far longer than intended, and returns with a wild tale of alien abduction and dinosaurs....but he never forgot the milk.

I read this while covering breaks at the store and it had me laughing out loud - it's a chapter book, maybe 110 pages long and it flies along.  Just the kids' reactions to the tall tale and how it just. keeps. going.  Apparently the UK edition had different illustrations (which some reviewers liked better) but I thought these were just fine.  Another ace-in-the-hole from Neil Gaiman's brain!

23 September 2013

The Giver

Summary from Goodreads:
The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life Assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. Lois Lowry has written three companion novels to The Giver, including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

Now, I am 99.99% certain that I read The Giver in the nineties.  I would have been in ninth/tenth grade when it came out and although that's a bit older than the intended audience, I remembered so much about the book I'm sure I read it.

I chose this to read during my "real-live human reading banned books" stint in the booth at the Coralville Public Library.  I had intended to read Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic because I thought we'd be reading aloud but since we were reading to ourselves (shame) I switched to The Giver.

Such a beautifully written, heart-wrenching book.  I think it's a bit underserved by being labelled a "children's" book because all adults should read it.  Amazing commentary on conformity, oppression, and euthanasia.  I'll definitely have to go on and read the other three books - I bought them all because of the gorgeous cover designs!

22 September 2013

Looking for Alaska

Summary from Goodreads:
Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

Guess what, peoples...teenagers have been known to experiment with sex, drugs, and cigarettes.  Including upper-middle-class private school teenagers like those depicted in John Green's Looking for Alaska.  We visit the school through Miles's eyes and he isn't a cool, sophisticated kid - he's a nerdy, naive, inexperienced teenage boy who is obsessed with deceased poets and the last words uttered by famous people.  It's pretty much a given that he'd fall for the manic-pixie-dreamgirl of the book, Alaska.  However, things don't quite work out as planned.  Alaska is self-destructive as all hell, which is all you need to know.  A really well-constructed book; it didn't have the emotional gut-punch that The Fault in Our Stars did (which is good, because I don't know if I could handle that much crying over a book so soon).

I picked this up for Banned Books Week - people like to harsh on the "adult" themes but, hey guess what, teenagers will be teenagers and John Green assumes that they are smart people as opposed to living in a padded room or something.

12 September 2013

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

Summary from Goodreads:
The emergence of strange new diseases is a frightening problem that seems to be getting worse. In this age of speedy travel, it threatens a worldwide pandemic. We hear news reports of Ebola, SARS, AIDS, and something called Hendra killing horses and people in Australia--but those reports miss the big truth that such phenomena are part of a single pattern. The bugs that transmit these diseases share one thing: they originate in wild animals and pass to humans by a process called spillover. David Quammen tracks this subject around the world. He recounts adventures in the field--netting bats in China, trapping monkeys in Bangladesh, stalking gorillas in the Congo--with the world's leading disease scientists. In Spillover Quammen takes the reader along on this astonishing quest to learn how, where from, and why these diseases emerge, and he asks the terrifying question: What might the next big one be?

Who likes infectious diseases?  Me, me!  I love infectious diseases.  I recently described Spillover as the happy intersection of reading for work (epidemiologist) and reading for pleasure (epidemiologists who work in hospital acquired infections, who aced infectious disease epidemiology coursework, and have a morbid curiosity regarding crazy zoonoses).  As the human-developed world pushes farther and farther into more "exotic" locations they've never lived, either for habitat or agriculture reasons, the animal world is pushing back with stranger and stranger diseases.  For the animals, these diseases are a bit like the common cold - a minor nuisance, rarely fatal - but once it gets into a previously un-exposed species - like a human - all bets are off.  Mortality rates skyrocket.  And this is where things like SARS or HIV or the newest recombination of influenza with the dreaded avian genes comes from.  The borderland of the human-animal interactions and where viral genomes can recombine with glee.

Quammen has gone all over the world looking at past outbreaks to see if there is a way to predict where the next global pandemic will come from.  Hint: it's unlikely that we can predict it.  He has a great writing style and drops a lot of literary references so I think that might help non-science-y readers get through a few of the more technical chapters. On the downside, it kind of makes you not want to go in caves (bats, ick). Ever. Or leave your house again. And I sure as hell don't want to visit an animal market in Asia - holy damn.

Just for fun, I Instagrammed a number of underlined passages from Spillover - here's the first one; if you follow #spillover and #zoonosis I think you can find the others.

PS: Influenza season is coming so get your flu shots and wash your hands!

The Baron's Betrothal (Horsemen of the Apocalypse #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

War hero and Horseman of the Apocalypse William Tyler de Sayre, Lord Clun, happens upon love while intending to avoid the catastrophe altogether by arranging a marriage to someone he’s never met.

Meanwhile, Lady Elizabeth Damogan, whose father betrothed her to the baron without so much as a ‘by your leave,’ will be damned if she marries a man she’s never met, much less a man who refuses to consider the possibility of love.

Until she realizes, sometimes it's the hero who needs saving.

Fun, and less scandalous than Jem's "decoration" to kick off the first book, but Elizabeth and Clun make a good couple.

A bit long, though. Too much contrariness on both sides. I think perhaps shortening the middle since the beginning and end were quite good.

10 September 2013

The Untamed Mackenzie (Mackenzie/McBride #5.5)

Summary from Goodreads:


To redeem her family’s disgraced name, Lady Louisa Scranton has decided to acquire a proper husband. He needs to be a man of fortune and highly respectable in order to restore both her family's lost wealth and reputation. She enters the Marriage Mart with all flags flying, determined to find the right bachelor.

But Louisa’s hopes are dashed when the Bishop of Hargate drops dead at her feet—and she is shockingly accused of murder! Soon, Louisa’s so-called friends begin shunning her, because the company of a suspected killer is never desirable in polite society.

The problem comes to the ears of Detective Inspector Lloyd Fellows, by-blow of the decadent Scottish Mackenzie family and an inspector for Scotland Yard. He has shared two passionate kisses with Lady Louisa–and vows to clear her name. For not only does he know she’s innocent, he recognizes he’s falling for the lovely lady.

Fellows is Louisa's only hope of restoring her family's honor—and it is he alone who intrigues Louisa in a way that may be even more scandalous than murder…

The new novella plays out much differently than how I thought the romance between Louisa (who was dead-set on making a Society match during the Mackenzie's Christmas novella) and Fellowes (who was pretty much dead-set on never getting married although he and Louisa kiss like a house on fire) would go. This is set in the spring following the Mackenzie Christmas novella (but possibly after the Epilogue in Hart's book bc Fellowes and Louisa aren't in the family picture). Very fun and a nice cross-class romance - I didn't see the resolution coming ahead of time so that was nice.

The only thing I thought odd that no one (and I mean NO ONE) mentioned was the big age difference between Louisa and Fellowes. Louisa is, what, 23? 24? in this novella (I'm basing on her age in Mac's book, when she was to debut, and it's about 5 years later now) and Fellowes is Hart's age, give or take a year (I think in Ian's book it's mentioned that Fellowes is two years older) so that puts him mid-40s. That's a pretty big age gap even for a Victorian-set novel.