We have all seen movies set in the future, where humans have complete control over DNA and can create “perfect” children for a “perfect” society. I suspect that when one hears talk of genetic modifications, the thoughts that come to mind are curing diseases, customizing hair, skin, and eyes, correcting imperfections like poor vision or allergies, and a slew of other fairly benign changes that bring humans closer to society’s idea of perfection. Arwen Elys Dayton shares her view of the future in Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful, and it is anything but this somewhat simplified picture of superficial changes. It is not that Ms. Dayton means to scare people into making ethical decisions regarding genetic modifications. It is that Ms. Dayton recognizes how the best intentions of humans never really turn out the way we expect them. What starts as a little change to the retina’s DNA to provide someone with 20/20 vision quickly morphs into giving someone the sight of an eagle or the olfactory senses of a dog. Her vision involves some grotesque changes that may or may not change the idea of what makes someone a human.
Therein lies Ms. Dayton’s point. What does make us human? Is it our mind or our body? What happens when we change ourselves to the point of being more animal or robot than human? What happens when we fill ourselves with someone else’s organs? Do we become the other person? Am I still me? These are classic conundrums regarding genetic modification, except with the advent of CRISPR, these questions are more important than ever. For now, the scientific community is drawing a hard line at using CRISPR for the humane genome, but that doesn’t mean that this hard line will remain forever.
Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful means to shock and horrify you. There is a deliberate progression in each story as the main character shares his or her life in a world of extreme modification. Ms. Dayton makes no judgments, presenting each story in her vision of our future as matter-of-factly as possible. The reader provides the sentiment, whatever that may be, making it a novel ripe for discussion.
Stronger, Faster, and More Beautifulis disturbing. You would like to think that humans would never go to such extremes to change our bodies, but there is nothing in the novel which should surprise you. Humans have always been willing and eager to do extreme things to their bodies in an attempt to be different, make a statement, or achieve arbitrary beauty standards. It is not a stretch of the imagination to understand that should we gain the ability to make changes at the genetic level, those extreme changes take on a whole other meaning. As such, its characters will haunt you for a long time, and that is another point. The next time someone talks to you about CRISPR or genetic modification as the next scientific breakthrough, you will remember the six characters in Ms. Dayton’s story. We all should remember these characters. Our future may depend on it.
If ever there was a book to emphasize that I read what I like, Fire & Heist is it. The story of a teenage wyvern and her family of thieves tickled me more than it should have. The target audience is a good thirty years younger than I am, but that did not stop me from devouring it. I adore with Sky and acknowledged privilege. More importantly, I fell in love with the unexpected pleasure of Sky’s unlikely crew. Not only is their banter hilarious, but I also love how each of them embraces their quirks, the best of whom is Gabriella, Sky’s human friend. She is not familiar with the world of wyverns, and her enthusiasm has no bounds. She is also an unashamed geek, and you cannot help but fall in love with her implacability in the face of Sky’s imperiousness but her lack of filter and childlike wonder when it comes to magic and unicorns. We all need a friend as honest and as supportive as Gabriella.
The story itself is goofy. Dragons live on earth and are among the richest people on the planet because they hoard gold. Dragons obtain gold hoards by stealing from other dragons. Dragon society rewards those dragon families with the most gold and punishes those who are not successful burglars. Add in a home dragon land, a missing parent, unrequited love, more than one failed heist, a mysterious jewel, and power-hungry dragons and you have a story that is one part Romeo and Juliet, one part Ocean’s Eleven, one part geek fantasy, and one part Hallmark movie. It is cheesy goodness at its best.
I love the fact that I can still enjoy novels meant for a younger crowd and never want this trait to change. Some people might say that life is too short to read bad books, but I say life is too short not to have fun and enjoy any book that interests you. In the case of Fire & Heist, the dragons caught my interest, the similarities to Ocean’s Eleven kept my attention, and characters like Gabriella made me fall in love with this story of gold-stealing were-dragons.
Hosted by Kathryn from Book Date, “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a weekly event to share what we’ve read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind. Here is what I read the week ending 10 December 2018. To learn more about each book, click on the book cover!
Thank goodness for quick books that are nothing but pure entertainment. They helped me get through a rather hellish work week. The books I read were exactly what I needed. I hope the streak continues!
FINISHED SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:
This is an eclectic mix of books, even for me. One heck of a murder mystery, a fantasy novel involving were-dragons, and a futuristic novel contemplating the ethics of body modifications and exploring the lengths to which people may go with CRISPR. Each of them are so very different, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading them.
I think Fire & Heist is so charming. It is not going to win any awards, and the basic story itself is familiar. Still, I fell in love with Sky Hawkins and enjoyed every minute I had with her. This is book candy at its finest.
Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is not nearly as entertaining, but boy does it make you think. As long as humans have been tinkering with the human body, there has always been a concern that we will cross an invisible ethical boundary and take such tinkering too far. Ms. Dayton uses that concern to hypothesize just what that tinkering will look like, and it is not for the faint of heart. In fact, her future is downright scary. Her vision will haunt me for a long time to come, which I believe is her point. After all, if we don’t start thinking of these things now, our chance to make a difference and create clear ethical boundaries will disappear.
DID NOT FINISH:
All good here.
I will be passing the weeks until the US premiere of the television show continuing to immerse myself in the world of All Souls and enjoying every minute I do.
Whatever I want, although I am leaning towards the new John Boyne novel.
It is cold and gloomy around here with just a little snow to cover some of the ground. It is not enough snow for my liking though. I want what they are getting in the Carolinas. Damn climate change.
It was a very long week in that I did nothing at work but work on submitting the first draft of the budget by the Friday deadline. Between meetings and working through my 30-tab spreadsheet, I was toast most nights. It did not help that the stress of the deadline prevented me from sleeping well throughout the week. However, I met the deadline, and that first push is behind me. The rest of the budget process is annoying, but it is much easier than that initial data pull.
Holly had her first winter poms routine on Friday. Unfortunately, the boys’ varsity basketball team is not good at all, so it makes the wait until she performs very painful. Conversely, it is nice being so close to her when she performs, and it is all indoors. So yay for that. The winter poms season continues through February, so we will have plenty of opportunities to watch her dance and bad basketball.
Holiday preparations are well underway. I have a stack of envelopes staring at me that need addressing for our holiday cards. Presents are arriving daily. Now I just have to find the time to wrap everything. How are you doing with the holidays?
The rest of today will be putting the house to rights, laundry, and catching up on all the paperwork and email I shoved onto my desk every evening and need to address. It isn’t glamorous, but it never really disappears no matter how much I might wish it would. The weather at least is cooperating by making me not want to step foot outside.
Here are past posts from the last few weeks in case you missed them the first time:
Stuart Turton is a very talented man. He states that in his debut novel, he set out to create an Agatha Christie-style novel crossed with the television show Quantum Leap to produce a unique and entertaining whodunit. In my opinion, he more than succeeds in his quest.
I am sure some readers were able to decipher all the clues and puzzle pieces within The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but I was not one of them. Every page offered up new elements of the puzzle, unveiling the depth and intricacy of the plot. Mr. Turton built the story in such a way that should one aspect of it to change, the entire structure of it would disintegrate. Instead, each carefully constructed piece fortifies the other to increase the coherency and fluidity of the story. For any author, it is a feat of writing to build such an involved world in which every character and every scene relies on everything else. For a debut novelist, it is a little intimidating and a whole lot awe-inspiring.
The story itself is insanely good. We live vicariously through Aiden Bishop as he struggles to understand what is happening. We experience his frustrations, his disbelief, and his growing concerns as his day unfolds because we are experiencing the same emotions. As each day resets and we glimpse larger pictures of the goings-on at Blackheath, our fears grow on behalf of Aiden as we instinctively understand that the situation in which Aiden finds himself is downright dangerous. There is plenty of violence to emphasize this point throughout the eight days, but there are highlights too. Aiden’s situation allows us into the minds of eight very different characters, and it forces us, and him, to reevaluate our snap judgments made as observers. No one is a saint, and there are plenty of villains, but at least we get to see some of the reasons behind their deplorable actions, which provides a nice layer to the story as it reinforces the idea that we never know what is going on inside another person’s head. In this case, we do, and it changes our opinion of each character once we do.
Mystery lovers will love The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastlebecause Mr. Turton does establish an Agatha Christie-style novel, and what mystery lover does not enjoy a good Christie story? One should not fear the elements of fantasy in the fluid time structure of the story and jumping between characters because it enhances the mystery. Instead of a master detective or incredibly observant old woman, Mr. Turton gives us Aiden Bishop and eight different guests. No one character has all the answers, so character jumping is necessary to obtain all the clues. The answers to all of the mysteries explain everything, and you will marvel at the complexity of the story, which is so much more than it appears to be. With a debut novel as astonishing as this one, I for one eagerly anticipate anything Mr. Turton next writes. He seems to have an intelligent and somewhat devious mind, an attention to detail that borders on the fanatic, and a writing ability to pull it all together into an unforgettable story.
November was not a great month for me. Sure, there were good parts about it, but the lasting impression I have is not a favorable one. I feel like the weather is to blame for a portion of this. Dreary and damp is not my favorite weather pattern. I would rather it snowed every day for the month than to have the constant gloom and threat of rain we have had all month. I know my health issues are also to blame, as I become hyper-aware of every twinge in my body, from the first throb in my head to the first ache pulsing from my buttocks or lower back. I still want to say that it is all in my head and push through the pain, but I am afraid of what would happen if I pushed myself too hard and was wrong about it being in my head. So, I am stuck at a standstill between wanting to do all the things that need doing and doing nothing for fear of the pain. It’s not a good way to live.
The good parts were good though. Connor came home, albeit briefly, which is always nice. I suspect that his visits home will continue to be brief forever, so I aim to enjoy them while I can. Holly and I got to spend more time together with another dance trip at the beginning of the month. Jim and I got to experience 48 hours of empty nesting at the end of the month. Jim’s birthday. Thanksgiving. These were all good things.
I shouldn’t complain. My life is very, very comfortable and better than most people. So what if I didn’t read more than nine books last month? So what if I didn’t finish catching up on past review copies? These are more than first world problems. Connor’s visit did not end on a good note, but that is just how he is these days and has been for the past few years. The health issues are overwhelming right now, yes, but they are not life-threatening. I feel like I have no cause to complain.
The holidays do this to me every year though. I am not sure if I hype them up in my mind or if I fall for the sentimental crap that commercials and TV dish out this time of year. Either way, no matter how much I attempt to change things, I can never escape the sense of melancholy I feel this time of year. We are a tradition-less family. I never could get my kids invested in any holiday traditions that inject meaning into the season. Plus, I cannot help but remember all those years where we were on our own, adrift thanks to the military life. Deployments. Separations. Being alone. They put a bitter taste in my mouth when it comes to the holidays that I can never quite shake no matter how much time passes. There is so much societal pressure for the season to be magical, but especially now that the kids are older, the magic seems to fade a little sooner each year. It starts with Thanksgiving, a meal my children would rather skip, and ends with New Year’s Eve in which Jim and I almost never even make it to midnight anymore, let alone dress up and go somewhere to celebrate. It all feels like one significant effort in futility that makes it difficult for me to enjoy the season.
So, was November a lousy month? No. In all probability, it was perfectly fine. I am sure it is nothing more than the strain of the health issues combined with the stress of single parenting thanks to Jim’s travel schedule on top of the beginnings of holiday depression. Still, only nine books and 3,408 pages read for the month irks me. Not my best. I remain three books away from my Goodreads goal too, something I had hoped to finish in November. Bah. Humbug.
Yes, I am still alive and kicking. Things have been, well, a little weird lately. As those who follow me on Twitter know, I suffer from chronic migraines and have since after Holly was born. I went through all the testing back then, and there was nothing physically wrong with me that would indicate why I suddenly started suffering from them. Fourteen years later, I pretty much know what my triggers are and can usually either keep them at bay or kick them with Excedrin Migraine. However, when one of your triggers is a lack of sleep, and you have been struggling with disrupted sleep and fatigue for over three years, your migraines tend to become more frequent. Also, within the past few months, I noticed a general increase in achiness and muscle pain. My shoulders and neck ALWAYS hurt and have for years, but this time, the pain was spreading to my legs and back, to the point where I did not want to move at times. Imagine the way you feel when you have the flu – the achiness that goes all the way to your bones and causes every movement to hurt. That is how I have been feeling off and on for the past few weeks. I did go to the doctor in the middle of the month and found out that I do have all of the markers of fibromyalgia. Before we go down the road of formally diagnosing me with it, my doctor wants to rule out certain medications and possible sleep apnea. The sleep clinic, of course, has no appointments until February 2019, so it will be a while before I can get any relief. Plus, even though I suspected the results, it has been a shock to adjust to the fact that I most likely have some other chronic condition outside of the migraines. We are also trying something for the migraines which doesn’t appear to be working as the headaches are almost daily now and only vary in severity. The last few weeks in November has not been easy for me mentally and physically as I try to maintain my house but not overdo it and find myself in bed for a day.
In spite of all of this happening the week before Thanksgiving, the holiday itself was a good one. We hosted my sister-in-law and her family for the day. I had everything prepped and ready to go so that all I had to do was pop dishes in the oven and mash potatoes. Connor came home the Monday before the holiday and helped me with cooking, as did Holly when she was home. My in-laws stayed until late evening on Thanksgiving day. Connor had to be back at Ames by Friday evening to play in the pep band for volleyball, and he had a football game on that Saturday. Holly wanted to experience Black Friday, so she convinced her dad to take her and a friend to the mall. They didn’t go until later in the afternoon, so she didn’t get the full experience, but she can now say she went shopping on Black Friday – something I avoid like the plague. The rest of the weekend was quiet as we ate leftovers and relaxed, watched football, and enjoyed the quiet.
Last week, the announcement went out that the owner of my company is selling it to a publicly traded one, effective right after the new year. I have been expecting this announcement for a while, so it was good to get it all out in the open finally. The changes from going to a privately owned company to a public one are going to be exciting and scary. There are very real, legal ramifications if I mess anything up, even accidentally, which is scary as hell. It will be a good challenge though and a good change. I know I am not the only one excited about the sale. It will make December and January even crazier than they usually are, especially as we delayed the budget process until now. There is a lot to do and not a lot of time in which to accomplish it all. As with all sales, the buying company promises they will leave us alone to do our thing, but I have way too much experience with this sort of thing. There will be changes. What those changes are are anyone’s guess. I believe I am safe from the chopping block, but that doesn’t mean that my role is secure or will remain the same. Change is good, but it is nerve-wracking.
So, all of this is why there have been no reviews and very little reading. Either the mind is willing, but the body is not cooperating, the body is willing but the mind is not in the mood, or both the mind and body are ready to go, but there is no time. I remind myself that this annual busy season will pass as it always does, I will find some relief from the pain and flare-ups, and I can maybe get back to feeling like myself again. It will take time, but I will get there. In the meantime, I have you and this site, my reading, my craft projects, my family, my dogs, and my work. Plus, I have decent healthcare, which is more than a lot of people can say. It will all work out in the end. It always does.
Here are past posts from the last few weeks in case you missed them the first time:
Hosted by Kathryn from Book Date, “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a weekly event to share what we’ve read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind. Here is what I read the week ending 3 December 2018. To learn more about each book, click on the book cover!
I haven’t disappeared even though it feels like I have. This time of year is never easy given the holiday prep and celebrations, but it is particularly awful for me this year thanks to work. It means I come home exhausted and am barely able to devote any time to reading. It also means I have no desire to sit on a computer after I leave work, so no reviews or posts. This busy period should pass in a month or so, just in time for dance competition season. I have plans for that this year though to make me feel like there is so much more I could be doing with my time other than sitting in a dark theater watching hundreds upon hundreds of dances every weekend. Future stuff though. In the meantime, I will keep on keeping on, as required when life gives you more than you think you can handle.
FINISHED SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:
I took my time reading Julie Kagawa’s latest series because it was SO amazing. She mentions in her notes that she drew upon various Japanese myths and legends while formulating her story, and I loved that. In fact, I loved everything about Shadow of the Fox and wanted to savor it as much as possible, which I did by reading it slowly and carefully. The story occurs in a fictional land with an obvious connection to Japanese traditions, social and political structure, and geography. Yumeko is the sweetest character, naive and trusting; usually, I would detest characters like this as having no basis in reality, but it works for her because she has a way of cutting through all pretense and getting to the heart of an issue that I admire. Plus, she may be naive, but she is not completely innocent and brings with her excellent instincts and a fantastic upbringing that serves her well on the road. Tatsumi is dangerous, but he has a rather tragic backstory. I adored watching him struggle with his humanity for the first time as he spends more time with Yumeko. The band of travelers they collect on their way to the capital is equally charming and highly entertaining. The story is not without its darker elements, which is what I expect from Ms. Kagawa, but she expertly blends the good with the evil, showing that other than a few exceptions, the world exists in shades of gray. Shadow of the Foxreminds me how much I adored Ms. Kagawa’s previous novels and makes me excited for the rest of the series.
DID NOT FINISH:
Another book I am loving so much that I want to read it slowly and try to absorb as many clues as possible – even though I am itching to find out what happens and who the killer is!
I am so close to finishing this one. I need to grab my latest cross-stitch project and hide in my office to listen while I work. Then I can move on to the next one!
I have four December review copies to read and am still working my way through my fall list. I will catch up one day, but at least I am enjoying the journey.
Hosted by Kathryn from Book Date, “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a weekly event to share what we’ve read in the past week and what we hope to read, plus whatever else comes to mind. Here is what I read the week ending 26 November 2018. To learn more about each book, click on the book cover!
The long weekend thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday was a good one. I stayed up late to read and was able to finish quite a few books. When’s the next long weekend?
FINISHED SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:
In the Night Woodwas a creepy book with an ancient wood that hides a mysterious evil. Mostly though, it is depressing. Dead children and a grieving couple are the heart of this novel that gives new meaning to the term lost. It is not a bad novel, but it is not what I expected either.
Now, The Witch of Willow Hall is exactly what I wanted to read. Ms. Fox establishes the historical setting with the type of clarity that I love in historical fiction. Plus, there is plenty of mysterious, otherworldly happenings to satisfy my need to escape into fantasy. The story has a surprising dark side that may cause more than one reader to cast it aside for the ick factor, but there is also an unexpected sweetness to the story that more than made up for it. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish this one and don’t regret it a minute.
I have been savoring The World of All Souls for the past several months, enjoying my forays into Ms. Harkness’ spectacular world a little at a time. I finally sat down to finish it and loved every minute of it. Seeing pictures of the actual areas in which the trilogy occurs as well as castles and buildings Ms. Harkness used as inspiration helped bring the world of the Clairmonts and Bishops to life. The illustrations are fabulous, as is the additional information about each of the characters and their backgrounds. I cannot wait for the TV series to premiere in the US next year!
Sawkill Girlsis my third novel by Claire Legrand, my second this year, and she is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Her stories are amazing, and her writing is outstanding. However, it is her characters that have captured my heart. They are not your average YA heroines. More importantly, her characters do not let men dictate their actions or their fate. In her latest novel, female relationships are at the heart of the story, and the girls learn to rewrite the rules to suit them because no one else is willing to do so. Ms. Legrand’s message is so critical and told so well that I want everyone to read it.
DID NOT FINISH:
I have so many fantasy novels that they will keep me busy for the next month.
We should always find ways to celebrate the little things in life. What better day to celebrate these little things other than the best day of the week? So, here are the things that make this a Fabulous Friday for me this week ending 23 November 2018.
THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS – I may not understand the holiday, but I do love turkey leftovers. It gives me an excuse to make one of my all-time favorite meals – turkey tetrazzini. And leftover mashed potatoes top a family favorite – shepherd’s pie. So really, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is the gift that keeps on giving.