BOOK REVIEW: Spaceman, by Mike Massimino

THE EARTH IS A SPACESHIP, AND WE’RE ALL SPACE TRAVELERS. – Mike Massimino

BOOK REVIEW: Spaceman, by Mike MassiminoTitle: Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino
Published by Crown Archetype
Published: October 4th 2016
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

I have to admit, I’m totally out of the loop with the more recent NASA astronauts, and this memoir of Mike Massimino’s makes me want to read everything about the space program that’s happened since the beginning of the 2000s. Like Massimino, I was really interested in space and space travel as a kid, fascinated by Aldrin and Armstrong and engrossed with science fiction. Massimino recalls when he looks back on the earth from the Hubble Space Telescope, he says, “The Earth is a spaceship, and we’re all space travelers.” That little bit of wonder he showed then brought back the similar kind of wonder to me as I had when I was younger.

In Spaceman, Massimino really emphasizes the fact that he couldn’t have done anything he’s done without the help of his family, his friends, and his team. Anything great is accomplished with the help of others, and that’s something where I feel like a lot of us, including myself, tend to lose focus when we’re so concerned about getting to the destination that we tend to forget who is there with us along the way. It’s also another reminder that no matter how many times you get told no, get rejected, denied, anything, if it’s something you want to do, keep going for it. Find out what you need to do to succeed, get back up on your feet, and try again. Sometimes we’re told no because it’s not the right time, but that doesn’t always mean it will never be the right time.

Massimino’s writing is clear, engaging, and appeals to a wide range of audiences. Difficult subjects are presented clearly and thoroughly without the technical jargon often found in academic pieces. When he has to use technical jargon, Massimino makes an effort to explain what it means, which is helpful for someone like me who has no background in engineering. Spaceman‘s conversational tone felt like I just spent an afternoon or two getting to know Massimino one-on-one. He approaches the difficult task of describing the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Colombia with candor and respect, and I hadn’t known that Massimino’s and his crew’s launch was switched with that particular launch, and it made everything feel so much more real an close to the heart.

Massimino brings a lot of heart and humanity to the recollections of his journey to becoming and astronaut, being an astronaut, and discovering what it actually means to be an astronaut. Being a leader doesn’t always mean keeping everything in perfect order all the time. Sometimes it means trying your best to keep your team’s spirits up even in the most difficult times while performing the most herculean tasks.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing for sending me a copy to read and review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Carve the Mark, by Veronica Roth

BOOK REVIEW: Carve the Mark, by Veronica RothTitle: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Series: Carve the Mark #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Published: January 17th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 480
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

So, I should preface this with a few key points. I work for a bookstore and received an ARC of this book through my job. All opinions are my own. This review is not an attack on the author, the publisher, or anyone else. I am also white, and I am aware this affects my position to call something out as racist. I find that it’s helpful to raise awareness of problematic representation in the media we consume.

In regards to advance copies being sent out to reviewers, I’ve noticed in a lot of Goodreads reviews that the bloggers state either at the beginning or the end of their review that HarperTeen (HT from here on out) sponsored these reviews. Further research led me to discovering that HT paid this set of bloggers to review Carve the Mark. This behavior from a publisher is unsettling. Generally speaking, if one is going to be paid for reviewing something, one will not review the thing unfavorably (and if one reviews unfavorably, that reviewer runs the risk of tarnishing the relationship with said publisher). This behavior by the publisher is akin to self-published authors paying readers to post positive reviews of the work in order to boost sales. That’s what I feel like HT is doing. Perhaps HT was aware of the problematic material in the book and decided to garner a set of positive reviews to boost sales before the book’s official release. I feel as if that money could have been better used to assist Roth in adjusting some of the problematic ideas presented in the book.

I stopped reading at page 66. I was simultaneously bored and unsettled by the book and set it aside. This being said, I do not know how the book ends or develops, and I honestly don’t care. Here are the main things I found problematic within those first 66 pages:

  1. The Thuve and the Shotet. The Thuve are presented as a lighter skinned race who are passive. Akos, one of the main characters, views the Shotet as a brutal and fierce race of people (the Shotet killed Akos’s grandmother). The first time the readers are introduced to the Shotet, the Shotet arrive to Akos’s family farm and brutally murder his father.
  2. The Shotet language is described as harsh and gutteral by Akos compared to his own softer sounding language (who discovers he has the ability to speak other languages without prior conscious knowledge of them). This view of languages is similar to the comparisons of the “music” of Romance (white) languages (French, Italian, Spanish) to the “harsh, guttural” (black) languages of the African continent.
  3. While the Shotet are described has having varying tones of skin, Cyra’s mother is described as having hair curly enough for fingers to be trapped in the curls while Cyra’s is not as curly as that. Um. Okay.
  4. Cyra’s brother Ryz forcibly trades one of his memories for one of Cyra’s. Cyra obviously struggles against it and can’t fight it, and you know what? That’s rape. Forcing someone to take something mentally (and inevitably physically) is an act of rape. Cyra was raped by her own brother. As a result of that rape, Cyra’s power manifests itself as pain. Literally. Pain. By page 66, Cyra cannot touch other people without feeling pain, and other people cannot touch her without feeling pain.
  5. Later, Cyra’s mother asks the doctor “You’re saying this gift is my daughter’s fault? That she wants to be this way?” And the doctor (male) says, “Cyra, the gift comes from you. If you change, the gift will, too.” So a man is telling a woman that her rape and her pain from that rape is her own fault and that she can change it at will. Yep. That’s a blatant reinforcement of rape culture.
  6. The religion of the Shotet draws heavily from Islamic ideology. Some of the religious leaders are called clerics, and some of the practices reinforce the negative views the West has on Muslim culture. We need to move past these harmful stereotypes.
  7. While I enjoyed the Divergent trilogy well enough for what it is (even if it’s a blatant knockoff of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, it is also somewhat original in its ending), Carve the Mark is a lazy reimagining of the Star Wars and X-Men universes. It tries to be unique and diverse, but the glaring insensitivity within the first sixty pages result in its failing.

I was excited for this because there aren’t too many science fiction novels lately for the YA audience. However, the problems in the novel fail its readers by relying on outdated, racist tropes that should be a thing of the past in 2017. Science fiction is about creating new worlds, exploring new ideas, and finding some kernel of society to examine. Carve the Mark does none of this. Instead of drawing on redundant, harmful tropes, science fiction should offer the author and the readers the ability to create something new, to flip tropes and reinvent them. It seems as if the editors failed to notice or didn’t care, knowing that they’d have a cash-grab with the popular name attached; or it seems as if Roth is privileged enough to be unaware of the damage she has caused with these themes. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

After the roller coaster of the last several years with the Black Lives Matter movement, the systematic oppression of Muslims, and the discussions I have had and read, I’m finding myself more and more sensitive to the plights of those who are oppressed. I want to give those people a voice rather than reinforce harmful views. Instead of purchasing or reading this, I recommend finding, like many others have suggested, an own voices/diverse work. My personal recommendation is N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

BOOK REVIEW: To Capture What We Cannot Keep, by Beatrice Colin

BOOK REVIEW: To Capture What We Cannot Keep, by Beatrice ColinTitle: To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: November 29th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 304
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Set against the backdrop of Paris during la belle époque, Beatrice Colin’s To Capture What We Cannot Keep explores the intertwining lives of two Scottish siblings and their chaperone with Émile Nouguier and Gustave Eiffel during the construction of the Eiffel Tower. This novel is a perfect winter read. It’s a bit sad and melancholy, but it’s got a lot of heart and warmth throughout. Caitriona and Émile’s relationship develops against all odds due to their differences in social status. Émile is expected to marry well and into money, but he falls in love with a woman who is beneath his status and invisible in polite society. Caitriona is a widow who takes the job of chaperoning Alice Arrol and, effectively, Alice’s brother Jamie as they finish themselves in a Grand Tour. Caitriona and Émile meet briefly in a hot air balloon and cannot stop thinking about each other after Caitriona leaves Paris.

While Alice and Jamie seemed underdeveloped (and Jamie seemed to be referred to by his last name that led to some confusion for awhile), Caitriona and Émile captured me from the beginning, and I couldn’t wait to see where the story took them. Alice and Jamie return to Paris to partake in secret relationships of their own while Caitriona’s relationship develops with Émile.

The background details shone and helped illustrate the emotions and thoughts of the characters. It’s good to know about this era before reading it, or to know about the customs and secret languages of men and women during the mid- to late- 1800s, because there is so much telling in the details. In the last quarter of the book, Caitriona’s chaperoning took a different turn as she seemed to stop chaperoning entirely, even when not actively engaged with Émile. Without giving away spoilers, Jamie was left to do his own thing with little to know consequence, and even Alice’s stumble had a neat resolution that usually does not end up so well for women. I think we learn a little too late about Caitriona’s history with her husband, and some of the more disturbing details seemed to be another thing to take me out of the story for a moment to think about why those details were revealed so late in the novel.

All in all, this is a lovely novel that would read well with a cup of hot cocoa and a snowfall in the depth of winter. If you enjoy reading historical fiction about women in Paris with a little bit of romance sprinkled in, add this to your reading list.

BOOK REVIEW: Slipping, by Lauren Beukes

BOOK REVIEW: Slipping, by Lauren BeukesTitle: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: November 29th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 You might think of a city as a map, all knotted up in the bondage of grid lines by town planners. But really, it’s a language—alive, untidy, ungrammatical. The meaning of things rearranges, so the scramble of the docks turns hipster cool while the faded glamor of the inner city gives way to tenement blocks rotting from the inside. It develops its own accent, its own slang. And sometimes it drops a sentence. Sometimes the sentence finds you. And won’t shut up. – from “Ghost Girl”

I’ve had Beukes’s The Shining Girls on my shelf forever. It was on a lot of lists the year it was released, and I found a paperback of that book in a used bookstore, I bought it… and haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Story of my life. Anyhow, when given the opportunity to read Beukes’s short works, I jumped at the chance. I love short story collections because I feel that short story collections allow the reader to see the wide range of an author’s talent.

Beukes’s writing is acerbic, sharp, and intuitive, and I was drawn in immediately to many of her stories. Slipping is a collection of stories written over about ten years for various other publications, and I would have really liked to have some background information before or after the stories to know when and why each of these stories were written.

My favorite stories were “Princess,” “Exhibitionist,” “Ghost Girl,” and “Dial Tone.” Each of these stories made me whisper what after I finished reading them. Beukes’s writing is at the same time subtle and straightforward. She does not shy away from difficult or terrifying imagery, and she makes you think about why she uses that imagery to explore some weird aspect of human life. Many of her stories cross the genre line between fiction and science fiction, and while a lot of it seems weird at times, it’s also so eerily recognizable. Beukes’s writing asks us why we consider “commonplace” and “everyday” as commonplace and ordinary, because isn’t life weird?

Thank you to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: The Mortifications, by Derek Palacio

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BOOK REVIEW: The Mortifications, by Derek PalacioTitle: The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
Published by Tim Duggan Books
Published: October 4th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

 The sin is in the knowing. The sin Christ confronts in the desert is the knowledge that his body is useless and, dangerously, how easily he can dismiss it. He will see how tiny a thing he is doing. He will know how small he is as a human being, how little he can change the world as a lump of flesh. The moment he knows, he can and will and should let it all fall away. He will enact the right of a God on Earth; he will make food from stone. He will shake water from the clouds. He will walk into a city and take it.

Derek Palacio’s debut novel The Mortifications follows a Cuban family in the 1980s. Soledad Encarnación and her two children, twins Ulises and Isabel, leave behind a husband and father to escape the revolutions of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Like many novels of families, this one has its share of interesting characters who all represent some aspect of humanity. Soledad is a mother trying to do the best thing for her children, Isabel finds solace and meaning in religion, Ulises finds himself through the classics and agriculture, and Henri becomes the stand-in father figure.

While I found the first half of the book incredibly engaging, I found the last half stretching for believability and substance. Palacio is a talented writer. However, I found some of the metaphors and similes and symbolism reaching a little too far at times. When I see a character named Ulises, I almost expect a Cuban expression of something resembling Homer’s The Odyssey. At first, the novel did feel like it would go in that direction, and it did, a little bit, with Ulises becoming fascinated by classics during a recovery period. I almost wonder, as I’ve seen similar things before in post-MBA debut novels, if this is a rite of passage, a stuffing of everything you’ve learned into one novel whether or not it actually works. I felt that there were also too many characters for how short this is. I think following one or two of the characters and their immigration experience (and even their return home) would have made for a richer novel.

However, I did enjoy reading this, and I will recommend it to people interested in immigrant experiences and Cuban-American experiences.

Thank you to Crown Publishing/Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.