Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

wpid-wp-1430695292813.jpgThe Binewski’s are a self-made freak show of a traveling carnival.  Arturo, the water boy, has flippers rather than arms and lthe-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015egs, Iphy and Elly, the signing Siamese twins, who tend towards brutal battles between themselves, Oly, the disappointing albino hunchback, and Chick, who looks completely normal but has a gift that could make or break the family.  Al inherited the carnival from his father and when times started changing resulting in sparse attendance, Al decided he and his wife “Crystal” Lil would start their own self-contained freak show.  Lil, while pregnant (and while not) took drugs and radioactive material to purposely alter the appearance of their children.  The results were more than they could hope for and allowed the carnival to become popular once again.  Al and Lil sound like the worst kind of parents – willingly altering their children’s appearance in order to keep the show on the road.  Even though Al and Lil did horrible things to bring forth such children, Al and Lil love and care for their kids.  However, the desire for the most freakish of appearances causes internal strife with the offspring, Arturo being the worst of the bunch.

Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn, is a whole different take on family values and one’s perception of “normal.”  Narrated/told by Oly, Geek Love reveals how the family sees their altered appearances as normal and desirable, and sees those not like them as the freaks of the world – referred to as “norms” with scathing derision. Oly tells of her love for Arturo and how that is never enough for him. How Arturo’s desire to be the most popular attraction whittles away at the family’s unity and leads to competition.  Arturo starts a most bizarre cult of followers, who desire to be limbless devotees and worshipers. Arturo’s self-serving ways are most identifiable when Chick comes into the world and Arturo’s need to be the top dog drives the family to places they can never come back from.

The book flips from past to present, with Oly trying to hide her true identity from her daughter Miranda, whose only freakish feature is a tail she keeps hidden unless she is performing.  I found myself hoping that Oly would let Miranda know she was her mother.  Oly is a character the reader can relate to – she wants the love and affection of her family.  Her wholesome acceptance of  her appearance is an inspiration to everyone – what is seen as weird and ugly is all within the eye of the beholder, as well as the confidence that comes with it.

Geek Love will leave the reader with a new sense of what is acceptable, both in terms of appearance and in terms of what the love of a family means to someone.  Some scenes are brutally descriptive and hard to read, but all well worth the read.

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The Room by Jonas Karlsson

wpid-wp-1430695210720.jpgBjorn just started a new position at his government office.  The downside to the new position is the open-work space the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015. Bjorn finds the set-up odd but he quickly settles into a routine.  Bjorn works for 55 minutes then gets up and walks around, uses the restroom, scopes out his co-workers, etc.  One day Bjorn notices a room not far from the restroom. Why doesn’t anyone else see this room and why isn’t anyone using it, Bjorn wonders.  At first he passes by the room each day with barely a thought.  Then Bjorn starts to go into the room each day and he couldn’t be happier.  Bjorn’s co-workers think he’s gone crazy.  Each day the see him go stand by the wall, completely motionless, oblivious to any noise, sound, or conversation occurring around him.  His co-workers try to get him fired for being off-balance and incompetent.  Little do they know, Bjorn will find a way to make them seem like the incompetent ones.

The Room by Jonas Karlsson starts off as a humorous book, with Bjorn’s interactions taking on a slight feel of The Office.  After sometime it’s hard to determine, does the room really exist or is Bjorn as crazy as he seems.  It appears the struggle to fit into today’s vision of what makes a productive office vs. what works for the individual is the key to making a successful employee.  The Room also takes on a bit of a more somber tone midway through.  Is Bjorn meant to be a solitary person and is that the key to his success?  It’s up to the reader to decide.

The Room is a short, quick read that left me with a sense of sadness as well as thoughts to not judge others for their own idiosyncrasies. Does the room actually exist or did Bjorn make it up to give him a feeling of superiority over others. You’ll have to read for yourself to make that determination.

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Cow

A cow, a pig, and a turkey walk onto a plane.  Seriously, they walk onto a plane and fly to the middle east where theythe-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015 inadvertently unite the Palestinians and the Israelis.  Elsie Bovary is a cow who was happy with her grass chewing life.  One day, she ends up peering into the window of the farm-house and finds out there’s something called an “industrial meat farm.”  This shakes her world to the core and Elsie is determined to leave farm life and her bleak future far behind.  Shalom (f/k/a Jerry),  the pig, and Tom, the turkey, get wind of Elsie’s plan and decide to join her on her quest to find a better life.  Together they find their way to an airport, fly to foreign lands, and come to the realization that what is imagined doesn’t always work out.

Holy Cow by David Duchovny is a dry, witty book full of humor, self-realization, and apparent unintentional peace making.  I have to admit my initial draw to this book was based on the author alone.  I’m a big Duchovny fan and have always liked his sense of humor.  I read the book description and it was a no brainer for me since I enjoy books written in this tone.  Duchovny peppers in pop culture and rock music references, along with words on how to live in harmony with the world and one another, throughout the book.  Elsie even slips in names of who should play whom for any script writers that may be reading.  Admittedly this book won’t be for everyone – Elsie’s and her cow friend Mallory use “cray cray” and other slang terms – and the target audience seems a bit jumbled.  This isn’t exactly a kids book since the humor is far more on the adult side, though there are several references on how to read certain things to your kids within the story.  Tom and Shalom are good counterparts to Elsie and provide the extra comic relief, even when not needed.

If you enjoy slightly off books that are witty and humorous, this book is for you.  Even if you are just a David Duchovny fan, this one is for you.  The book read as I imagined one written by Duchovny would.  I found it thoroughly enjoyable and laughed out loud several times.  Elise and her fellow travelers are a good-hearted lot and make for a fun read.

Descent by Tim Johnston

Descent

The Courtland family is on their last family vacation in Colorado before their oldest, daughter Caitlin heads off to college. Caitlin, who is the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015a runner and Sean, on his bike, head out for a run/bike ride together.  Caitlin, impatient at times runs ahead of her brother and waits for him to catch up. Sean, while out of sight of his sister, gets hit by a truck and is seriously injured. Caitlin, desperate to get help since cell service is a no go so high in the mountains, hops in the truck of the driver who hit Sean. Caitlin never returns with help for Sean and the Courtland family begin their agonizing search to find Caitlin.  What lies ahead of them is years of pain, loneliness, and a losing struggle to stay connected as a family.

In Descent Tim Johnston does a good job of portraying a family’s agony of a lost child.  The family is fractured to begin with but the events on the mountain cause the fracture to become a gaping hole.  The parts told from the mother’s point of view were at first confusing and give the reader a sense this person is on the brink of losing her grip with reality.  I was initially a bit put off by these parts but then came to think of it as an effective way to show how the mom was dealing (or not dealing) with what happened.  I imagine it would be pure torture not knowing what happened to a child or knowing the whereabouts of that child. Later in the book the mom’s point of  view gets a little more clear given the passage of time, though she is still a tortured soul.  After the loss of Caitlin, the family stays in Colorado for a few months while the search for her progresses.  After a while, it’s time for Sean and his mom to return home so he can return to school and the father stays in Colorado, never giving up hope to find Caitlin.

The loss of Caitlin seems to have taken Sean off track and, a few years later, he is wandering the country, doing little jobs when he can find the work.  A series of events unfolds that cause Sean to eventually gets back together with his dad in Colorado and it’s at this point the book picks up steam. I don’t want to give too much away since I enjoyed how things played out in the second half of the book.  I’ll just say the pace picks up and the book becomes fairly suspenseful.  An overall enjoyable read.  A bit start/stop at the beginning but after the first part the story becomes a bit more cohesive and draws to a satisfying conclusion.

The Martian by Andy Weir

IMG_20150211_223744_853Mark Watney has just realized he’s been stranded on Mars after his crew members, believing he died during a wind the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015storm, left him there.  Stuck on Mars with no way to contact anyone, Mark doesn’t let the bleak odds defeat him.  Mark’s not a pessimistic guy, he’s able to think quickly and his engineering and botanist knowledge are all fortunate features/skills to possess if there is any chance to make it off the red planet alive.

The Martian by Andy Weir is a surprisingly funny, witty, quick paced book.  The main character’s personality is key to his likability as well as the plausibility for the story itself.  The book starts out being told from Watney’s perspective and Weir does a good job of bringing in mission control’s role at the right time.  A book told solely from and about one character could get boring quickly, even if there is a good amount of humor and unexpected situations. Having the mission control side of the story come into play helped keep this book moving and added the extra bits of suspense.

The humor was a favorite part of this book for me.  Giving Mark a wicked sense of humor made for fun reading.  If the main character would have been serious, practical, and regimented, I don’t think it would have been successful.  To be stuck in such a hopeless situation I think you’d have to find a way to keep positive, why continue trying otherwise?  A few parts of the book got a bit too technical for my taste and I found myself skimming a few paragraphs every so often.  The last 100 pages moved very fast and was suspenseful even though I could tell how it would end.  Watney faces success and failure over and over again and finding out how/if he overcomes each circumstance made for an interesting story.

The end of the book featured some background on the author and his insight into his writing, which I thought was a great thing to include.  It provided an extra insight into the author and why he choose to write Mark Watney as he did.  The Martian is an entertaining book that is interesting and suspenseful and a very fun read.

Mort(e) by Robert Repino

IMG_20150120_184037Sebastian is a normal house cat living his cat life.  His human is having an affair with the neighbor and the neighbor the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015brings his dog Sheba over, allowing Sebastian to strike up a loving relationship with Sheba.  Sebastian is content with his life with Sheba and he quickly grows to love her and cherish their time together.

Meanwhile, the ants have had it and have started their war with the humans.  The ants have made it so the animals on the planet can walk upright, talk, think, and act like a human would.  The ants have made an army of their own super-sized ants as well as an army of the animals in the world.  The animals, with their new-found abilities, are super soldiers who seem to revel in taking down their former oppressors with no regret.  The humans fight back by using a bio-weapon name EMSAH.  Who will this battle – the animals/insects or the humans?  Are the animals any better off living their new ways of life?

So goes the bat-shit crazy concept behind Mort(e) by Robert Repino.  Ants lead the rebellion along with humanized animals to obliterate the humans on the planet.  However, bat-shit crazy isn’t how this book really plays out.  It has very somber tones and a reluctant hero in Mort(e), f/k/a Sebastian.  Sebastian eventually gets rid of his “slave” name, taking Mort(e) as his new world name.  All Mort(e) really cares about is trying to find his friend Sheba.  Sheba went missing shortly after the animals started their transformations and Mort(e) has no idea where she went. Mort(e) eventually becomes part of a militia, where he achieves legendary status in the war against the humans.  Mort(e) doesn’t really care about this.  He’s like someone who is really good at a job they hate – it comes natural to them and, damn are they good, but they have something they’d much rather be doing.  For Mort(e) that’s finding Sheba.

As mentioned before, this book is a bit on the somber side.  The fellow soldiers that Mort(e) comes to know mostly have bleak memories of their time before and their stories are sad reflections of how some humans can treat animals.  This adds to the sad tone of the book.  It’s not a depressing book, just has an overall sadness to it.  The cause behind the bio-weapon EMSAH takes the book in a direction I wasn’t quite expecting, but Mort(e) stays true to himself and his cause – finding Sheba. Overall a good book.  A every unique concept that gets a little off track when dealing with the EMSAH virus, but well worth the read.

Symbiont by Mira Grant

wpid-20150112_192434.jpgSymbiont by Mira Grant is the second book in what was to be a two book series but is now a trilogy. Thatthe-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015 statement alone gives the impression this second book may have been lacking in quality content. It kind of was.

Parasite, the first book, had a good pace, was a quick read, and had a plot that moved along. Symbiont was a quick read as well, given it’s a 500 plus page book. The tapeworms meant to keep humans healthy have started to revolt and attack their hosts.  Sal and her companions must figure out how this is happening before the tapeworms cause humans to cease existing in their current forms.

Where the book falls short is in the overall story. The story got bogged down in the main character’s self reflecting and repetition of thoughts/events that happened. At the end of book one, Sal has realized what she is and how she came to be that way.  Book two starts up pretty much where the first one ended, and from there a few things happen, but the repetition really gets in the way.  Sal has to come to terms with what she is, which is understandable and something that readers would want to know about.  However, that self-reflection happens way too frequently and starts to become boring.  

I doubt this is the exact reader reaction Grant wanted. Reading her acknowledgement at the end of the book makes it clear she had a lot more to say than what would fit into two books.  Which is nothing to complain about.  If an author chooses to expand on their original plans, please do so.  Artistic creativeness has its own boss and can often take someone to a different path.  This time it seems to be a bit of a stumbling block.  The book was an Okay read – this is a very obvious second book and didn’t allow for too much progression of overall story or even decent character development. It’s just not what I was hoping for.  Maybe I’ll feel differently once the third and final book comes out.  For now however, I’m left with a feeling of slight disappointment.