Book Review: Never Never

neverNever Never
Brianna R. Shrum
Fairy-tale Retelling (Fantasy)
356 pages
Published 2015

Where do I start with this one? I had ups and downs with this book. It’s a retelling of Peter Pan, from Captain Hook’s viewpoint. And it reveals that James Hook was actually a boy taken to Neverland who thought it was going to be temporary, but then Pan refused to take him home.

I LOVE that it showed Hook as a sympathetic character. And in my interpretation, Hook is still that lonely 13-year-old boy that Pan stole, artificially aged through the tricks of Neverland. Being a 13-year-old boy explains the hysterical fear of the crocodile, and the blind rages at Pan. He’s still a child, without the emotional maturity of a man, and that explains a lot of his actions in the original Disney movie. (Which is incorporated in the last part of the book.)

I was disappointed in the ending of the book. Not in the writing – the writing was fantastic – but in the actual events. I wanted a different ending. (I’m trying not to spoil too much!)

And Hook’s romance – well. It was unexpected, but it made sense, and I enjoyed it. For a while it was the only pure thing he had, but even that was spoiled by Pan. Hook really just couldn’t catch a break.

It’ll be interesting to see how this compares to the other Hook retellings out there, which I’m planning to read as well – Peter Pan is one of my husband’s favorite fairy tales, and I love seeing fairy tales from the villain’s point of view.

To sum up: A solid retelling from Captain’s Hook point of view – the ending was not quite what I wanted, but villain’s stories almost never end happily for the villain, I suppose. Definitely worth the read.

From the cover of Never Never:

James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up.

When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man – James decides he could try being a child – at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children’s dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to become a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up.

But grow up he does.

And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate.

This story isn’t about Peter Pan; it’s about the boy whose life he stole. It’s about a man in a world that hates men. It’s about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan.

Except one.

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Book Review: This Common Secret

commonsecThis Common Secret
Susan Wicklund with Alan Kesselheim
Memoir
268 pages
Published 2007

Let me begin by saying I am a feminist. I am pro-choice. This was a difficult read because it talks about the lengths people will go to infringe on the rights of women like me to make that choice. Dr. Wicklund goes into detail about the dangers she personally has faced as an abortion provider – from stalking, to assault, to arson and death threats. The murders of Dr. Hill and Dr. Britton are mentioned, and the attempted murder of Dr. Tiller. (An attempt on Dr. Tiller’s life was successful two years after the publication of the book.) She resorted to wildly varying routines, different methods of transportation, elaborate disguises, as well as hiring private security guards, none of it really alleviating her fear that she could be next.

Running throughout the entire book is Dr. Wicklund’s concern for her patients. She is a dedicated, compassionate woman who wants nothing but the best for the women in her care. In many cases, that’s not actually abortion. One of the things that makes her an excellent doctor is ferreting out what is really in her patients’ best interests.

The book is mercifully short; I have no doubt she had many more stories she could have told, but the topic is brutal and hard to read, and keeping it concise and on-message was well done. I still had to set it down and play some mindless video games when I was done, as it was a little overwhelming.

In the ten years since the book was published, nothing has really changed. The New York Times has a short read on the major acts of violence against abortion clinics and providers. The National Abortion Federation has a longer database on all acts of violence against clinics. Their summary is eye-opening – all statistics below are from 1977 to present. (They have it broken down further by decade and year on a downloadable pdf.)

Murders – 11
Attempted Murders – 26
Bombing – 42
Arson – 186
Attempted Bombing/Arson – 98
Invasion – 411
Vandalism – 1643
Trespassing – 2925
Acid Attacks – 100
Anthrax/Bioterrorism Threats – 663
Assault & Battery – 239
Death Threats – 545
Kidnapping – 4
Burglary – 255
Stalking – 583

That doesn’t include the pure amounts of hate mail, picketers, hate mail, and blockades. This is what providers persevere through to give us health care. To provide a LEGAL PROCEDURE so women don’t die from performing it on themselves in an unsafe manner.

This Common Secret also touches on why people keep it a secret. Why people don’t talk about their abortion. And why people should. If more people realize that the women that get abortions are your neighbor, your sister, your grandmother – not just that “whore that slept around” – although she, too, deserves an abortion if that is the right choice for her. Maybe they would rethink their opposition to it.

I’m honestly probably not giving this book justice – it’s a decade old, but could have been written yesterday. And I am infuriated by anti-choice assholes.

From the cover of This Common Secret:

Susan Wicklund was twenty-two-years old and juggling three jobs in Portland, Oregon when she endured a difficult abortion. Partly in response to that experience, she later embarked on an improbable life journey devoted to women’s reproductive health, attending both undergraduate and medical school as a single mother. It was not until she became a doctor that she realized how many women share the ordeal of unwanted pregnancies – and how hidden this common experience remains.

Here is an emotional and dramatic story covering twenty years on the front lines of the abortion war. For years Wicklund commuted between clinics in different states and disguised herself from protesters – often wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a .38 caliber revolver. Her daughter, Sonja, experienced seeing wanted posters with her mother’s face on them and riding to school in police cars to get through the human blockades at the end of their driveway.

Wicklund also tells the stories of the women she serves, women whose options are increasingly limited: counseling sessions in which women confide that they had used combinations of herbs – or worse – to attempt a miscarriage; or patients who have been protesters, but then find themselves bearing an unwanted pregnancy; and women who claim to want an abortion, but nothing they say or do convinces Wicklund that the decision is whole-hearted.

This Common Secret brims with the compassion and urgency of a woman who has witnessed the struggles of real patients. It also offers an honest portrait of the clinics that anti-abortion activists portray as little more than slaughterhouses for the unborn. As we enter the most fevered political fight over abortion that America has ever seen, Wicklund’s raw and revealing memoir shows us what is at stake.

 

Book Review: The Crown’s Fate

crown's fateThe Crown’s Fate
Evelyn Skye
Historical Fantasy
417 pages
Published 2017

The Crown’s Fate is a sequel to the amazing debut novel, The Crown’s Game. The first book left me crying and a little traumatized, it was so elegant and heart-breaking. The second has proven to be a worthy successor, and healed most of the hurts caused by the first.

The two books tell the story of two enchanters in Tsarist Russia competing to become Imperial Enchanter. The competition, unfortunately, must end in the death of one of them, so Russia’s magic can be solely controlled by the Imperial Enchanter, and therefore be stronger for defending the realm. It only complicates things that one of the competitors is the heir to the throne’s best friend. And what happens when the two competitors fall in love?

Along the way, we see creative enchantments, volcano nymphs, elegant masquerade balls, battles for succession, and a quick glimpse of Baba Yaga’s house. (Oh, how I want to learn more about that!)

These two books are really amazing, but make sure you have the second on hand before you finish the first! I read the first when it was published, last year, and had to wait a year before being able to read the second! (I’m actually surprised I didn’t post a review of it.) I don’t know if Vika and Nikolai’s story will be continued past these two books, but there is room in the world Skye has created for more stories, even if it doesn’t focus on the two enchanters. Especially now that magic beyond the control of the Imperial Enchanter is stirring in the land once again…

I’m not going to include the plot description from the book cover this time, because it contains MASSIVE spoilers for the first book. I will instead post the plot description for the FIRST book.

From the cover of The Crown’s Game:

Perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone and Red Queen, The Crown’s Game is a thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy set in Imperial Russia about two teenagers who must compete for the right to become the Imperial Enchanter—or die in the process—from debut author Evelyn Skye.

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know.  The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

astroAn Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
Colonel Chris Hadfield
Memoir
284 pages
Published 2013

Wow. Just wow. I woke up far earlier than I wanted to this morning, so I picked up one of the nonfiction books I had from the library, expecting it to put me back to sleep. Three hours later I was still awake, nearly done with the book, and absolutely enthralled. I’m not sure why I thought it would be otherwise – I’d been one of the millions fascinated with Hadfield’s videos and tweets when he was Commander of the ISS. His particular voice is very clear throughout this book. In 284 pages he takes us from his childhood, through his career path to becoming an astronaut, to his 5 months in the International Space Station, and back home. Nothing felt rushed, nothing felt like it didn’t get the attention it deserved. I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of my favorite books of 2017 – I have several months to read more things, but this book just absolutely blew me away.

It does appeal to how I like to read about science, though. I love reading about scientists. How they worked, how they made their discoveries, the paths they took. Who they were. I’m less interested in the actual science. (As opposed to my husband, who cares only about the science, and isn’t interested in hearing much about the scientists.) This is part of why I loved A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson, so much. I borrowed that book from the library and read it cover to cover, fascinated. Finally had to buy my own copy.

Hadfield took space exploration and made it accessible to everyone. According to the book, he didn’t even quite realize how big of an impact he was making at first. But between tweeting pictures from the ISS, making videos of how different life was in space, and making music videos, he really did become the most well-known astronaut of our generation. I remember putting his video of I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing) on repeat when it came out – and it STILL gives me chills today.

He only briefly talked about this video in the book, which I found surprising, given it was the one that hit me the hardest. He spent more time talking about filming and recording Space Oddity – which does have 36 million views, to I.S.S.’s 2 million. So I suppose that makes sense!

One thing he keeps coming back to in his book is his philosophy of trying to be a zero. That doesn’t sound very ambitious on the surface – but what he means is you can be one of three things in a group. You can be a negative impact (a -1) a neutral impact (a zero) or a positive impact (a +1). If you try to be a +1, it’s far likelier that you’ll try too hard, fuck up, and instead become a negative impact. So aim to be a zero. And most of the time you’ll wind up as a positive impact. I thought that was a very unique philosophy.

He’s also written a children’s book, The Darkest Dark, about a kid who wants to be an astronaut but is afraid of the dark.

This is the second book I’ve read for the Canadian Book Challenge, and I’m so glad I finally got around to it. (It’s the first one I’m reviewing, though, the first book I read I’ll be reviewing in August.)

From the cover of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth:

Col. Chris Hadfield has spend decades training as an astronaut and has logged nearly four thousand hours in space. During this time he has broken into a space station with a Swiss Army knife, disposed of a live snake while piloting a plane, and been temporarily blinded while clinging to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft. The secret to Col. Hadfield’s success – and survival – is an unconventional philosophy he learned at NASA: Prepare for the worst – and enjoy every moment of it.

In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Col. Hadfield takes readers deep into his years of training and space exploration to show how to make the impossible possible. Through eye-opening, entertaining stories that convey the adrenaline of launch, the mesmerizing wonder of space walks, and the measured, calm responses mandated by crises, he explains how conventional wisdom can get in the way of achievement – and happiness. His own extraordinary education in space has taught him some counterintuitive lessons: Don’t visualize success, do care what others think, and always sweat the small stuff. 

You may never be able to build a robot, pilot a spacecraft, make a music video, or perform basic surgery in zero gravity like Col. Hadfield. But his vivid and refreshing insights will teach you how to think like an astronaut and will change, completely, the way you view life on earth – especially your own.

#90sInJuly – July 11 – My Hero

It greatly amuses me that today is “My Hero” and I’m not actually going to post a book today. Because, you see, it is my tenth wedding anniversary! Ten years ago today, my husband and I ran to the courthouse and made it official before he shipped out to the Marine Corps. Six months later, we had a more formal ceremony with lots of friends and family, but this was the real one. Unfortunately, life has gotten in the way this year, and we don’t have any big plans to celebrate – it’s probably going to be pizza and videogames tonight, LOL – but we’ll be having fun together, and that’s what counts.

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The #90sInJuly index post can be found here.

#JubilantJuly – July 10 – Onomatopoeia

OinkMan that’s a hard word to spell. Anyway. Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink is a collection of comedic essays by Patrick F. McManus – he’s written several books – A Fine and Pleasant Misery, They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They? and several others. The vast majority of them have put my father into hysterics more than once (the one about panicking in the woods and ping-ponging off trees while running and screaming is a particularly vivid memory of mine) and they are pretty funny. They’re focused on the outdoors and outdoor activities, though there’s the occasional essay on marriage and parenting and family life as well. I am not sure where my copies have gone, unfortunately. I use to own the three I have listed. (My father – or maybe my grandfather – owned everything McManus has written.) If you like the outdoors (or want validation for NOT liking it!) these are great books.

The index post for Jubilant July can be found here.