Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Book Review: A Botanist's Guide to Parties and Poison

A Botanist's Guide to Parties and Poisons
by Kate Khavari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A relatively quick read that includes: mysterious poisons, embezzlement, historical showing of women being looked down upon, university professor culture, and an adorable little love story.
There's nothing too special here per say but if you like simpler mysteries or want something that won't bend your head around twenty times (the way some mysteries do today) this is a good choice.

There is not a lot of the 'thriller' genre here. A few briefly intense moments, including an almost sexual assault attack that left me feeling not only disgusted by the man in question; but also reminded that I am lucky we have any of the supports in place today (even if they are inadequate still) and aren't subject to whatever any man wants like back in the 1920's. Lots of chauvinistic pompous academia comments from men towards our leading lady. I do think it's a good representation of what it was like back then to struggle as a female scientist. And I do like that not all the men are portrayed as awful. There are at least two, probably more like four that have our leading girls best interest at heart and are trying to do what they can to watch out for her. Keeping in mind that "doing what they can" within the confines of respectable society (and that which will protect their own butts and careers) may not seem like much to some; however, it is again what was at least some sort of support back in the day. Our leading lady graciously notes this many times so as to remind the reader that the men of this time and place don't have to do anything for her (sadly).

Overall a good beach read; and a great little break to take between epic novels (if you’re like me and need that). A Botanist's Guide to Parties and Poisons is a quicker read that should satisfy the average reader for a weekend or so. It is also fairly safe to lend out to others and recommend as it's interesting enough (who doesn't like learning about poisons!) without having too many trigger warnings like a WWII historical novel might.
I’ll certainly read the next in the series and would be interested in more starring our leading lady Saffron or other publications by Kate Khavari.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Thursday, September 8, 2022

Book Review: The Echo Wife

The Echo Wife
by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part thriller, part science fiction. If Michael Crichton and Lee Child had a book baby that was just a little bit of each style then it would be The Echo Wife. While immensely readable, fairly compelling, and an overall good read; I did find myself wandering a few times. One chapter would be all encompassing and them the next a bit boring. The pacing is just a touch inconsistent and that put this one down to four stars for me. But that's not to say that Sarah Gailey hasn't written a wonderful book; because they have. Overall I would classify The Echo Wife as accessible to a large group of readers that aren't just dedicated to one genre (not unlike the Da Vinci Code; but story is written a million times better).

Morality of Cloning
Cloning will always be an immensely interesting subject to me, and it will always be fraught with moral ambiguity. If you can recreate your spouse and tweak them just a bit wouldn't you want to? Many people would instinctively say 'yes'. Except that your new spouse isn't the same tissue or matter that they were before; and they are a little less human (perhaps), but very predictable. Gailey brings us this moral and scientific crisis into a home that is fraught with tension over having a baby or not, over obedience, and (to a certain degree) over professional jealously. I can first-hand attest that it's not a good idea to be in the same industry as your partner (especially the same job position). For a time my spouse and I were competing for the exact same jobs in the design industry; it was tolerable (and proved we do love one another by having excitement for one while disappointment for the other) but I wouldn't suggest it to anyone. Plus it's not a financially stable choice as if the industry tanks you are in trouble with two incomes up in the air. So eventually I swapped industries (totally by choice) and almost a decade later we are much more successful and happy. In the long run, don't do exactly the same thing as your spouse unless you are a tight-knit team together; and even then Gailey shows that you need to be very confident in that relationship.

Mental Manipulation
The next piece of The Echo Wife is a bit more complex and might turn some people off of the novel. There is a fairly significant piece of this novel that is about emotional and mental manipulation and abuse. How much will you do to make your spouse happy? And how much should you have to do to retain a relationship? Certainly work is involved in any happy coupling; but you should not fear for your life or well-being at any time. However, in our cloning context, if you know your partner can easily replace you with another iteration does that change things? If definitely gives a power balance unfairly in one direction. And this is what we see first-hand from two different perspectives (both of the abused woman) in The Echo Wife.
It's important to note a couple things here. One, Gailey has first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be trapped in a relationship like this (as per her acknowledgements), and two they do an excellent job of representing the contrasting guilt and responsibility that many individuals are plagued with when they feel they are not upholding their side of a relationship. When that is always going to be untrue and manipulation is when the power balance is one-sided. Now that's not to say that there isn't an argument for when a coupling is not working; but wanting to permanently change or control your spouse is never going to be the answer. Never. And so I caution those with triggers for this type of behavior to be aware that the majority of the book does revolve around two controlling and manipulative relationships.

What is Identity?
Finally the third piece of The Echo Wife is the concept of identity. Gailey brings us into some very complex relationships. That between husband and wife (as discussed above), scientist and subject (clone or not), professional colleagues, and somewhere between all these spaces, friendship. Gailey asks questions about friendship in unbalanced power situations, comradery in professional capacities, and ultimately the final element needed for any relationship: trust. If I were to say that there is one message from The Echo Wife to focus on it's that your own perception of your identity including: where it comes from (internal or external), how you define it (your terms or others), and the importance of it to you (ego or id). Gailey is in a very unique position to discuss this at length, as an expert on the subject, identifying as non-binary. Gailey uses the pronouns they/them and embraced their true identity later in life. It's so encouraging to see someone who has struggled with identity share some of that in fictional characters that can help us (the reader) relate to ourselves. I found myself asking about how I validate myself, who I think I am, and why I think I am that person. These are all very pertinent questions for anyone to ask themselves; especially in today's external focused social media crazed world (where you can formulate an identity online without truly being that person).

I really want to give Gailey's thriller/sci-fi story five stars; and it really was sooo close. I can't quite pinpoint exactly what was missing or not quite there for me but I just didn't feel as compelled to read forward as I wanted to be (or felt I should be). But by no means would I discourage anyone from reading The Echo Wife. In fact this is an easy book to recommend. There is something here for almost everyone. The biggest concern I'd have in recommending this book is that someone may feel triggered by the very personal and emotionally charged mental abuse that is a great focus of this novel.
The Echo Wife is the type of book I will be recommending to my Mother, my friends, my colleagues, and so many others. Not only does it discuss very pertinent issues (such as mental abuse and identity) but it brings some current scientific laws (if you will) into question. I'd recommend picking up The Echo Wife and going on a journey of identity, morality, and reality. What is a living thing? What rights does someone have, and does it matter what that someone is made up of? Be ready to be challenged into considering how you define yourself first (even before you start defining others); and to ask yourself what would you have done given the crisis' presented to our characters (both the 'good' and 'bad' ones).

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Thursday, September 1, 2022

Book Review: The Deep

The Deep
by Rivers Solomon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can honestly say I do not really get what everyone sees as so great about this novella/short story (about 200 pages). I know Rivers Solomon is an amazing writer. Don't take my critique of this story as a criticism towards them. The ideas here are so good and smart; but the execution didn't do it for me. Or maybe it was just the main character I couldn't stand. I'm not sure; but either way I was disappointed.

For the first half of this book I was only mildly intrigued. Which is odd given that it's mermaids with unique backstory and way of narrating their own history. There are definitely overtones here that reference how awful occupation of another race, area, country, etc. can be and certainly comments on colonialism throughout. But at the end of the day I was kind of put off by the constant whining of our leading mermaid. I think Solomon did this on purpose; but I also think it was done a bit unfairly. You see I read 100 pages and think 'gosh this leading mermaid is a diva and annoying'. I then think 'why didn't she do xyz, or abc, or blah blah blah'. Only 20 pages later to find out they did. But it felt like too little, too late to me.

Unlike some novellas I wasn't able to read this in one sitting. Which might, maybe have changed things; but I have to stand by my belief that books need to be read at whatever pace is best for the reader. So arguing it has to be read quickly in one sitting doesn't sit comfortably for me. It just felt like I found out far too late enough about our leading mermaid to understand their frustrations, to recognize their trauma, and to really feel for them. Those that would argue that we should take all traumatic stories on faith would perhaps tell me I am a part of the problem that we don't believe people in real life and look for 'proof' where there may be none except the word of one person. And you may have a good point. I am someone who struggles sometimes to really understand why people make some of the decisions they make. Although I am getting better (I hope) and starting to recognize that fear is a leading factor. All that said, I really think that in fiction we should be providing enough context about a lead character to allow the readers to empathically understand them fairly quickly.

So while the last half of The Deep justifies the first half. I'm still not a huge fan. Although if you need a novella or short story to write an essay or book report on this is a great choice! There are sooo many critical comments and comparisons made to today's world (and our own fraught history) that any number of topics could be pulled out from it. My personal favourite was that the mermaids have no gender. If you know or follow River Solomon you will also appreciate why that is awesome. And also recognize how well it's explained (or not explained) in The Deep.

All that said, the origin of where the ideas for The Deep came from and the evolution they have undergone over the years are AMAZING! Don't miss the afterward as it's got some critical info in it that helps explain some of the story.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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