REVIEW: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande [5/5]

“The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”

being-mortal-atul-gawande

Title: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Author: Atul Gawande

Genre: Nonfiction, Medicine

Rating: 5/5

Blurb:

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own, and truth be told, the way in which I acquired this book is so strange that it seems almost like providence. I’m a shift supervisor at Starbucks, and about a month ago, a customer came through the drive-through and offered the barista this book. I don’t know what was said; once the person had driven away, the barista approached me and simply said she’d been given the book by the customer and had no idea what to do with it. A glance at the cover left me uneasy. It wouldn’t have been the first time a religious pamphlet had been handed to us. But after I looked at the subtitle and read the inside flap, I became intrigued. It seemed interesting enough, and as I’d been hoping to reignite my love of reading, I made it the next book on my to-read list.

Being Mortal may now be one of the most influential books on my life. I don’t need to fear just yet a death by old age, but of course we’re aware that it is possible to be taken before our time — a car crash, cancer, a chance slip and fall. Depression has made me think of death too often, but I never truly considered the act and process of dying except to reel from it in disgust. Being Mortal forced me to look at it.

Atul Gawande is a renowned and experienced surgeon, and he’s blatantly honest in this work. For the longest time, he had only one mindset: death is the enemy and must always be fought. However, he had rarely if ever given thought to the consequences this “save at all costs” mentality could bring. His experience with suffering patients and dying family forced him to reevaluate his mindset. He watched lives be saved, but at the cost of dignity and happiness. He saw people who were alive, but who were not living. And he saw the toll this took not only on the patients themselves, but on their families as well.

In this novel, he interweaves anecdotes and science in a way to cause envy in other authors. His prose is elegant and accessible. It does not talk down to you, not does it assume you to be an idiot. The flow is seamless, and the stories engaging. More importantly, this novel forces us all to consider that which we fear to consider: perhaps it is better to allow death to take its course than to force someone to live.

This book is a must-read for anyone, especially for those whose loved ones may soon be reaching the end of life. It teaches the importance of not saving life, but saving the act of living. Safety, Gawande finds, is not the key to happiness, but rather the ability to maintain agency of one’s self in whatever capacity one may have. Too often, we do not talk about death. We instead avoid it, shushing anyone who might try to start the conversation because we do not want to think about the inevitable. But these conversations are important, and they can set the tone for how we will end our lives. The only certainty in life is death, yet we rarely prepare for it.

Gawande’s book is, in a word, masterful. I am only twenty-three, nowhere near death (I hope), and yet I was enraptured and educated on an idea I may have otherwise never considered — until it was too late. Death is scary, but dying is scarier, and Gawande helps ease us into the conversation of how we need to think about it in order to have a truly fruitful end-of-life. This is not a book that must only be read by those close to death or whose loved ones are close to death. This is a book that must be read by everyone.

Review: The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks [1/5]

The-Way-of-ShadowsTitle: The Way of Shadows

Author: Brent Weeks

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Rating: 1/5

Blurb:

For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art-and he is the city’s most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned to judge people quickly – and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and cultivate a flair for death.

When I read this blurb, I thought, “Wow! This sounds so cool! I can’t wait to read it!” And then I did, and wow, was I disappointed.

I made it three chapters in before I had to give up. This book is so riddled with cliches and tropes (for characters, plot, world, EVERYTHING) it made me dumbfounded. It almost seemed like a parody. Every part of the story was so predictable, so easy to guess, so unentertaining that I couldn’t make myself finish the story. I don’t even know if I can get too far into it just because I tried to purge the bit of story I read from my brain. The writing was okay, but not nearly enough to get me through the story. I’m so glad I didn’t read the whole thing.

SERIES REVIEW: Neon Genesis Evangelion by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto [5/5]

eva mangaSeries Title: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Author: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

Genre: Manga, Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5

Blurb:

Once Shinji didn’t care about anything; then he found people to fight for—only to learn that he couldn’t protect them, or keep those he let into his heart from going away. As mankind tilts on the brink of the apocalyptic Third Impact, human feelings are fault lines leading to destruction and just maybe, redemption and rebirth.

The blurb does not do this series justice. This manga is about Shinji Ikari, a fourteen-year-old boy with crippling depression and self-doubt. When his years-absent father suddenly beckons him to the city of Tokyo-3, Shinji is caught up in the attack of an angel — a monstrous creature from the sky set on destroying the city. As the angel wreaks havoc, he’s taken to the underground control center of NERV, an organization that has created huge, pilot-able biorobots called “evangelions” to fight the angels, and Shinji learns that his father didn’t call on him because he missed him — he needs Shinji to pilot an eva unit.

This is an amazing series. I watched the anime and four movies a couple months ago, and I absolutely fell in love. I’m not the type to buy merchandise beyond the movie/book itself, but now I own a NERV messenger bag, a Sachiel phone sticker, and a framed portrait of the main character. So I was incredibly excited to read the manga.

Fans of the anime might say that there’s some wonky characterization,and I would almost be tempted to agree if I didn’t think that these subtle changes in personality and character were reflective of the NGE world as a whole. Without giving too much away, the anime, manga, and reboot movies all differ in some ways, but these differences actually add to the richness of the world rather than distract from it or contradict it. By looking at these other adaptations outside of the popular anime, one gets a much greater appreciation and understanding of the Eva world. The nature of the manga also allows us to go more in-depth into some side stories that were never explored, and the world-building pages and interviews at the end of every volume help one understand the history of the world much better.

While I could sing the praises of this series all day, the only criticism I can really offer is that there are still world-building elements that are left muddy and confused. Do not read this thinking that once you reach the end, you’re finally going to have a complete understanding of the story. You’re not. While NGE starts off as an apocalyptic scifi novel, it ends as a psychological and philosophical one — and that means there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense until you’ve talked to fourteen different people about it, consulted the wiki, and read it a couple more times. And even then you still have questions.

Nevertheless, Neon Genesis Evangelion is an amazing series in all its forms. If you have any interest in science-fiction, the occult, mythology, or psychology, then this series is for you. If you’re looking for something lighter, though, then I’d say look somewhere else.

REVIEW: Veiled by Eka Waterfield [5/5]

veiledTitle: Veiled (Book 2 in The Fae Feast)

Author: Eka Waterfield

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5

Blurb:

Twenty years have passed since the events of Sinners, and Niavin Arkezea is thriving. Sure, there has been an influx of attempts on his life recently, and an annoying upstart vendor came into his markets with strange new substances that lured away many of Niavin’s customers. But that is business as usual, nothing Niavin cannot handle.

Then a being ancient beyond belief comes forward to strike a deal with him, and things start to get interesting.

You may remember my review of the first book, Sinners, in this series last year. I beta read the work and loved it every time I read it, so I was more than pleased when Waterfield came to me ask me to beta read the sequel as well.

In Veiled, Waterfield has not disappointed. The plots are just as intricate and complex as ever, and the twisted interactions of characters are expertly unraveled throughout the story. Niavin is such a great, sassy, asexual Sidhe drug lord, and the cast of characters in this work is even stronger than it was in Sinners.

Overall, I found this work to be better than the first. Waterfield really seems to have found her groove in writing, and she’s obviously comfortable in the world of the fae. The pacing of the plot is perfect, with alternating scenes of fast-paced action and intense dramatic dialogue. I especially loved how so much from the first book was tied in with this one, and the details contained in the novella are just enough to remind you of what happened without overwhelming you with summary.

Veiled is an excellent sequel to an already excellent novella. I can’t wait for more of Waterfield’s works, and I definitely hope to see more with Niavin in the future.

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins [4/5]

MockingjayCover“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”

Title: Mockingjay (Third Book in The Hunger Games Series)

Author: Suzanne Collins

Genre: Science-Fiction, Dystopia

Rating: 4/5

Blurb:

“My name is Katniss Everdeen. Why am I not dead? I should be dead.”

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

District 13  has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Though she’s long been a part of the revolution, Katniss hasn’t known it. Now it seems that everyone has had a hand in the carefully laid plans but her.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay – no matter what the cost.

Mockingjay is the final chapter of The Hunger Games, and while it might be the best of the series in terms of how it wrests emotion from the reader, it is also the most heart-breaking and sad.

I tried reading this in 2011, but at the time, it was too different from the other books for me. In the first two, Katniss is relatively determined and fierce, but in this, she is broken, hurt, and a shell of herself. It makes sense, of course; she has post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, it made it a hard read for a younger me because it wasn’t what I had expected.

Today, it’s still a hard read, but for much different reasons. When I finished the book, I had the worst panic attack of my life. I was sobbing, inconsolable, and it wasn’t because I was upset for the characters, it was that the emotional trauma that Katniss goes through had culminated in this horrible mirror of my own. It touched me deeply, and I found myself sick with grief and empathy for her.

This is not a happy book. The epilogue may try to trick you into thinking it is, but it is not. It is a good book. The plot is believable, rich, and emotional, just like the characters. The writing is okay. It’s what I’d expect from a YA novel concerned mostly with keeping young readers engaged, and honestly I would have given this book 5 stars in spite of that.

So why dock a star? Truly, it’s because of my vehement emotional reaction. For the last half of the novel, I felt sick and upset for Katniss. While this is certainly the mark of a good book, I have to dock a point only because I didn’t enjoy reading this. It felt like a chore because I knew I would feel upset when I began reading it. And reading, for me, should be enjoyable. So while, yes, it did an excellent job at ripping emotion from me, it was rarely an enjoyable experience. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent book.

Review: The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer [1/5]

the dark wife

When Hades leaves,” Pallas whispered, “the light goes with her.”

Title: The Dark Wife

Author: Sarah Diemer

Genre: Fantasy, Rewritten Mythology

Rating: 1/5

Blurb:

Three thousand years ago, a god told a lie. Now, only a goddess can tell the truth.

Persephone has everything a daughter of Zeus could want–except for freedom. She lives on the green earth with her mother, Demeter, growing up beneath the ever-watchful eyes of the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. But when Persephone meets the enigmatic Hades, she experiences something new: choice.

Zeus calls Hades “lord” of the dead as a joke. In truth, Hades is the goddess of the underworld, and no friend of Zeus. She offers Persephone sanctuary in her land of the dead, so the young goddess may escape her Olympian destiny.

But Persephone finds more than freedom in the underworld. She finds love, and herself.

I really, really, really wanted to like this book. Persephone and Hades as a female/female couple! How could this be bad? I honestly believed there was no way this could even be less than a mediocre book.

But oh how I was wrong.

This book is just bad. Plot and characters both can be described as “flimsy.” There are a dozen plot holes, and that which doesn’t have a plot hole is cliched in such a way that you know exactly what’s going to happen. On top of that, the characters themselves are one-dimensional and can express only up to three emotions maximum. The romance feels forced, too quick, and Persephone spends paragraphs describing why Hades is beautiful and perfect and flawless, and yeah, I get she’s a Goddess, but the thing about Greek gods is that they’re all flawed.

When it comes to what the characters feel or believe, you’re told all of that information and given no reason to believe it. Gratuitous details are spent on all the wrong things while the plot details and motivations that do need more details are left to flounder. There are also copious half-baked plots that probably would have made for better stories than this one.

This might have at least been bearable if the writing was good, but it’s not. The prose is overly flowery and at first gives the impression of being good because it’s full of big words and long sentences. The truth is that the purple prose acts as a cloak to disguise the fact that many of the words being used don’t make sense in context and that the writing is actually very poor. Because of this writing style, it exacerbates the melodrama of the piece, taking it from semi-okay to completely eye-roll worthy.

I wish I could say that this was better. I really do. But the fact of the matter is that it’s not even mediocre. The only good things I have to say are good cover, queer characters exist, and I like stories that play with mythology. Unfortunately, that’s it.

Review: Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Javier Pulido [5/5]

hawkeye

Title: Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon

Author: Matt Fraction (mattfractionblog)

Illustrator: David Aja, Javier Pulido

Genre: Superhero, Graphic Novel

Rating: 5/5

Blurb:

Collects Hawkeye #1-5 & Young Avengers Presents #6.  The breakout star of this summer’s blockbuster Avengers film, Clint Barton – aka the self-made hero Hawkeye – fights for justice! With ex-Young Avenger Kate Bishop by his side, he’s out to prove himself as one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! SHIELD recruits Clint to intercept a packet of incriminating evidence – before he becomes the most wanted man in the world.

I have no complaints about this first volume of Hawkeye. Literally none. This was a stunning, flawless introduction to a new run of this underrated Avenger, and I couldn’t be happier.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Matt Fraction in the past; he’s a weird guy, but in the best way, feminist and taking no bullshit from anybody. And after reading this, I was glad to see that was true.

Everyone’s characterization was great, made clear through excellent paneling and dialogue. The piece holds a wonderful tone, quirky and fun with just the right amount of seriousness. It’s complimented by David Aja’s art. Aja serves as the illustrator for the first half of the comic, and his work impeccably complements Fraction’s writing.

When it comes to the two-issue video tape arc, Javier Pulido comes on the scene to illustrate. His art is highly stylized, and its vintage style works perfectly with the arc which seems to call back to more 1960s comics.

Like I said, I have no complaints. This was a great introduction to a character and a new story. I loved Fraction, I loved Aja, and I loved Pulido. Together, they make a flawless team.