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Book Review: House of Stairs by William Sleator

June 30, 2010 2 comments

Children dancing on stairs.Summary:
Five sixteen year old orphans living in state institutions are called to their respective offices, blindfolded, and dropped off in a building that consists entirely of stairs and landings.  There appears to be no way out.  The toilet is precariously perched in the middle of a bridge, and they must drink from it as well.  To eat they must bow to the whims of a machine with odd voices and flashing lights.  It is starting to change them.  Will any of them fight it, or will they all give in?

Review:
This book was enthralling from the first scene, featuring Peter awakening on a landing intensely disoriented and frightened.  Showing a bunch of teenagers obviously in an experiment opens itself up to caricature and stereotype, but Sleator skillfully weaves depths and intricacies to them.

The writing is beautiful, smoothly switching viewpoints in various chapters from character to character.  Hints are dropped about the outside world, presumably future America, that indicate the teens are from a land ravaged by war and intense morality rules.  For instance, their state institutions were segregated by gender.  Sleator weaves these tiny details into the story in subtle ways that still manage to paint a clear framework for the type of cultural situation that would allow such an experiment to take place.

It is abundantly clear throughout the book that the teens are facing an inhumane experiment.  Yet what is not clear at first is what a beautiful allegory for the dangerous direction society could take this story is.  Not in the sense that a group of teens will be forcibly placed in a house of stairs, but that some more powerful person could mold our surroundings to make us do what they want us to do.  To remove our most basic humanity.  This is what makes for such a powerful story.

It’s also nice that friendship in lieu of romance is central to the plot.  Modern day YA often focuses intensely on romance.  Personally, my teen years were much more focused on friendship, and I enjoyed seeing that in this YA book.  I also like how much this humanizes the animals facing animal testing, and Sleator even dedicates the book to “the rats and pigeons who have already been there.”

House of Stairs, quite simply, beautifully weaves multiple social commentaries into one.  It is a fast-paced, engrossing read, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Movie Review: Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963)

June 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Man handing heart-shaped key to a woman.Summary:
Robin is a sensible college student who firmly believes a successful marriage is about the science, not the emotions.  She convinces her boyfriend David, who just wants to get married already, that they should live together without sleeping together first to see if they are emotionally compatible.  Her aunt is not only her college professor, but also a recent divorcee, and Robin and David move into her old apartment.  Unbeknownst to them, Aunt Irene moved out due to a messy break-up with the lecherous landlord, Hogan, who lives across the hall.  Hogan is determined to craftily break up the couple so he can sleep with Robin himself, and David and Robin struggle to determine the right way to have a modern relationship.

Review:
Some in the modern audience would find the entire concept of this movie too laughable to be viewable, but if you’re aware of the situation of the sexes in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was actually quite a progressive movie for the time period.  Divorce is acknowledged via Robin’s aunt, Irene, and she is not demonized as a slimy divorcee.  She is a woman who has learned that relationships are not always simple, but also what is important to bring to them.  In fact, she gives the climactic speech of the film about relationships.  Then there’s the fact that Robin’s and David’s sexual feelings are acknowledge, and David even questions how much it would actually hurt their future together if they were to sleep together before getting married.  Robin worries that young people are rushing into marriages due to “glandular urges.”  These are quite sensible concerns voiced in a climate in which “proper” people did not engage in premarital sexual relationships, and the characters’ feelings are actually highly relatable.

Of course, the film is not entirely a serious one.  It address what was then a modern concern under the guise of slapstick.  It also utilizes one of my favorite comedy techniques wherein one room has multiple doors and windows, and the characters come and go either just missing each other or only briefly encountering each other.  One particularly delightful scene features a drunk Robin reciting e. e. cummings in an attempt to seduce David.  If any of these types of humor are favorites of yours, you will find yourself laughing at this movie.

I should also mention that this film features Jack Lemmon in an early role, as well as Dean Jones, who frequently does push-ups.  Talk about your old-time eye candy.  It also has an opening sequence, used frequently in 1960s movies, wherein a young lady and man dance around to a song written for the film together.  It’s cute and really sets the tone for the movie.

Also, cat lovers should be aware that there is a cat in this movie who plays a rather important role both to the plot and the slapstick humor.  I love how older movies insert cats into the storylines in a way in which modern films just don’t anymore.  Cats weren’t the props to crazy cat lady jokes.  They were part of the story.

If you enjoy old movies, the questioning of society’s sexual mores, or slapstick humor, you will definitely enjoy this film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Book Review: Slither by Edward Lee

June 28, 2010 4 comments

Woman wrapped up in a giant pink worm.Summary:
Nora and Loren are polychaetologists–worm scientists.  They are asked by their college to accompany a National Geographic photographer to an island off the coast of Florida to help her photograph a rare worm.  They are accompanied by a member of the military, as it is an island that is unused military property.  Also coming surreptitiously to the island are two criminal brothers and their mutual girlfriend to check on their pot growing operation and a group of four college students looking to party.  What they don’t know is that the island is gradually becoming infested with a parasitic worm.  Only this worm isn’t microscopic.  It’s huge and has multiple, gruesome ways of using its hosts.  As the various groups try frantically to avoid the worms and their ova, it seems that someone in toxin-blocking suits is watching them.

Review:
I originally picked this book up and read its blurb because of the cover.  I mean, look at that!  Such a striking piece of art.  Upon reading the description, I decided it sounded a bit like a slightly more phallic Michael Crichton-esque book.  In a way, it certainly is.  It has the group with scientists attempting to solve a situation that is putting civilians at risk.  The similarities kind of end there, however.

This is definitely a horror book, but I wouldn’t call it a scientific horror book.  There’s nothing particularly plausible about any of it.  I’d absolutely classify it more as the B-type movie gross-out fest.  Lee does the gross-out part well.  I found myself continually surprised and disgusted by the various things the worms do to human beings.  The worms are…well, they’re so gross that it took me a bit longer than usual to read this book because I couldn’t read it right before bed or while I was eating.  So he’s definitely good at that!

The book blurb hints at exciting sexual tension, but the sex veers much more strongly toward sexual abuse or gross sex than fun, crazy sex.  I didn’t particularly find this bothersome, although a bit sad for the characters.  However, I know some readers find that triggering, so you should be aware.

I enjoy watching B films with silly effects and bad dialogue, but it’s a lot more tedious to read awful dialogue than it is to hear it, for some reason.  The dialogue really, truly is atrocious.  Particularly bad is when Nora talks or thinks.  It’s like Lee has never been around a nerdy woman in his life.  It’s not much better when he’s writing anyone’s thoughts.  They all have the most inane thoughts I’ve ever read.  This actually was so tedious to get through that I almost gave up on the book a few times in the beginning.  I’m glad I didn’t, because the end is absolutely a surprise.  Not so much in the who survives sense, but in the mystery of the worms.  It was a satisfying payoff, but I wish he’d either gotten to it sooner.

I feel that overall this is a decent horror book.  It’s entirely possible that the beginning just didn’t jive with me, but would with others.  I recommend it to fans of gross out horror who don’t mind flimsy dialogue.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Friday Fun! (A/C, Ribbon Cutting, Garden)

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Hello my lovely readers!  I hope you all are enjoying the long, hot days of summer.  I am so grateful that we put in my a/c unit last weekend.  It’s been up in the 90s and humid all week, and I would have been pretty miserable sitting in my attic apartment without it, particularly after biking home from work!  Besides biking and cooking, I haven’t been doing too terribly much in the hours off of work.  Just hanging out and vegging out.  Everyone needs a week like that once in a while though, eh?

It’s been an eventful week at work.  The intranet that I’ve been working so hard on (along with others from each department in the hospital) was officially launched.  Yay! Hopefully this will make everything easier, particularly once our patrons get used to using it.  Additionally, ever since I started working here, construction has been going on converting the floor the library is on into an education and research center.  My hospital is focusing more in on academics and such.  I’m excited about the change, as it means the library is now conveniently located to the Chief Academic Officer, Chief Education Officer, Residency Training, and more.  Anyway, this week was the official unveiling and ribbon cutting of the new floor, and people have started moving into their offices already.  It’s nice to be on a floor bustling with education instead of construction.

In container gardening news, my pepper plants are growing like weeds (har-har).  One tomato plant is still struggling, and the other is going at a fairly normal rate.  I did take BookishBella’s advice and fertilize them all.  I believe struggling tomato plant grew a tiny bit afterwards, but the pepper plants just shot right up overnight.  I’m thinking my kitchen might just be more conducive to peppers than tomatoes.  I also planted onions, which seem to be doing alright.  Unfortunately, my kitty seems to have an affinity for them, which is super odd as she’s never given any of the other plants a second look.  We have to keep stopping her from trying to eat the onion shoots.  I’m thinking a few have already been lost to the cause when I wasn’t looking.  I do think it’s pretty odd she chose onions of all things to want to nom on.

I’m excited for the weekend, as always.  I hope you all have wonderfully relaxing ones!

Imminent Arrivals and TBR

June 24, 2010 17 comments

Since I didn’t quite manage to finish my current read on the bus this morning (I literally had to stop in the middle of the climax.  I HATE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS), I thought I’d do something a little bit different today.  As you all know, I use PaperBackSwap for acquiring a lot of my books.  It lets you sort your wishlist by estimated time to fulfillment, so I thought I’d share with you guys the books that are estimated to be mine shortly.

Woman in the woods.First up, I’ve been waiting for this book forever: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.  All I really know about it is it’s a post-apocalyptic zombie story with a girl/woman/female-okay! at the center of the plot.  I love all things zombie.  Love.  They’re grotesque and fabulous and really fit my dark sense of humor to a T.  This is one of those books that will jump to the top of the TBR pile when it arrives.

Black and white image of women.Next is The Groupby Mary McCarthy.  This got added to my wishlist after reading Nymeth‘s review of it.  It’s about eight female Vassar graduates in the 1930s and the struggles they faced as women at that time.  I’m a sucker for stories about the struggles women face due simply to the fact that we’re women, and the early 1900s are a favorite time period of historical fiction for me.

Giant moon over snowy earth.Third is yet another post-apocalyptic book: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  I can only explain my post-apocalypse obsession by pointing at my fundamentalist Christian upbringing.  Or maybe I just enjoyed the apocalypse sermons because I secretly love tales of suffering.  Take your pick.  Anywho, this one is in journal form, a format I came to love through those Dear America books back when I was in middle school.  This particular apocalypse takes the form of an asteroid hitting the moon, moving it closer to the Earth and giving us some fun Arctic weather.  I’ve heard good titterings from my fellow librarians on this one.

Ok, so I also have books in my TBR pile, so I’m going to show you guys 3 random books from there.  If there’s one you sorely want reviewed soon, tell me now!

Person in a tree.I stumbled upon The Integral Trees by Larry Niven on PaperBackSwap’s customized homepage (it shows me recently added scifi, horror, and memoirs).  The cover caught my attention, so I checked out the description.  It’s supposed to be about a planet where humans evolved to live without gravity and live among the trees.  All other life forms also live among the trees, including the fish.  Honestly, it reminded me a lot of Wii Mario Galaxy, so there you have it.

Torn page in a notebook.A pretty recent arrival, I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells features an untrustworthy narrator with sociopathic tendencies who spends the book trying to convince us and himself that he’s not a serial killer.  Kind of reminds me of Dexter-lite.  I was really stoked for this the whole time it was on my wishlist, but I haven’t touched it since it arrived.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe I’d enjoy it more if it was called, Yeah, I’m a Serial Killer, Deal With It, Bitch.  As is, it just seems like the author was afraid to take it to the edge that Dexter is at.  Prove me wrong, people!

Cartoon of a woman sitting on a tombstone.Finally, there’s Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson.  Yes, it’s yet another paranormal romance series, and I have yet to finish the two that I’m on (Demon Slayer and Sookie), but well this one seems a lot more like Shopaholic, plus it’s not in the south, which is a huge plus.  I mean, really, why must all tongue-in-cheek paranormal romance take place in the south, whereas the dull I’m-a-huge-bitch-because-I-was-wounded-as-a-child-LOOK-AT-MY-TATTOOS paranormal romance take place in the north?  Sooo dull.  So, yeah, I have high hopes for this series.

That’s it!  Please tell me what you think, my lovely readers!

July in Medical Libraries

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Just as with any public service job, there are seasons of business in libraries, and those vary with type of library.  Academic libraries see a drastic increase in use at the end of each semester.  Even the students who planned well still have finals to study for and last-minute research to do!  This month I’ve been enjoying seeing my public librarian friends preparing for and starting various summer reading programs.  Summers are a busy time for public libraries!  Kids are out of school, people are vacationing, and there’s the ever-present summer reading programs of course.  If I ever end up working in a public library, I know I’ll enjoy the summers as I love being busy at work, and I absolutely adore summer reading programs.

In my current medical library, however, all has been pretty quiet this month.  Why is that?  Well, hospitals operate on a different yearly schedule than other learning institutions.  Hospitals start new residents and medical students in July.  This means that by June most of the people in the hospital who will use the library the most are old hats at it.  They come in, sure, but they don’t need too much research help.  On the other hand, July…..

Well, there’s a reason your doctor friends advise you not to get sick in July.  July is when the new residents start.  They’re super-excited!  They’re super-busy!  It’s kind of like having a bunch of freshmen in your library, only freshmen who are on an insanely tight schedule and carry beepers they have yet to entirely figure out how to use and who often are so terrified of getting sued or are so diligent about being excellent doctors that they request research for evidence-based medicine for every single decision.  It’s busy as all heck, but to me, it’s also a lot of fun.  These young doctors are still so passionate about their work.  They desire so badly to make a difference.  They’re so profoundly grateful every time you help them, even if it’s just pointing them to a phone to call to see what that page was about.  Their passion and belief in their ability to change the world reignites my own.

So while you academic librarians enjoy your summer respite and public librarians rush around with everything summer reading, I’ll be gearing up for and teaching new residents all about how to find the evidence for practicing evidence-based medicine.

And where there’s wifi.

And what SafeBoot is.

And where they can sleep.

And where phones are for returning pages.

And where the residency training rooms are.

And enjoying every minute of it.

Book Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

June 22, 2010 14 comments

A woman dressed in white posing for a portrait.Summary:
Originally serialized in 1859 to 1860 then published in book form in 1860 this epistolary novel is considered one of the first mystery novels. Walter Hartright is an artist who gets hired to be a drawing master for two half-sisters Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe. He and Laura soon fall in love, but they cannot be together due to class differences and Laura’s prior promise to her now deceased father to marry Lord Percival Glyde. A mysterious woman dressed all in white warns Laura against her marriage, calling Lord Glyde evil. However, Laura is reluctant to renege on her final promise to her father and proceeds with her marriage, sending herself, Marian, and Walter into a spiral of intrigue and danger.

Review:
I love slow-moving, epistolary novels, particularly gothic ones read on a long, hot summer day.  One of my finest reading memories is of enjoying Dracula while working on a summer internship at a national park on a peninsula with four beaches.  So I came to this gothic, mysterious, epistolary novel with high expectations.  At first they were met, but as the plot proceeded I came more and more to want to smack Collins upside the head.

Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that the slowly building tension indicates a truly serious infraction on Lord Percival Glyde’s part that turns out to be not particularly shocking at all.  At least to my American mind.  Suffice it to say, it revolves around title holding, something which I find baffling and laughable.  Why should anyone care if Laura is Mrs. Glyde or Lady Glyde?  Her life seems more boring than the servants’ anyway.  I thought I would be reading a novel that was more about revealing the treachery and debauchery of the upper class.  Instead I got a book about bourgeois problems, which, I’ve indicated elsewhere on this blog, I simply cannot relate to and find completely annoying.  I get it that some people enjoy that, but the desire to maintain a tense, mysterious illusion around the book led me to believe it’s something it wasn’t.  That is frustrating, to say the least.

Beyond the disappointing mystery there’s of course the typical problems found in early 1800s literature.  The sexism comes from Marian’s own mouth, which is surprising given that she is a depicted as a strong woman.  She often will lament the short-comings of “her sex.”  Actually, the entire situation between Walter, Marian, and Laura is baffling.  Laura is a weak, foolish girl who Walter falls and stays head over heels in love with.  I cannot fathom why that would be when he spends an equal amount of time with Marian, who is a strong, thoughtful, intelligent woman.  Laura is described as beautiful, whereas Marian is described as possessing a beautiful body but an unfortunately masculine face.  This leads me to believe Walter is rather shallow, as I see no reason beyond Laura’s beauty for his devotion to her.  I know sexism is to be expected in older novels, but I would at least hope for a hero who loves the heroine for something beyond her beauty.

That said, the novel certainly gives modern women a new appreciation for our current situation.  The women in The Woman in White are constantly downtrodden by the men around them who believe it is entirely within their right to dictate to them everything about how they should behave, speak, dress, etc…  It appears that the only thing the women have control over is when to leave the men to their wine after dinner.  In fact the couple presented as the happiest and most well-functioning is that of Count Fosco and his wife, and they only function well due to the fact that she obeys his every command.  Mrs. Fosco is described as a woman who prior to meeting the Count was loud, obnoxious, and always yammering on about women’s rights.  Count Fosco, apparently, “fixed all that,” and she is now such a pleasant woman to deal with.  The only woman who does not base her entire existence around a man is Marian, and that is due to her bizarre, near worshipful devotion to Laura.  It makes me shudder to think if those had been my options as a woman–existing purely for the whims of a man, downtrodden and outcast, or pure devotion to a sister.  Yeesh.

I did enjoy listening to the book.  It felt a bit like listening to an old-time radio program, which I’m sure is due to its origin as a serial novel.  Those who enjoy the slower pace of older novels and can relate to the bourgeoisie will probably enjoy it.  If either of those elements turns you off, however, you should look elsewhere.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording via the Audiobooks app for the iTouch and iPhone

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