This book had popped up as a recommended book on Goodreads a while ago, but I ignored it, and maybe I should have, because learning about Laika has be...moreThis book had popped up as a recommended book on Goodreads a while ago, but I ignored it, and maybe I should have, because learning about Laika has been very heartbreaking for me.
I first learned about Laika this week and scoured the internet to find all the information I could about her. There's not much, unfortunately, but I thought I would read this book, since I heard it was well researched, even if not everything in the book was true. She was the first dog and first living creature put into space/orbit. Unfortunately, because of political pressure, the engineers in the program didn't have enough time to formulate a plan to bring her home and she died in space after a few hours. This book is about Laika, her fictionalized keeper, Yelena, Korolev, the chief designer of the Soviet Space Program and Gazenko, one of the scientists involved with Laika.
Laika gets a back story, and while this is obviously speculation, we can never imagine Laika's life before she was in the space program, these scenes were really tearjerkers for me. I thought I would not like the back story, but I think it added something to the overall story. Because there is not a lot of information on Laika, there has to be some speculation. I liked the scenes where she flew in people's dreams. Like she was already ready to meet her destiny. Not to say that I enjoyed her death, but I thought the scenes of her flying, in dreams and in space were beautifully rendered and captured her spirit.
The character of Yelena and her relationship with the dogs was a big tearjerker for me, too. I like how Abadzis didn't anthropomorphize Laika, but had Yelena speaking for her. All animal lovers do this to an extent and I read an interview with Abadzis where he made this point as well, that we as humans project their emotions and experiences on animals. The trust between her and Laika was heartbreaking, as well. I think the afterword put it best, "the personal stories, both canine and human, that bring Laika alive as a meditation on the meaning of destiny and the fragile beauty of trust."
That, to me, is what the book was about. Korolev and Laika both had a destiny and Laika trusted her keepers and they sent her on a one-way ticket to space. Not to criticize the scientists, as at least one of them, Gazenko, regretted the experiment. They really were doing something they believed was for the good of science, but I think the book shows how they grappled with it, that maybe it wasn't an easy decision for them.
As stated before, I liked the depiction of her flying into space, while it was sad, I think it also depicted that she finally had a sort freedom as she flew into oblivion. And when she and Sputnik II returned to earth, she left a mark. I thought ending with the blackness was beautiful and it contrasted nicely with the opening all in white.
Overall, this book was amazing. I think Abadzis captured all the conflicting emotions about Laika and the Soviet space program. I cried through most of the book.
A quote from Gazenko captures everything best: "Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it... We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog."
This book is my first foray into urban fantasy, and wow! I loved the world that Lauren Beukes created, but at the same time, some things confused me....moreThis book is my first foray into urban fantasy, and wow! I loved the world that Lauren Beukes created, but at the same time, some things confused me. That may be because I read too quickly and miss important details. However, I would love to see her write another book taking place in this world. The cover is wonderful and was one of the main reasons I wanted to read this book. The description and some of the key words on the back cover such as "Gangster Shamen" also helped my enthusiasm for reading this.
The plot centers around Zinzi December, a scam artist and criminal. Because of her criminal status, she carries around a sloth. This "aposymbiotic" relationship gives Zinzi magical powers. She is able to find lost objects, and this talent sets the plot in motion. She is hired by two other "zoos" who want her to find a missing pop singer. I felt that Zinzi was the force driving the book and the plot with the missing singer seemed very secondary and not important, until the reveal at the end of the book. The plot seemed more like a way to show off this world that Beuke created, but she does tie the loose ends together at the end, as far as the plot goes. The ending was a little unexpected, and somewhat sad, but was fitting for the gritty reality that Zinzi lives in. I didn't hate the plot, but it wasn't my favorite part of the book.
Zinzi isn't a great person, but Beukes' characterization is so good, that I wanted to know more about Zinzi and her past. Zinzi isn't sugarcoated, and it's clear why she has a sloth. I would love another book set in this world and centered around Zinzi. The book ends ambigously, thus setting Zinzi up for a second book. I don't know if this was her intention, but I do hope she revisits Zinzi and her world.
However, the plot did leave me with many questions. Beukes exposes her world slowly and incorporates it into the story, as well as including other pieces of writing such as emails or news articles interspersed among Zinzi's voice. Because of this sort of reveal, I spent a lot of time flipping back and forth and piecing all the facts together. Beukes also uses many words that are in another language and unfamiliar to me, so I sometimes wasn't able to glean the context. When I first started reading, I got the sense that only criminals/former criminals were "animalled." As I read more, it appears that it may be a disease or disorder, with a resulting magical power, but that doesn't explain why it only affects criminals. However, by the end of the book, it's pretty clear that only criminals are the ones "animalled." I was also confused about the Undertow, the process where zoos are killed after their animals die. There were several descriptions of it, but I found it a little vague. That seems to be the point, because the "zoos" don't really understand it either. Zinzi also mentions at one point that a "animalled" human can die, but their animal can live on for a few months afterwards, but is never the same. One of the keywords on the back is "Symbiotic Familiar" and this definitely describes the relationship between humans and their animals. The animals don't talk but they do react to their human's emotions and actions. I also wanted more information into why only criminals have animals and the process in which the animal is forced on them. Zinzi at one point describes it as her "scarlet letter" and non-criminals fear "zoos." Also, where do the animals come from? Are they part of the human's soul or something else? I think I will reread this book, because that might clear up some confusion. I think the author's point was to keep things somewhat vague, because even the characters in the book don't understand everything.
Overall, I give the book 3.5ish stars. I really, really loved the character of Zinzi, and I think the author did a good job of making a not sympathetic character very sympathetic. But I had a lot of questions about the world and Zinzi's past. (less)
This book revolves around Rory (Aurora) a teen from Louisiana. Her family moves to England, where Rory decides to attend boarding school in London, at...moreThis book revolves around Rory (Aurora) a teen from Louisiana. Her family moves to England, where Rory decides to attend boarding school in London, at Wexford, a school in East London. While she is attending school there and adjusting to English/London life, a Jack the Ripper copycat begins killing on the same dates as the Ripper and leaving the bodies in the same locations. Rory begins seeing a mysterious man that no one else can seem to see, and finds out that she may be the Ripper's next victim.
This book really lived up to my expectations, especially after the disappointment of my last book. It had a nice blend of a mystery/thriller, some history and also a contemporary YA. The book is almost two genres in one. It starts out as a YA contemporary with a little romance and then morphs into a historical mystery/paranormal/thriller. I was expecting the paranormal from the blurb on the book jacket, so this didn't come out of the blue and surprise me. Rory also realistically dealt with the shock of realizing that she could see ghosts. Johnson had a nice balance between YA contemporary and thriller/mystery at the end.
One thing about the book that I loved was that the romance was not overdone. And it wasn't a love triangle! I have become very tired of books where the main character's life is in danger, but she cares more about what her love interest is doing or thinking and kissing her love interest. The hint of romance was nice, and I am so grateful that it didn't overpower the story, because honestly, I was reading this book for the serial killer madness, not romance.
There was a little info dumping, especially in regards to the history of Jack the Ripper, but it was done in snippets of newscasts, and in the character of Jerome, the main love interest of Rory. However, I thought his infodumping was fairly realistic, because I know I have a similar personality, and I have an interest in Jack the Ripper, as well. I also probably info dump about topics I'm interested in, like Jerome.
As for the other characters, they were all well developed, and I especially enjoyed that Johnson, in a nod to modern English culture, features an English/Indian character, Bhuvana, or Boo, as she likes to be called. I thought Jazza was a nice counterpoint to both Rory and Boo, but she wasn't a caricature. And I also liked Alistair, and the little twist with his story. I am excited about the ghost police and the dynamics of the group and their mission, especially in regards to the next book.
I thought the cover was misleading. The girl on the cover is definitely not Rory and the shadowy "Ripper" behind her harkens back to the original Ripper, but doesn't really pertain to this particular novel. I assume that the girl is possibly one of the victims, but I feel like the cover doesn't accurately reflect what is actually in the novel.
While I think Johnson did do a good job of making this a standalone novel, she did set it up at the very end for a sequel, and I can't wait for it! She has left me wanting more, with that little twist at the end and I'm interested to see how the next book will play out.
Overall, I give this book 5 stars. I really loved it.(less)
I loved, loved, loved this book! It wasn't what I was expecting at all, and the twist in the book really threw me. I can't say more without spoiling t...moreI loved, loved, loved this book! It wasn't what I was expecting at all, and the twist in the book really threw me. I can't say more without spoiling the book, but I loved how A Wrinkle in Time was incorporated into the book, and now I really want to read A Wrinkle in Time.(less)
One of the most amazing books I've read so far this year. I originally had a copy from the library, but there were so many things I wanted to highligh...moreOne of the most amazing books I've read so far this year. I originally had a copy from the library, but there were so many things I wanted to highlight and underline that I have now purchased my own copy.(less)
**spoiler alert** Book review that I wrote for a British History class:
Barbara Hanawalt examines peasants and the peasant family in The Ties That Boun...more**spoiler alert** Book review that I wrote for a British History class:
Barbara Hanawalt examines peasants and the peasant family in The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England. This book rebukes the established ideas and beliefs about medieval people, by laypeople and by scholars. Two of the issues that she raises in the introduction are how varying historians have viewed the peasant family from viewing the peasant family as extended families living in one household, or peasant families as the conjugal or nuclear family. Hanawalt finds the truth somewhere in between these two extremes, with her argument falling towards the latter view, although she explores the complex relationship between family and community. Her book provides new insight into the lives of the medieval peasants, and to come to a new understanding of what their world may have been like. Hanawalt acknowledges the problems of past studies on medieval people, especially peasants. She notes that historians and scholars have not fully studied the English medieval peasant, their research was flawed, or they were viewing medieval peasants from a modern perspective, thus doing them an injustice (9-10).While much information can be gleaned from manorial court rolls, she states that previous historians and scholars have overlooked sources such as archaeology, wills, and coroner’s rolls. Hanawalt uses these sources, especially the coroner’s rolls, in her analysis of peasants and peasant families, and all of her conclusions on peasants arise predominately from these documents. She also cites the influence of anthropological research methods in her acknowledgements. While the coroner’s rolls are morbid, they do provide much insight into the everyday life of peasants, and the demise and death of peasants, as well. She states that they are like “a very succinct verbal snapshot of life” (viii). Hanawalt uses the unit of a family to understand how peasants lived in Medieval England. She begins with defining what a peasant and family were during the medieval era. Her premise is that, “medieval English peasant families were not exactly like our own, but they were also not extended, full of holes, porous, or solely centered on the community” (9). She shows how the family was the most important unit in the economy, especially in the chapter on inheritance. According to Hanawalt’s research of wills, it was important for the peasants to keep land and other possessions within the family, “Although customs varied from manor to manor, the strong sentiment that property should descend to the person with the closest blood tie remained firm” (73). Again, she is illuminating the importance of the nuclear family through inheritance and wills. Hanawalt discusses peasant homes and their land and the village and other surroundings through the use of archaeological evidence, as well as other sources. One of the most fascinating incidents from the coroner’s rolls is that of a young girl being mauled by a bear that made its way up to the second floor of an inn (38-39). From this incident, Hanawalt is able to show that some two story homes did exist, although they were rare. She also outlines what she can glean about their diets, and other mundane aspects of everyday life, such as how archaeological evidence shows that the “floors” of the home were swept often (41). While this section on the “material world” is very interesting, it does not fit in wholly to Hanawalt’s overall argument. It sets up the peasant world before venturing into social and economic issues, and thus reaching Hanawalt’s argument. Hanawalt goes into a discussion of the family members, and various life stages of the medieval peasant. The family was the economic unit in Medieval England, and by exploring each role of the family, she is able to show how important members were to the family economy. Even children contributed to the family economy. In the chapters on stages of life, many of these center around inheritance, especially the chapters on “Growing Up and Getting Married” and “Widowhood.” Interestingly enough, according to Hanawalt and an old proverb, widows and their children were able to survive the death of a husband and father, but the reverse was not true (220). The chapter on widowhood shows how community and the family were both simultaneously important to the peasant family. Women were able to inherit land and other possessions when their husbands died, thus showing the importance of kinship and family, but women also had a new role in the community. In the last section, she devotes her analysis to the importance of community, and whether community or extended family was more important than the conjugal or nuclear family. She also discusses ways in which the community took care of its members, such as in the case of orphans or the sick, and the emotional bonds between neighbors and kin. In this final chapter, Hanawalts states that community ties and family ties were both important, Community could provide only a portion of the material and emotional needs of an individual. While important to the medieval peasant, it was rather limited as a surrogate for family. The argument of Shorter and Ariès suffers from a basic fallacy, namely, that humans have only a finite ability to form emotional bonds….In traditional society, these authors argue, these ties were with the community, and in the modern period they shifted over to family. Humans, however, form a variety of emotional bonds that vary somewhat with the circumstances. A peasant’s ties with his neighbors, while emotional, were of a very different sort from those with family…(266) While Hanawalt spends most of her book on the family itself and how it functioned as a unit, these two chapters show the importance of community in relation to the family itself. These two chapters work well at the end of the book. They serve to tie together the points that Hanawalt raises in her introduction. Hanawalt focuses primarily on the latter years of the Middle Ages, predominately the 14th and 15th centuries. She contrasts between the era before the plague and after the plague, and how the plague affected peasants, their habits, and their family life, most notably in the ways in which community and family life changed, “The plague and other diseases took their toll of the community in more than numbers of dead. Although family units tended to regroup fairly quickly, with more distant kin taking the place of family who died, they did not have the same socialization into the community that the former tenants had, the mutual cooperation and community cohesion that had been built on generations of interactions and trust” (266). The plague was devastating to the medieval peasant family, but the nuclear or conjugal family was able to stay intact, although community appears to have become less important, due to the extreme death rate. Hanawalt’s conclusion is that the medieval family is not similar to the modern family, as other historians have concluded, but they aren’t radically different either. Instead medieval peasants and the peasant family were more complex than they have been portrayed by other historians. Even through the changes in the later middle ages, with the devastation of the plague, Hanawalt states, “the peasant family remained much the same throughout these two centuries of cataclysmic changes and, moreover, that the family was able to maintain its basic structure” (3). In some ways, Hanawalt’s work is a critique on other scholarly works on the peasant and medieval life. Even in the epilogue, she criticizes how other historians have viewed the medieval peasant, Historians are so dedicated to showing change over time and revolutionary breaks with the past that they often overlook historical behavior that does not change radically. Historians are also prone to make implicit value judgements about the past, looking back at earlier times with nostalgia for lost innocence or, alternatively, seeing in the past the horrors of a benighted time from which we modern people have fortunately escaped. Neither approach does justice to the lives of our peasant ancestors. We are not entirely like them, but they are not alien to use even though we are separated from them by five hundred years. (268)
Her epilogue is short, and does not conclude with a multitude of answers. Instead, she seems to want to disprove commonly held beliefs on peasant life in the Middle Ages. Though Hanawalt does delve deeply into the primary sources she is drawing conclusions from, she realizes that there will probably never be a complete story of the medieval peasant family, although she tries her best to present a more accurate representation of peasant life in the Middle Ages, by studying and analyzing how peasant families actually functioned.