Near-future books that question where to draw the line in research are a particular favorite of mine. It’s a gray area in many people’s minds, and sci...moreNear-future books that question where to draw the line in research are a particular favorite of mine. It’s a gray area in many people’s minds, and scifi lets us explore the myriad possibilities and options at a bit of a distance, which allows for clearer thought. This book does an admirable job setting up a realistic near-future world to explore this issue, although the characters don’t quite live up to the world-building and story.
The near-future world of genetics research is established both clearly and with subtlety early on in the book. There are two competing genetics research organizations, and rather than looking into something monstrous or far-flung, they are looking into regenerating limbs. It’s a logical next-step for a near-future book. The research labs themselves, as well as how they are run, including the field-work, have a real-world, logical feel to them.
At first I was concerned from the book’s official description that the creatures discovered would be aliens, since alien experimentation would be less of a gray area to explore. They are not, in fact, aliens, they are a newly discovered species originating on Earth. The mystery is whether they were always sentient or if something in the modification and cloning process made them sentient. This makes the conflict of how to use the creatures to help humans without harming them better, because exactly what they are is a bit unclear. It’s not as simple as if they were simply aliens or some sort of cute, fuzzy creature. They’re these slightly creepy worm-like things with tentacles, and the conflict is do we still respect these kind of ugly, cloned creatures for their intelligence, or do they need to look cuter or more humanoid to gain that respect?
The plot is complex and keeps the reader guessing. Even though I was fairly certain things would ultimately end up ok, I wasn’t sure how they were going to get there. This made it an engaging and quick read.
Unfortunately, the characters are rather weak and two-dimensional. I never was able to truly connect to any of the characters. If anything, I connected to the creatures a bit more than the main characters. There are also a few instances that feel out of character for the small amount of characterization done. For instance, Maria thinks she can’t date because her family wants her to have an arranged marriage to keep the family Spanish. This type of arranged marriage situation could definitely happen, but I had a hard time believing that a woman so strong in the sciences, with so much agency for her career and for her grandmother’s well-being would actually even think about not seeing someone she cares for in order to have an arranged marriage. It felt out of character and simply forced upon her to add conflict. Similarly, there is an incident that at first is considered a rape and then later brushed off as not a rape. Without giving anything away, I agree it wasn’t a rape, but I also don’t think the character who at first mistook it for a rape would have made that error in judgment. It was out of character for their level of intelligence. This again felt forced to provide extra conflict that wasn’t needed. The main plot had plenty of interest and conflict to keep the book going without these out-of-character moments. I also felt the accent written for one of the characters was badly done and distracting. This character is a scientist with an advanced degree, yet he speaks in an informal, unrealistic accent that primarily consists of him dropping g’s and using a lot of contractions.
In spite of these characterization short-comings, the book still tells a unique near-future genetics research story with a quick-moving, engaging plot. Recommended to those looking for a scifi-style beach read.
Goodman tells not just the story of these two women but also immerses the reader into the newly global world of the late 1890s, both the good and the...moreGoodman tells not just the story of these two women but also immerses the reader into the newly global world of the late 1890s, both the good and the bad.
Goodman starts the book by introducing us to the two women who will race around the world. He does an excellent job using primary source materials to give us both how others saw these women and how they saw themselves. While introducing the women, Goodman also talks at length about the role of women in journalism in the late 1800s and how hard it was for them to break into real reporting. Jumping off from Bisland and Bly, describes how women were blocked from many journalism positions with excuses such as that the newsroom needed to be free to swear and not worry about a lady’s sensibilities. Women were often barred to what was deemed the ladylike journalism of the society pages. The hardest part of being a hardhitting female journalist at the time wasn’t the actual reporting but instead the reception of women in the newsroom. Bisland and Bly and their race came at the beginning of having women journalists do some form of stunt journalism, which is how they started to break into hardhitting journalism. Editors and owners discovered that readers enjoyed reading about women in stunt situations, such as learning how to stunt ride a horse, so this was their way in. Thus, even if the reader dislikes the personalities of either or both of the racers, they come away with some level of respect for them both breaking into the business.
From here, Goodman starts following the women on their race around the world. He takes the different legs of their journeys as a jumping-off point to discuss something historically relevant to that portion of the journey. For instance, during Bly’s trip on the ocean liner to Europe, he discusses how the steamships worked, from the technical aspects of the steam to the class aspects of first class down to steerage. During Bisland’s railroad trip across the United States, he discusses the railroad barons and the building of the transcontinental railroad. Thus, the reader is getting both the story of the race and historical context. It’s a wonderful way to learn, as the historical explanations flesh out the settings around and expectations of the women, and the women lend a sense of realness to the historical situations and settings being described.
After the completion of the trip (and, no, I won’t tell you who won), Goodman explores the impact of the trip on the women’s lives and follows the rest of their lives to their deaths. This part may feel a bit long and irrelevant to some readers, however often when people become famous for doing something, no one talks about the long-lasting impact of that fame or what the rest of their lives are like. Seeing how both women reacted to the trip, their careers, and others puts them in a more complete light, giving the reader a complete picture of what the race did in their lives. This complete picture of both of their lives is something I really appreciated and that also demonstrated that one shouldn’t judge people too fast. They and their lives may turn out differently than you expect at first.
What would have made me love the book is if I had come away feeling like I could respect or look up to either woman. Unfortunately, by the time I heard the full story of both of their lives, I found them both to be so deeply flawed that I couldn’t do that. I respect them for breaking into the newspaper business, and perhaps if I was a journalist myself that would be enough to make me look up to them. But each had a fatal flaw that made this not be a book about two role models but instead a book about two women. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does keep it from being a book I would return to over and over again.
Overall, Goodman does an excellent job using the true story of two female journalists’ race around the world in 1889 to 1890 to build a solid picture of the increasingly global world of that time. The reader will come away both with having learned an incredible true story and details about the 1800s they might not have known before, told in a delightfully compelling manner. Some readers might be a bit bothered by how flawed the two women journalists are or by the fact that the book goes on past the race to tell about the end of their lives in detail. However, these are minor things that do not distract too much from the literary qualities of this historical nonfiction. Recommended to those interested in an easy-to-read, engaging historical nonfiction book focusing in on women’s history. Particularly recommended to modern, women journalists.
I was immediately intrigued by the summary, due to its delightful urban fantasy/paranormal take on AA. The book delivers exactly what it promises, spi...moreI was immediately intrigued by the summary, due to its delightful urban fantasy/paranormal take on AA. The book delivers exactly what it promises, spiced with a noir writing style.
Jack Strayhorn is the perfect paranormal version of the noir-style hardboiled detective. He’s got a biting, snarky wit, a handsome presence, a sharp mind, and is a bit distant and mysterious. It’s just in this case he’s distant and mysterious because he’s a vampire. Making the private eye a vampire makes his character unique in noir, and, similarly, making the vampire a private eye with his focus primarily on crime solving and not paranormal politics gives the urban fantasy vampire a unique twist. Jack is presented as a complex character, one who we could not possibly get to know fully in just the first entry in the series. It’s easy to see how he will manage to carry the proposed 12 entries in the series.
Supporting Jack is a wide range of characters who accurately portray the diversity in a large town like LA, as well as the diversity one expects in a paranormal world. The characters are multiple races and classes. Whereas some urban fantasy books slowly reveal the presence of more and more paranormal races throughout the series, this book starts out with quite a few, and that is a nice change of pace. Most urban fantasy readers expect there to be more than just vampires, and the book meets the urban fantasy reader where they’re at. Even though the book has a large cast, the secondary characters never blend together. They are easily remembered, and the diversity probably helps with that.
I like the idea of vampires having an AA-like group, but I’m still not sure how I feel about this group existing as some secret under the umbrella of AA itself. The book even goes so far as to say the the founder of AA was a vampire himself, and used the human illness of alcoholism as a cover for the vampire group. I like and appreciate vampirism as a disease that some people just mysteriously have at birth as an analogy for alcoholism, but I feel that having it present in the same group as the real life AA groups dampens the realness of actual AA, weakening the analogy instead of strengthening it. I’ve seen books before have paranormal people get together in AA-style groups (zombies anonymous springs to mind), and in real life AA has spinoffs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. Prior to reading the book I thought maybe something might be added by having the vampires be a secret organization under AA, but after reading the book, I don’t think it did. I think the analogy would have been stronger if vampires spotted the similarities of their genetic vampirism with alcoholism and formed a “vampires anonymous” group, inspired by AA. Something about vampires creating AA themselves as a cover hits a bit of a sour note and weakens the analogy.
The plot is complex, with just enough twists and surprises. There were parts of the ending that I was unable to predict. The plot contained within the book was wrapped up sufficiently, and the overarching plot intending to cover the whole series was well-established and filled me with the desire to keep reading. Unfortunately, the second book isn’t out yet, so I will just have to wait!
Overall, this is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series. Some readers might dislike the paranormal take on Alcoholic’s Anonymous found within the book, but it is secondary to the mystery/noir plot and easy to gloss over if necessary. Recommended to urban fantasy readers looking to venture into noir or vice versa, as well as anyone who enjoys both urban fantasy and noir.