Books, October 2017

If I read all day every day for a month, I would have… still not caught up with my list. Glass half full, I never have to worry about finding reading material. Glass half empty, shelf VERY FULL.

Pox, Michael Willrich

In our modern era, where far more people are threatened with non-infectious diseases like cancer and cardiac failure, it’s easy to forget just what a terrifying specter infectious diseases were – in living memory. One in four people who got smallpox, which was virtually everyone pre-vaccination, died of it. How did we as a species even survive to the modern era? It seems like everything killed us back then!

Thanks to the Herculean efforts of health workers and associations around the world, smallpox has been wiped from the population and exists – as far as we know – only in a couple tightly protected labs for the last 50 years. Occasionally a scab (ew, but yep) will turn up preserved in a letter or book, but none of them have been infectious still… yet. (Unfortunately, some lovely ancient diseases have been popping out of melted permafrost lately, so hopefully smallpox doesn’t reappear from the tundra too.)

And hey, if you aren’t up to date on your vaccines – go do that right now!! Yes, including the flu. MMR, TDaP, and chickenpox/shingles, among others, often need boosters. Ask your doctor or the vaccine clinic at the drugstore pharmacy!

Genre: history, science. Format: nonfiction. Rating: 3/3, isn’t it great how medical science has helped eliminate or greatly reduce fatal and debilitating infectious diseases through public health vaccine initiatives and food/water safety

First Degree Mudder, Kate Dyer-Seeley

I already covered my previous thoughts on this series and with this, I am now caught up. My very first ever 5k, which I signed up for when I could barely even run 5k, was unwittingly a mud run. On registering I just got all excited about the zombie theme and didn’t even really process that there would be obstacles and that part of the course climbed a literal mountain on an ATV trail full of anklebiting rocks as big as my head. I, however, had to do it once, not every day for weeks as our hapless cast suffered. I wore a set of old shoes I then threw away just steps from the finish line and clothes I wasn’t attached to, but I couldn’t have outfitted myself more than the one time!

Anyway, I predict major revelations about the mystery of dad in the next book.

Genre: mystery. Format: novel. Rating: 2/3 because I really need some advancement on the dad mystery here

Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove Jansson, translated by Elizabeth Porch

This series of nine books (plus some picture/little kid books, several TV shows and movies, and a theme park) is a major source of national pride in Finland. I gather they occupy much the same niche as the Peanuts comics – written around the same time (debuting in the 50s, peaking in popularity in the 60s-70s, still ubiquitous), adorable big-headed characters, everyone knows them and their stories even if they can’t remember actually reading them. (I totally remember reading the Peanuts collections. I had a LOT of them.) The Moomins are troll-like, squashy, adorable creatures who sleep all winter (a strong choice in Finland) and go on countryside adventures and feast all summer. Their simple, sweet stories are a delightful and quick escape.

Genre: adventure, magical realism, children’s. Format: novel. Rating: 3/3, including for adults

Death on Tap, Ellie Alexander

I’ve covered my adoration of Ellie Alexander’s other series (under this name, Kate Dyer-Seeley is also her) at length before. This first installment in a new series set in Leavenworth, WA, was on the slow side as far as pacing goes, but that’s only to be expected when it has to set up enough setting and characters to last several books. This series falls squarely in the middle – not as engrossing as the Juliet/Ashland series and I’m not as attached to new main character Sloan (yet), but far more to my liking than Meg/Portland (for the reasons two paragraphs up).

Genre: mystery. Format: novel. Rating: 3/3

Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi

Our ash-hole protagonist (yep, I just started watching The Good Place) is a prospector on an alien world. He manages to discover, almost simultaneously, the largest known deposit of the insanely valuable unobtainium he was searching for under contract with a futuristic megacorporation, and a possibly sentient species… with a claim to the mining rights and all the resources on the planet. And he’s a disbarred lawyer with nothing to lose (and not disbarred because he didn’t know the law, he’ll have you know), and the absolute minimum capacity for diplomacy. And he’s got a dog called Carl who “helps” with the prospecting, and he’s won me over right from the start.

It’s pretty obvious right from their introduction that the fuzzies (the creatures in question) are ultimately going to be declared sentient, but the circuitous and continuously surprising path to get there and the cast of characters is why this really shone. Every single named character – there are about 15 of them – gets a character arc and depth, to varying levels of detail. (Including Carl, adorably enough.) I don’t want to give any spoiling details – which means I’m struggling to give any details at all, because there are a million Chekhov’s guns that get set up so casually and pay off so brilliantly. Yes, including Carl, SEVERAL times over. Plus, the traditional bonus half point for making me cry – enough that I had to put the book away for a bit (but then I was on an airplane so I didn’t put it away as long as I probably usually would have). This is a strong contender for my non-series novel of the year…

Genre: allegory. Format: novel. Rating: 3/3 + 0.5 bonus point for making me cry


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