A Rover’s Story

A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): hardback

Length: 294 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This story is about a Mars rover called Resilience, which is based on real Mars rovers. He wakes up in a lab one day and learns that he is being built to go explore Mars, which is exciting to him because he was programmed a little too well and he’s developed human emotions. He develops attachments to his primary programmers, Raina and Xander, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, though they don’t know it since he can’t actually speak to them. Res is utterly determined not to disappoint them in any way and to do everything he can to live up to his name. 

I can’t remember where I first even heard about this book but as soon as I did, I put in a request for it from my library. I knew I had to read it. I went into it expecting something similar to Wall-E or Short Circuit. I didn’t know that I would be absolutely enthralled and shattered by a fictional Mars rover. This book made me cry more than once. 

Throughout, Res discovers new emotions and works through how they apply to his current situation. His friend and secondary rover, Journey, is deeply disturbed by his emotions, as is Guardian, the sentinel satellite (I guess?) in orbit around Mars. But Res persists in his exploration both of Mars and of his own inner world. I loved his thoughts about meaning in life, about death, about the importance of names. I loved his determination to live up to his own name. 

The majority of the story is from Res’s POV but interspersed throughout we also get to see journal entries from Sophie, Raina’s daughter. Sophie is about 8 years old at the beginning of the book and her chapters contribute valuable insight into the ways the rover mission is seen by the population in general as well as how it impacts her own family life. She is a little girl who misses her mom because she’s so often at work instead of, say, at Sophie’s ball games. In the same way it was fun to see Res evolve as a being, it was nice to see Sophie grow and change over the years as well. 

I loved this book so much that, if I get any gift cards for Amazon at Yule, I will be breaking my self-imposed moratorium on book buying and will get a copy of my own. This is a book I would read over, especially if I find I need a dopamine boost. 

Favorite lines/scenes:

  • “Where did you learn the term beeps and boops?”

Journey is quiet for a moment. It is not like her to be quiet. She is a fast processor. Her answers normally come at rapid speed.

“Journey?” I say.

“I created it.”

“You created it?”

“It is my phrase.”

“Oh,” I say.

“Do you think that is unscientific?”

“No,” I say without pause. “I think it is extraordinary” (24).

  • I want so badly to say, I’m going to try to be worth it (33).
  • There is clapping. Lots of it. Clapping is something I have observed that hazmats like to do. It is one of their ways to celebrate. They seem fascinated and delighted that their hands can make so much noise (79).
  • Avoid dust and see stars (124).
  • I experience the human emotion of hope. It is a sticky and strange feeling. It is a beautiful one (180).
  • I hear Xander’s words in my head. Telling me the meaning of my name. Resilience.

I must earn my name.

I must earn it over and over again (195).

  • It means something to have a name. To matter enough for someone to give you one (250).
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Dark Stars

Dark Stars by CS Quinn

Genre: historical mystery

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Steve West

Length: 12:23:00

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Set a few weeks after the events of Fire Catcher, this third installation in The Thief Taker series centers around a killer who is leaving mutilated corpses to wash up around the port town of Deptford. The bodies are all marked with astrological signs that indicate a catastrophe will soon descend upon England. Charlie Tuesday teams up with Lily Bosworth to find the person responsible for the murders. In the process, he discovers that he is connected to the killer in ways beyond their shared astrological fate.

OK. So I didn’t care much for this book. I felt that the characters were surprisingly one-dimensional, especially considering that it was the 3rd book in the series. The good guys were very good, the bad guys were very bad. There were a couple others who were a little more shades of grey, but they were secondary characters that didn’t really add anything super important to the plot.

Speaking of adding to the plot – I’m sorry, but everything involving the court was basically irrelevant. What information we did learn from court could easily have been included elsewhere instead, like a rumor or intercepted letter. The side plot with the king’s mistresses and court politics was just kind of boring and didn’t, in my opinion, add anything vital to the overall story. I do not care at all about his primary mistress, Lady Castlemaine, nor the innocent young girl he fixates on later. The entire book could have been written without them in it at all, and if the rest of the court intrigue stuff had to be included, then probably 75% of it could be cut and still have retained what relevance was necessary. 

SPOILERS BELOW!

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Books about early humans

Early human history has always been a source of fascination to me. Who wouldn’t be curious about the origins of humanity and our evolution? It’s one of the grandest questions of the thinking mind, wondering about our long journey along the road of evolution and wanting to understand more about our distant ancestors. While I make no comparisons to myself and great thinkers, I’ve always tried to follow along with various bits of anthropology and the science of human evolution. I want to be as scientifically literate as a layman can be. I have a long way to go, but it’s an interesting journey, if nothing else. 

Then I saw this article and was utterly enthralled. I have never been a person to feel threatened by the idea that Neanderthals could teach things to Homo sapiens, or that the two likely interbred, or that they were here first. I like the idea that Neanderthals and H.sapiens could have lived side by side and maybe taught each other things. But the fact that these paintings predate ones done by H.sapiens is awesome. I love the possibility that maybe – just maybe – H.sapiens learned to symbolically and creatively express ourselves because we were taught to do so by our Neanderthal cousins. I don’t know that that could ever be proved – at least not without a lot more cave paintings – but it is a really interesting thought that we learned art from Neanderthals. Maybe someone will write a book about it.

Related to this article, of course, is the fact that the first discovery of an Australopithecus afarensis skeleton happened on this day in 1974. Happy 48th birthday, Lucy, plus or minus 3.2 million years!

So, because it’s what I do, I gathered a list of books, both nonfiction and fiction, about early humans. What others would you add to the list?

  • From Lucy to Language by Donald C. Johanson and Blake Edgar
  • Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari
  • The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
  • Lone Survivors by Chris Stringer
  • The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
  • How to Think Like a Neanderthal by Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge
  • The First Human by Ann Gibbons
  • The Fossil Chronicles by Dean Falk
  • Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Seven Skeletons by Lydia Pine
  • The World Before Us by Tom Higham

The Uncommon Reader

An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Genre: literary fiction

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Alan Bennett

Length: 2:41:00

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This was a totally delightful little diversion. The Queen has discovered a love of reading and it’s affecting her ability to do – or rather, her interest in doing – her royal duties. Her family, government officials, and courtiers are Not Amused by her newfound obsession, either.

Mostly I thought this was a witty little story with several places that made me laugh out loud. I admit I know little of Queen Elizabeth’s personal life so I have no idea if she was never a reader until later in her life or not. I do know she basically had to ask to be educated because she wasn’t supposed to be the monarch and then, well. Whoops. So maybe she wasn’t much of a reader. What was funny though was that all her snobby officials and courtiers didn’t have a clue what she was talking about when making references to some very famous authors and their books. So they came across as boneheads, which I am sure was Bennett’s intention. 

I did think it was kind of sad too that no one other than Norman, the former kitchen boy, was at all supportive of her reading. They all treated her like either a dumb old woman in need of humoring or someone who shouldn’t have any personal interests and just do boring duties 100% of the time. I don’t care who you are, everyone ought to have interests outside of work and support of friends or family. 

There is a lot of social commentary in this small book, from class and social rank to the obligations a ruler owes to their country to the many virtues of literature. Lots to think about. My book club picked this as our next read and I’m glad. I imagine it will generate some great discussion.

Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Ray Porter

Length: 16:10:00

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Ryland Grace is an astrobiologist who wrote a paper that speculated that life didn’t necessarily need water to evolve. People laughed at him so he left academia and went to teach middle school science. A friend from his academia days remained in touch and eventually she told him that there is a line of particles beaming from the sun to Venus. It has the unfortunate effect of dimming the sun, which will decrease in luminescence by about 20% in a matter of a couple decades. That would effectively mean the end of humanity. Eventually it is discovered that the particles are actually life forms. Unfortunately for Grace, they’re still made out of water. They get named Astrophage.

Fortunately, a top scientist remembered Grace’s paper and was in a position to recruit him to her project to save the Earth. By recruit, I mean conscript and by project, I mean desperate, seat of your pants, last-ditch attempt to save the world. Hence, Project Hail Mary. Grace and 2 other crewmates get launched out of the solar system to try to discover why Tau Ceti, the star at the hub of the Astrophage lines isn’t getting dimmer, and in that discovery, to find a way to save Earth. Except Grace is the only one of his crew to survive the years-long trip via medically-induced coma. So now the fate of the entire planet rests solely on his shoulders. Good thing he meets a really cool friend to help him out. 

I really fucking loved this book! I’ve heard some describe it as The Martian on a spaceship but I didn’t think so at all. It was fun and anxiety-inducing but in different ways from The Martian. I really, REALLY loved Rocky. He is my favorite character entirely. 

I loved the interactions between Rocky and Grace, even though I thought they learned each other’s language awfully fast. Though I suppose when you’re in dire straits, you can do a lot of things you didn’t expect. The humor was exactly right and exactly what I expect from Weir. The action was fast and exciting, the plot was engaging. There were a couple times I cried. 

SPOILER NEXT!! I think literally the only thing I didn’t love about this book was that it wasn’t clear to me if Ryland sent all his info about the Erideans back to Earth along with the data on the astrophage and taumoeba. Maybe I missed it somehow but if he did not send that, then I think it was a missed opportunity. If he did, then it is totally an opening to a follow-up book from Weir about how humans and Erideans become interstellar friends. 

Favorite lines:

  • “So…when you say ‘a certain amount of authority’…” 

“I have all of the authority.” (39)

  • I gasped. “Wait a minute! Am I a guinea pig? I’m a guinea pig!”

“No, it’s not like that,” she said.

I stared at her.

She stared at me.

I stared at her. 

“Okay, it’s exactly like that,” she said. (58)

  • I check the corresponding star in my catalog: It’s called 40 Eridani. But I bet the crew of the Blip-A call it home (149).
  • “And just like that another climate denier is born. See how easy it is? All I have to do is tell you something you don’t want to hear” (234).
  • We have an unspoken agreement that cultural things just have to be accepted. It ends any minor dispute (279).
  • Sample device radio signal strong,” Rocky says. “Getting closer. Be ready.

“I’m ready.”

Be very ready.

“I am very ready. Be calm.”

Am calm. You be calm.” (317)

  • Usually you not stupid. Why stupid, question?” (347)
  • “We’re as smart as evolution made us. So we’re the minimum intelligence needed to ensure we can dominate our planets” (349).
  • “Rocky, you can make screws, right?”

Yes. Easy. Why, question?

“I dropped one.”

Hold screws better.”

“How?”

Use hand.

“My hand’s busy with the wrench.”

Use second hand.

“My other hand’s on the hull to keep me steady.”

Use third han…hmm. Get beetles. I make new screws.

  • “Good. Proud. I am scary space monster. You are leaky space blob.” He points to the breeder tanks. “Check tanks!” (421).
  • Erid will live! Earth will live! Everyone live!” He curls the claws of one hand into a ball and presses it against the xenonite. “Fist me!” 

I push my knuckles against the xenonite. “It’s ‘fist-bump,’ but yeah” (422).

Bewilderment

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Genre: sci-fi? Maybe political fiction? Maybe dystopian?

I read it as a(n): hardback

Length: 278 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Theo Byrne is a struggling single father. His son, Robin, has behavioural issues and seems to be on the spectrum. They are both grieving the loss of Robin’s mother, Alyssa, who died in a car accident a few years previously. Theo is an astrobiologist and uses computer programs to theorise about the climates of other planets. The information is then used to try to help correct Earth’s own climate crisis, which is worsening rapidly thanks to a belligerently anti-science government and a rise in religious fundamentalism.

If it sounds familiar, it should. This book was clearly written in response to the four horrendous years of the Trump administration, their ignorant and anti-scientific approach to as many things as possible, the sharp rise in Christian nationalism (AKA, Nazism), and the global climate crisis speeding up. 

This book made me mad and it made me scared. I was already mad and scared enough as it was, so this was not, perhaps, the best thing for me to read when I am already stressed out and anxious. I do think this should be on the curriculum for all contemporary literature classes, and it could probably find a place in at least the recommended reading of environmental science and behavioural science programs. 

The plot itself is fine. It was really sort of a modern take on Flowers for Algernon, so in that, it was pretty predictable. I felt bad for Theo because he had such a hard time finding help for Robin. I 100% disagreed with his surprisingly anti-medicine attitude, though. He didn’t want to give Robin vaccines because of the miniscule amount of mercury in some of them. I think there is more mercury in the fish we eat than what’s in vaccines. There was also a line in there about how no doctor can diagnose his son better than he can. Well, yes. Yes, they can. A parent is obviously more familiar with the kinds of emotional and behavioural outbursts a kid has, but unless they are also a doctor with a specialty in XYZ issues, then no, they can’t diagnose their own kids just as well as a doctor can. It’s why we have doctors in the first place. So that part really turned me off.

Overall, I liked it but the more I think about it, the more I realise that is all. I liked it, I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to. 

Favourite lines:

  • I wanted to tell the man that everyone alive on this little fluke planet was on the spectrum. That’s what a spectrum is. I wanted to tell the man that life itself is a spectrum disorder, where each of us vibrated at some unique frequency in the continuous rainbow (5). 
  • I’d visit Enceladus and Europa and Proxima Centauri b, at least via spectroscopy. I’d learn how to read the histories and biographies of their atmospheres. And I’d comb through those distant oceans of air for the slightest signs of anything breathing (48). 
  • …God isn’t something you can prove or disprove. But from what I can see, we don’t need any bigger miracle than evolution (59). 
  • The library was the best dungeon crawl imaginable: free loot for the finding, combined with the joy of leveling up (76).
  • Had mass extinction ever once felt real? (81).
  • In such steadiness, there was no great call to assist or improvise or second-guess or model much of anything.
  • He thought about that. Trouble is what creates intelligence?
    • I said yes. Crisis and change and upheaval.
    • His voice turned sad and wondrous. Then we’ll never find anyone smarter than us (114).
  • You know how when you talk to someone stupid and it makes you stupid, too? (116).
  • Have you ever considered what is going on inside a leaf? I mean, really thought about it? It’s a total mind-fuck (185).
  • Almost nobody knows this, but plants do pretty much all the work. Everybody else is just a parasite (215).
  • I knew then why these men wanted to kill this project. The cost overruns were just an excuse. The country’s ruling party would have opposed the Seeker even if it were free. Finding other Earths was a globalist plot deserving the Tower of Babel treatment. If we academic elites found that life arose all over, it wouldn’t say much for humanity’s Special Relationship with God (218).

The Best Lines from the Practical Magic books – and some recipes!

Happy Halloween, everyone! It has long been my practice to watch the 1998 film version of Practical Magic. If I am going to reread any of the books, I also tend to do so in October. It just makes sense! 

This time, I thought I would make a post of my personal favorite lines from all four of the Practical Magic book series. I think they are either touching, make me think, are funny, or are wise. 

What lines would you add?

Practical Magic

  • Sometimes you have to leave home. Sometimes, running away means you’re headed in the exact right direction.
  • The moon is always jealous of the heat of the day, just as the sun always longs for something dark and deep.
  • Trouble is just like love, after all; it comes in unannounced and takes over before you’ve had a chance to reconsider, or even to think.
  • There’s a little witch in all of us.
  • If a woman is in trouble, she should always wear blue for protection.
  • His grandfather used to say that holding tears back makes them drain upward, higher and higher, until one day your head just explodes and you’re left with a stub of a neck and nothing more. … Crying in a woman’s kitchen doesn’t embarrass him; he’s seen his grandfather’s eyes fill with tears nearly every time he looked at a beautiful horse or a woman with dark hair.
  • Some things, when they change, never do return to the way they once were. Butterflies, for instance, and women who’ve been in love with the wrong man too often.
  • Although she’d never believe it, those lines in Gillian’s face are the most beautiful part about her. They reveal what she’s gone through and what she’s survived and who exactly she is, deep inside.
  • At twilight they will always think of those women who would do anything for love. And in spite of everything, they will discover that this, above all others, is their favorite time of day. It’s the hour when they remember everything the aunts taught them. It’s the hour they’re most grateful for.
  • Always throw spoiled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plants roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.

Magic Lessons:

  • This was true magic, the making and unmaking of the world with paper and ink. 
  • But it was a woman’s personal book that was most important; here she would record the correct recipes for all manner of enchantments. … literary magic, the writing of charms and amulets and incantations, for there read no magic as covered or as effective as that which used words.
  • Even when you kept your eyes wide open, the world would surprise you.
  • What is a daughter but good fortune, as complicated as she might be.
  • There are no spells for many of the sorrows in this world, and death is one of them.
  • A woman alone who could read and write was suspect. Words were magic. Books were not to be trusted. What men could not understand, they wished to burn.
  • “Never be without thread,” she told the girl. “What is broken can also be mended.”
  • Tell a witch to go, and she’ll plant her feet on the ground and stay exactly where she is. 
  • Tell a witch to bind a wild creature and she will do the opposite.
  • What was a witch if not a woman with wisdom and talent?
  • If they called her beautiful, it was a mark against them, for what a person was could not be seen with the naked eye.
  • These are the lessons to be learned. Drink chamomile tea to calm the spirit. Feed a cold and starve a fever. Read as many books as you can. Always choose courage. Never watch another woman burn. Know that love is the only answer. 

The Rules of Magic:

  • “Anything whole can be broken,” Isabelle told her. “And anything broken can be put back together again. That is the meaning of Abracadabra. I create what I speak.” 
  • “Do you have business at the cemetery, Miss Owens?” the driver asked in a nervous tone.  
    • “We all will have business there sooner or later,” she answered brightly.
  • Three hundred years ago people believed in the devil. They believed if an incident could not be explained, then the cause was said to be a witch. Women who did as they pleased, women with property, women who had enemies, women who took lovers, women who knew about the mysteries of childbirth, all were suspect…
  • …witches were difficult to control, for they had minds of their own and didn’t hold to keeping to the law.
  • The world will do enough to us, we don’t have to do it to ourselves.
  • She had wanted to be a bird, but now she knew…that even birds are chained to earth by their needs and desires.
  • …when you truly love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together. That is not a curse, it’s what life is, my girl. We all come to ruin, we turn to dust, but whom we love is the thing that lasts.
  • I just do the best I can to face what life brings. That’s the secret, you know. That’s the way you change your fate.
  • …he kissed her and told her he didn’t care if they were witches or warlocks or zombies or Republicans.
  • “But trying is a start. What is your story?”
    • “My life.”
    • “Ah.”
    • “If you write it all down, it doesn’t hurt as much.”
  • But rules were never the point. It was finding out who you were.
  • Always leave out seed for the birds when the first snow falls. Wash your hair with rosemary. Drink lavender tea when you cannot sleep. Know that the only remedy for love is to love more.

The Book of Magic:

  • Some stories begin at the beginning and others begin at the end, but all the best stories begin in a library.
  • But stories change, depending on who tells them, and stories are nothing if you don’t have someone to tell them to.
  • “If you can’t eat chocolate cake for breakfast, what’s the point of being alive?” Franny said.
  • There are some things you have only once in a lifetime, and then only if you’re lucky.
  • When Kylie and Antonia were growing up, their mother had told them if they were ever lost it was always best to find their way to a library.
  • “There are no witches,” Antonia said. “Only people who want to burn them.”
  • “Do you think I’m a fool”
    • “No, I think you’re a witch.”
    • “Then you’re not so stupid after all.”
  • “If it isn’t written down, it will likely be forgotten,” Isabelle had told her. That was why women had been illiterate for so long; reading and writing gave power, and power was what had been so often denied to women.
  • A woman with knowledge, one who could read and write, and who spoke her own mind had always been considered dangerous.
  • If a woman doesn’t write her own history, there are very few who will.
  • It never hurt to have some assistance from a sister, and this was a simple spell that had been used by women since the beginning of time, with words that resembled the wild clacking of birds when they were spoken aloud.
  • What a life she had, most of it unexpected. She would not have it any other way, not even the losses. This life was hers and hers alone.
  • Her love was the fiercest part about her. 
  • The Book of the Raven was meant to go to the next woman who needed it. It might sit on the shelf for another three hundred years or it might be discovered the very next day, either way it would continue to live, for people often find the books they need.
  • Once, a long time ago, before we knew who we were, we thought we wanted to be like everyone else. How lucky to be exactly who we were. 
  • Women here in Massachusetts had been drowned and beaten and hanged, especially if they were found to have access to books other than the Bible…

Fans of this book series also know that there are many references made in them to the Owens’ women’s black soap, Chocolate Tipsy Cake, and a variety of teas. These are the ones I found, along with a couple possible recipes. I use Adagio Tea for a lot of my tea-making supplies. I will do the same when I make these tea blends. If I can’t find an item on Adagio, I’m sure a local farmer’s market or bulk foods store will have the rest. 

Teas and Other Foodstuffs:

  • Courage Tea: currants, vanilla, green tea, thyme. Steep it for a long time.
  • Fever Tea: cinnamon, bayberry, ginger, thyme, marjoram
  • Frustration Tea: chamomile, hyssop, raspberry leaf, rosemary
  • Clairvoyant Tea: mugwort, thyme, yarrow, rosemary
  • Travel Well Tea: orange peel, black tea, mint, rosemary
  • Chocolate Tipsy Cake. I found this recipe on The Hungry Bookworm and it seems the most accurate and tipsy-making cake of the sort, so I am going to refer to it when I make my own: Chocolate Tipsy Cake by The Hungry Bookworm
  • Practical Magic Black Soap. Similarly, I found a recipe for the Owens Women’s Black Soap on Under a Tin Roof. This sounds lovely, though there are a few changes I will make to my own batches, different oils, loads more lavender since it is supposed to be lavender scented, but overall I think this one is the most legit recipe I’ve found for the black soap yet! To do it further justice, according to Aunt Isabelle, “The best soap is made in March in the dark of the moon.” 

Ejaculate Responsibly

Ejaculate Responsibly by Gabrielle Blair

Genre: nonfiction/ social issues/ abortion

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 135 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this slim book, Blair lays out 28 arguments why abortion is a major men’s issue. She quickly takes readers through the issues and argues why she thinks so. Using examples and logic, she shifts the focus away from moronic arguments like when life begins or legislating women’s bodies and into a discussion that is actually fair and makes sense. 

I think this book ought to be required reading for every human, especially men and anyone who says they are pro-life. Blair herself is a religious (Mormon, I think) mother of six and is open about that but her arguments are not based in religion. She wants to reduce the number of abortions, and doing so makes sense when the blame for unwanted pregnancy is placed with men. Like it or not, 100% of pregnancies, wanted or otherwise, are caused by a man. 

Of course, neither this book nor anything else like it will ever be compulsory because too many men are special little snowflakes who think that the sun rises and sets on them and whom all women want. They will not take responsibility for anything. 

Men who are self-described allies, feminists, or who just love their wives and daughters and other women in their life may agree with everything in this book but I don’t hear many of them touting the benefits of vasectomies or condoms with other men. Conversations like that should not be considered emasculating or a stigma. Women talk plenty about menstruation issues, which tampons they like better and why, or what to do when your nursing baby makes your nipples bleed. I see no reason why men can’t have similar discussions about ways they can take responsibility – actually be a man – about one simple thing. It’s not unmanly to wear a rubber or have a vasectomy. It’s sexy as hell when a man actually cares about a woman and is willing to help keep her safe and respect her, as well as keeping himself safe. So please, be better allies, all you good menz. 

My only real issue with this book, and why I gave it 4 instead of 5 stars, was that it too often seemed to assume unwanted pregnancy comes from consensual sex. There IS a chapter on the uneven power dynamic between men and women, but it is #17 out of 28 arguments and uses the word rape only twice. Nowhere in the book does it discuss sexual abuse/ molestation of a child which also leads to pregnancy. I think this is the book’s only real failing. Yes, I appreciate that there is a discussion of sexual power dynamics at all. No, I do not think it is placed in a high enough priority in the list of arguments and I think there should be more emphasis on rape and coercion mingled throughout the whole book. No, this is not the only reason why unwanted pregnancies occur. Nobody is stupid enough to argue that. But I do think it happens more than anyone wants to admit and so it should have a more prominent place in these arguments. 

As I mentioned above, Blair is very open about her religion and her views on abortion. I am not pro-life because it seems that almost no one who says they are pro-life are really. I think Blair is genuinely pro-life, and is using her desire to prevent more abortions by advocating for logical things that actually prevent pregnancy in the first place. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. I am not pro-life by the standard definition, and I honestly don’t care one way or another about preventing abortions. It’s a woman’s decision, nobody else’s business, and it’s not like we’re running out of humans. So whatever. 

If you want to say you’re genuinely pro-life and want to prevent abortions, too, then you had better also be in favor of universal health care which would help women find out they are pregnant a lot earlier; free birth control pills, IUDs, tubal ligations, condoms, vasectomies, etc; paid parental leave; free or nearly free childcare services; free, universal pre-K and K; tightened and enforced laws requiring men to pay half of all bills related to any child they father, like it or not, including prenatal care, delivery and hospital fees, and abortion if relevant; free school lunches at every grade level; comprehensive sex education at an age-appropriate level at ALL levels of school; and tax the fucking churches and corporations that spend so much time and money into pushing their legislative agendas. You know, just a few of the things that actually place value on human life, health, safety, and happiness. 

If you are not in favor of these things and simply want to regulate women’s bodies, then you are a hypocrite and protecting life or whatever the fuck was never your goal. You only want to control women and children, punish us for having sex, and lack the critical thinking to make any meaningful and effective change. 

Uzumaki

Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror by Junji Ito

Genre: manga/graphic novel

I read it as a(n): hardback

Length: 653 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 1 out of 5 stars

In a small town in Japan, spirals start to take over, make people go crazy, turn them into weird snail people or contort them into bizarre spiral patterns themselves. Through it all, there are a couple main characters (whose names I’ve already forgotten) that navigate the scary and frankly gross and gory world they find themselves inhabiting. 

I read this because my daughter begged me to. She loved it. But she loves manga. I do not. This didn’t change my opinion. If there was an actual point to this story, it went over my head. There was no explanation for why the spirals did what they did or where they really came from. So I was confused because all I could think was, “Whyyyyy?”

The main characters had basically zero development or growth. They just drifted from crisis to crisis and tried to survive. When new characters were introduced, which was in nearly every chapter, it seemed that they served no other purpose than to die. I mean, these were the reddest of the redshirts. They say hi, then die in some brutal, gory, awful way. 

Granted, the art was great and made me feel physically ill a few times, so I guess that means it accomplished what it set out to do? As someone who can’t draw a convincing stick figure, I’m always impressed by story told through art. I just guess I prefer my art less grotesque, or for the violence to have a purpose.

The Book of Magic

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Genre: magical realism

I read it as a(n): hardback

Length: 383 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this fourth and final novel in Hoffman’s Practical Magic series, readers see Kylie and Antonia Owens, the daughters of Sally Owens, as young women living their lives in ignorance of their family’s history as bloodline witches. When the entire extended family gathers for a funeral, Antonia and Kylie learn of their magical heritage. Antonia, the logic-driven med student, scoffs and blows it off. Kylie is intrigued, and becomes involved up to her neck when her boyfriend is hit by a car and hovers between life and death. 

Taking off to England with Faith Owens’s dark grimoire in hand, Kylie is determined to break the curse that has followed her family for generations. Hot on her heels is her mother Sally, her aunt Gillian, and other family and friends met along the way. They learn what is important and just how much they are willing to sacrifice for those they love.

This was a great end to the Practical Magic series. I will miss reading more about the Owens women, but am grateful that I have the four books in the series to revisit when I feel the need for a fix of Tipsy Chocolate Cake and witchery. I also found recipes for both the chocolate cake AND the black soap that both sound honestly nice, so I’m going to make those one of these days and have myself a proper day of witchiness. 

It was nice to spend time with Kylie and Antonia and get to know them more. As expected, both strong and independent women. But we spent as much time, too, with the aunts, Sally and Gillian, and their long-lost grandfather Vincent. Adding to the cast is Ian Wright, a professor of history and magic, and Tom Lockland, a distant relative, each man with agendas of their own.

For me, this book dragged just a little in the middle, which is why I gave it 4 stars and not 5 stars. I got a little bored with some of the things Kylie and Antonia (mostly Antonia) were doing and it felt a little long. But it didn’t last long and it picked up again and gave way to a fantastic journey across England, through history, and through the human heart. Highly recommended!

Favorite lines (possible spoilers!):

  • Some stories begin at the beginning and others begin at the end, but all the best stories begin in a library.
  • Curses are like knots, the more you struggle to be free, the tighter they become, whether they’re made of rope or spite or desperation.
  • But stories change, depending on who tells them, and stories are nothing if you don’t have someone to tell them to.
  • “If you can’t eat chocolate cake for breakfast, what’s the point of being alive?” Franny said.
  • There are some things you have only once in a lifetime, and then only if you’re lucky.
  • When Kylie and Antonia were growing up, their mother had told them if they were ever lost it was always best to find their way to a library.
  • “There are no witches,” Antonia said. “Only people who want to burn them.”
  • “Do you think I’m a fool” “No, I think you’re a witch.” “Then you’re not so stupid after all.”
  • “If it isn’t written down, it will likely be forgotten,” Isabelle had told her. That was why women had been illiterate for so long; reading and writing gave power, and power was what had been so often denied to women.
  • A woman with knowledge, one who could read and write, and who spoke her own mind had always been considered dangerous.
  • If a woman doesn’t write her own history, there are very few who will.
  • It never hurt to have some assistance from a sister, and this was a simple spell that had been used by women since the beginning of time, with words that resembled the wild clacking of birds when they were spoken aloud.
  • What a life she had, most of it unexpected. She would not have it any other way, not even the losses. This life was hers and hers alone.
  • Love was inside every story. 
  • Her love was the fiercest part about her. 
  • The Book of the Raven was meant to go to the next woman who needed it. It might sit on the shelf for another three hundred year or it might be discovered the very next day, either way it would continue to live, for people often find the books they need.
  • Once, a long time ago, before we knew who we were, we thought we wanted to be like everyone else. How lucky to be exactly who we were. 
  • Women here in Massachusetts had been drowned and beaten and hanged, especially if they were found to have access to books other than the Bible…