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).
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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…

Oswald the Thief

Oswald the Thief by Jeri Westerson
Genre: historical mystery
I read it as a(n): paperback
Length: 270 pp
Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Oswald is a half English, half Welsh charming bastard thieving tinker who gets trapped by a corrupt noble into doing a burglary. He only has to break into The Tower and steal the Crown Jewels. So that shouldn’t be too hard, right?

This was a really fun mediaeval caper. Westerson, as always, did a great job with the research of early 14th century London. She has the map of the Tower in the front of the book along with a brief list of terms, both of which are helpful for readers who may be new to her stories. The sights, sounds, smells (ugh), and social rules of mediaeval London shine through in every page.

Similarly, the characters are well crafted and complex. An honest thief? A corrupt noble? A man with the mind of a child but the skill to pick any lock in front of him? Check, check, and check. All the characters in this book are thoughtfully detailed and never one dimensional.

One thing I really like about this book – and actually about all of Westerson’s historical fiction – is that her characters are not all just nobles, royals, or church people. They’re mainly just regular people, the Pastons instead of the Plantagenets. They’re actually people most readers can identify with in ways we cannot with those of higher rank.

I think it’s a fucking tragedy that Westerson couldn’t get a traditional publisher to pick this book up. It was intended to be the first in a new series and I really hope we will get to read more about Oswald and his adventures in the future. It was a lot of fun and it should get more attention than it has.

I highly recommend this, as I do all of Westerson’s books. They’re well researched, the writing is fast paced, and they’re all witty and funny.

Nettle and Bone

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher
Genre: fantasy
I read it as a(n): hardback
Length: 243 pp
Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Marra is a princess of a small, unimportant kingdom that has the misfortune to also have the best harbor in the world. To keep the kingdom safe, her eldest sister is married to the prince of the Northern Kingdom. When she dies without a child, Marra’s next sister is married to him. Marra is sent to a convent where she will be out of the way but that doesn’t prevent her from learning a dark, centuries-old secret.


To save her sister and her kingdom, Marra sets off to kill her brother-in-law with the help of a scary dust-wife, an addled and wicked-but-doesn’t-want-to-be godmother, a quasi-suicidal warrior, a dog made of bones, and a demon-possessed chicken. It is exciting for everyone.


I loved this book so much! It was a great dark fantasy that read very similarly to something Neil Gaiman might have written. That is never a bad thing.


The story was exciting with lots of references to traditional fairy tales made along the way. There’s a little Goblin Market, a little zombie apocalypse, a little tatterskin, a little Sleeping Beauty, just a little of everything mixed into a fun and original tale.


I definitely plan to read anything else by this author and strongly recommend that everyone else do the same.

Favorite lines:

  • It was a cruel spirit that would punish starving people for what they had been forced to eat, but the spirits had never pretended to be kind (4).
  • He was a good dog. He had excellent bones and even if she had used too much wire and gotten it a bit muddled around the toes and one of the bones of the tail, she’d think that a decent person would stop and admire the craftsmanship before they screamed and ran away (21).
  • Then again, peasants and princesses all shit the same and have their courses the same, so I suppose it’s no surprise that babies all come out the same way, too. Having thus accidentally anticipated a few centuries’ worth of revolutionary political thought, Marra got down to the business of boiling water and making tea (36-37).
  • …the baby emerged into the world, looked around, burst into tears. “You get used to it,” the Sister told the infant… It was bloody and wrinkly and reddish gray and looked like the sort of thing you would drive back to hell with holy water (37).
  • The flat stones made for uneven footing. … They rattled and slid underfoot, talking to each other in stone language, saying all the words they had been saving up until the next time a human walked across them (66).
  • The old woman had not struck her as religious.
    But I could easily imagine someone making a saint out of her, a hundred years hence. Maybe some of the saints were like that, too – cranky, old women with strange gifts (77).
  • “How did you get a demon in your chicken?”
    “The usual way. Couldn’t put it in the rooster. That’s how you get basilisks (82).
  • “Enough of this place,” said the dust-wife. “Everyone have their souls still? Shadows still attached? Then let’s go before that changes” (97).
  • What did the abbess used to say? That our own flaws infuriate us in other people? (132).
  • Nothing is fair, except that we try to make it so. That’s the point of humans, maybe, to fix things the gods haven’t managed (181).
  • Injustice and the desire for revenge age the body, but they keep the soul going halfway to forever (199).

Revenant

Revenant (Deep Space 9) by Alex White

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 308 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Revenant is set during the early 4th season of Deep Space Nine and follows Jadzia Dax to Trill. An old friend of hers comes to ask for her help in tracking down his wayward granddaughter, Nemi, who ran off after being denied twice to be joined with a symbiont. Upon finding the young woman, whom Jadzia views as a younger sister, she realizes there is something very wrong with Nemi. Scans reveal that Nemi has a symbiont and no life signs of her own. Horrified, Dax returns to Trill to unearth a centuries-long conspiracy which involves not only Jadzia, but at least two of Dax’s previous hosts as well.

I loved this story from the plot to the title. A revenant is someone who returns from death, like a zombie. Or Jesus. You know. As one does. I thought the idea of an evil symbiont who takes over a body and reanimates it is so interesting and I’m honestly not sure why since I generally think zombie stories are dumb. But this wasn’t a zombie story, per se. It was a glitch with the Trill and their symbionts and the ones like Nemi weren’t all corpsified and gross like other zombie stories. 

I’ve always thought the Trill are an interesting species and this book reinforces that interest. The idea of hosts and symbionts can make for some terrific discussion on identity and mortality. How does it affect one’s perception of time if you get a really old symbiont? What becomes important? 

Dax’s condemnation of the Symbiosis Commission also raised some good points about the elitism of joined Trill. The Commission always matches symbionts with the best and brightest young Trill, those who excel in their field in some way. I can see their point in doing so – I suppose you wouldn’t want to join a symbiont with the Trill equivalent of a maga hillbilly or something – but there is no reason not to allow a regular person to be joined. Sure, join them with astrophysicists and doctors and diplomats, but maybe also join them with housewives and schoolteachers and mechanics sometimes, too. It takes all kinds. 

The hive mind element was also intriguing. In Star Trek, when you hear hive mind your first thought usually is, “Borg! Run away!” But this was more like a telepathic fungus and made me think a bit of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’m not sure if that was intentional on White’s part or not but I thought it was a cool connection regardless. 

I’m super behind in reading the newest Trek novels, so maybe more of them are like this, but I am digging the apparent return to episodic, one book equals one story format. The relaunch books were nice but I never liked how you had to read all of them to know what the fuck was going on. Episodic novels are way better IMNSHO. 

It was also fun to see an early side to the Worf/Jadzia relationship. I never cared one way or another for that ship but I know it was popular and sad so it was fun to see a new story about them from early on. 

At any rate, this was a really fun story. Enthusiastically recommended for any Star Trek fan!

Catch-Up Round: There There and Running with Sherman

There There by Tommy Orange

Genre: contemporary literature/ Indigenous

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 294 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This novel highlights the lives of 12 people and how they intersect at the Big Oakland Powwow. There are people whose lives have been ruined by alcohol, drugs, the murder or suicide of loved ones, and somehow they still manage to keep going. There is an underlying discussion about generational trauma, especially among the Native tribes. There is also vast systemic racism, which impacts people in so many ways, sometimes in ways no one even is aware of. 

This was a short but powerful book. It was a fast read as well, but not an easy one. It is hard to read about the suffering of others and to know how very privileged you are by comparison. 

I always love reading about a culture I’m not that familiar with. Even though I live in the Southwest and there are several different Native American tribes in the area, I don’t know anyone personally who is Native. My exposure to actual Native culture is mostly confined to the occasional powwow I go to and reading books written by Native authors. 

Definitely recommended!

Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall

Genre: nonfiction

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Length: 12:13:03

Her Grace’s rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Christopher McDougall and his wife, Mika, are tired of living in Philly so they buy a place in Amish country and basically now have a hobby farm. One of the neighbors tells McDougall that one of the members of his church needs help and that he’s an animal hoarder. McDougall goes with his friend to the hoarder’s farm and they rescue a little donkey who was severely ill, standing on horrifically overgrown hooves in filthy straw in a tiny stall. McDougall and his friends and family rally to take care of the donkey, who they name Sherman, and eventually he gets better. Then McDougall learns about donkey racing. 

This was not exactly what I thought it would be. I heard about it in an article I read somewhere recently and I thought it was about the Born to Run guy teaching the donkey how to go running with him, like you take your dog running with you. I had visions of a fuzzy donkey trotting alongside McDougall on the road and it is something I would desperately love to see. But no. Apparently there is a whole community of donkey racers who, from what it sounds like, allow their donkeys to drag them up hills and mountains in some kind of hard core trail running crossed with Mountain Man stuff. Much like running a marathon, it doesn’t sound at all fun. 

I thought this book was only OK, partly because I misunderstood the premise of running with Sherman and partly because it kind of dragged in a lot of places. There wasn’t as much about Sherman as I would have liked; instead, there was a lot about the people involved, the training involved, the stories of the people involved, and I just didn’t care that much about them. I stuck through to the end because I did want to see how Sherman did in his big donkey race in Colorado, and parts of it were funny, but overall I thought it was just mediocre.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Genre: nonfiction/science

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Shelly Frasier

Length: 8:00:00 

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Do you ever wonder what happens to the body if its owner has donated it to science? If so, this is the book for you. Author Mary Roach covers the uses of cadavers ranging from medical/surgical practice to body snatching, crash test dummies to a new residence at the Body Farm, and many topics in between. Always respectful but lightening the subject with her typical humor, Roach guides readers through the many relevant roles cadavers have in their post-mortem, well, lives. 

I had read this book years ago for my book club and remember being kind of bored with it. I listened to it this time on audio and I think the problem before was that I skimmed some of the parts that were horrifying to me and I was more focused on that than on the actual topic. This time, I didn’t skim or skip sections and the experience this go round was difficult in places. I am terrified of flying, for example, and so the chapter discussing the ways forensic examiners look at bodies in plane crashes to figure out what happened was really anxiety-making for me. A couple other sections made me lose my appetite. 

This still wasn’t my favorite book by Mary Roach. I haven’t read all of them yet, but of the ones I have read, I think my favorite is Packing for Mars. If a person has never read one of her books, I likely wouldn’t recommend this one as their first. That said, I was a lot more engaged and interested this time. In horror, I laughed out loud a few times. I definitely learned a lot. 

And yes, I still plan to donate my body to science when the time comes.