Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic Level by Jessica Wapner

The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic LevelThe Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic Level by Jessica Wapner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As is usually the case, I received this book free. Unfortunately, I’m unable to determine the source of that freeness but suffice to say it came in the mail specifically for my review.

Typically, I review books based on qualitative properties, but in this case it’s not really necessary. The book is sharp, thorough, professional and detailed. There’s no real need to go into specifics about that. The more important thing to say may be to discuss exactly what this book is.

Topically, the book is a fairly even split between science and history. The author goes into a surprisingly great depth about the science involved and readers are encouraged to take notes along the way to make sure they keep up properly. This is no pop-science read; it expects readers to be as sharp and keep up. New terms are defined when used but typically just once and there’s no fear in the writer about delving into technicalities.

On the historical side, the dozens of professionals involved are described in terms of their specific contributions and once those are complete, they step aside and are never heard from again. While there is a strong biographical component, it’s really a biography of a disease rather than any of the people involved.

In summary, a painstakingly thorough treatment of an important topic but not for the faint of heart with reams of detailed technical information

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Strange Fruit by Michelle Janine Robinson

Strange FruitStrange Fruit by Michelle Janine Robinson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book for free. This time, from a LibraryThing Member giveaway. Despite that kindness, I will give my candid opinions below.

To summarize the plot in a nutshell, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket and an American Apartheid has settled over the country. Terrorism and economic devastation reign supreme and a growing group of racial activists are fighting to stem the proverbial tide.

On the positive side, and it’s a slender one, this book had potential for an interesting story of sorts. If properly done, there was some amount of potential for this but absolutely none of that potential was realized.

The negative side is rather a lengthy ledger, sadly. First, one can’t say enough negative about the writing. It seems to be written at about a middle school level. The author writes in a rather redundant and choppy manner with little regard to transition or narrative. The editing is similarly poor. It’s obvious that the spellchecker has been run but little else; words are often transposed, misused, or clumsily chosen.

Leaving the words themselves aside, the author has made the story utterly implausible. Characters seem to shift in personality rapidly and without cause like they all suffer from bipolar disorder. Anyone trying to read the text will be left in a rather fearsome jumble attempting to keep track of the various goings on since the author doesn’t tie things together in anything approaching a connected narrative. The whole thing is rather a mess.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch at least briefly on the content. The main premise in this novel is that white conservatives are going to take over the country and reestablish slavery. While I’m the last person to side with white conservatives about anything, it would seem that if a white guy wrote a book with the premise that African Americans are going to take over the country and enslave the whites, it would be classified as hate speech. This book at its heart just seems to inflame racial tensions. Personally, every demographic in this country has problems and every demographic causes problems. We’re all at fault in one way or another for the problems which plague us. Books like this don’t really add constructively to the solution of any of these issues; they just serve to annoy and polarize readers’ thinking.

In summary, poorly written, poorly edited, socially non-constructive. Might have been entertaining if not for all the previous negatives.

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Screamscapes by Evans Light

ScreamscapesScreamscapes by Evans Light

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As usual, I received this book for free. Not as usual, I have no idea why or from whence. It showed up in the mail, which isn’t unusual, but I can’t account for its presence on my shelf. Whatever the case, it was free. Despite that happy happenstance, I give my candid thoughts below.

The content of this book is straightforward horror pulp. In the tradition of those epic magazines of the 50s and 60s, Light brings us a collection of quick hits designed to entertain and horrify in small easily digested bits.

On the positive side of the ledger, Light’s works are reasonably unique. In some cases he goes back to old standards, but in general his stories are original and thrilling. From a narrative standpoint, he also does a good job of building tension and painting a narrative picture. He has the building blocks of a set of solid stories at his disposal.

On the negative side, there is a tendency to go too far. I understand that in general pulp is rather brash, but I have to admit that when flesh starts rending and blood starts splurting that it tends to lose me. Evans also has a tendency to telegraph his stories’ endings through overly-revealing titles and early missteps in the story. One is seldom as surprised as one would hope with an Evans story. Lastly, the writing lacks a certain degree of polish. This is the sort of thing acquired much later in a career so I have no fears for later work, but for now the author’s choice of words and phrasing is rather primitive and immature.

In summary, Light has the framework for an interesting series of stories. His view is fresh and provocative but execution is lacking. Otherwise good tales end up coming across as rather puerile. A fair amount of polish is needed here but the future is bright for this author.

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The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

The Wife, the Maid, and the MistressThe Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual, I didn’t pay anything for this book but instead received it for free directly from the publisher. Also as usual, despite that kindness I will proceed to be completely honest about it.

At a high level, this book is the speculative history of the disappearance of Joseph Force Crater in 1930. At the time the story kept the world riveted to their newspapers and was the object of much editorial speculation. This narrative cobbles the story together from the perspective of the women in Judge Crater’s life.

On the positive side, Lawhon’s novel is set in a wonderfully provocative period in history and gives us a story as capable of captivating an audience as it was 80 years ago. Lawhon’s characters are believable and sympathetic and she renders them wonderfully. She also very skillfully weaves her fictional threads through the facts of the case in a way that gives it great credibility. In her ending notes, she describes some of the liberties she took with the story and based on these tiny provisos, she has been very true to the tale which inspired her.

To the negative, despite the above, the novel does seem to take a while to get started. It took a week to get through the first half and a day to get through the last half. This is not the sort of novel that immediately inspires one to long persistent reading, though it does eventually gain momentum. Also, despite the wonderfully entertaining locale and time period, one cannot help but think it was not put to as great a use as it could be. While it was easy to tell we were in the 1930s, the story didn’t take full advantage of that fact. I would have anticipated greater use of the language of the times and a truer rendering of the culture.

In summary, a great story set in a grand part of history. For fans of the historical this is one not to miss. It only falls short in that it fails to full realize the potential of just how colorful such a venue can be to the reader. I liked it but wanted to like it more.

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