Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mini Reviews: Gilded Cage, Lab Girl and The Chemist

"Gilded Cage" by Vic James
First published February 14, 2017
368 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In the alternate reality of "Gilded Cage," slavery is still alive and well, though it has nothing to do with race. Instead, commoners -- ordinary people -- are forced to give up a decade of their lives in unpaid, often miserable service to the ruling class. Those in power are known as Equals, and they have innate hereditary abilities to do things like heal themselves from injury, read minds, wipe memories, cause pain, and so much more. You can surely see where this is going: time for a revolution.

Luke and his family -- his mom, dad, older sister Abi and 10-year-old sister Daisy -- end up smack in the middle of the excitement when they decide to do their slavedays together as a group, and Abi has arranged for them to be house slaves at the estate of one of the most powerful Skilled families in Britain. They expect it to be a comparatively cushy 10 years, but things go awry when Luke is whisked away from them to a horrendous slave town filled with treacherous factories, malnourished "property," violent guards -- and faint stirrings of subversion.

I thought the author made the right choice in using multiple points of view to tell the story, giving us a commoner's look at life in a brutal slave town and at the estate, as well as Equal perspectives. As with any uprising story with a political bent, there are plenty of secrets, intrigue and people who are not what they seem, and while I was disappointed that there wasn't as much fantasy as I expected, there was enough excitement to hold my interest and I enjoyed getting to know the characters (especially a dark, inscrutable and terrifyingly powerful Equal named Silyen). I'll most likely read the next installment of this series, which feels to me like a somewhat less-impressive Hunger Games with a tinge of fantasy.

*I received a free advance copy of "Gilded Cage" from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

"Lab Girl" by Hope Jahren
First published in 2016
290 pages
4 out of 5 stars

Memoirs are my favorite kind of non-fiction -- especially when they're as intimate and open and raw as "Lab Girl" was. I enjoyed getting to know Hope Jahren, an absolutely brilliant scientist whose specialty is plants (though her work incorporates many other fields, like paleontology and chemistry) and I was fascinated by her journey a scientist and a woman.

Hope tells us of the path that took her to science, the struggle to gain respect as an outside-of-the-box-thinking woman in a man's field, finding a balance between work and life, and the very special (completely platonic) relationship she has with her best friend and longtime lab partner, Bill. There are moments of poignancy, wackiness, humor and frustration in Hope's story, and through it all is her creative, wonderful, curious, so-so-so smart mind. Science has never been my thing, but I really enjoyed reading about the interesting work Hope does.

Interspersed between the longer chapters about Hope's life -- from her childhood in icy Minnesota to her present as a tenured professor, wife and mother in Hawaii -- are snippets about the life cycle and personality of trees and plants. Hope's story roughly follows along as the tree matures from a seedling to a forest giant, and as much as I enjoyed reading about Hope's life these little sections were my favorites. Hope explains botany in interesting, conversational layman's terms, and I learned so much about plants! It made me look at the houseplant on my table and the tree in my backyard with more respect. "Lab Girl" is definitely a solid pick next time you're craving a memoir.

"The Chemist" by Stephenie Meyer
First published in 2016
518 pages
4 out of 5 stars

"The Chemist" is an action-packed thrill ride about a woman formerly employed as a specialized interrogator by a covert government agency -- and now that agency is hell-bent on killing her. After three years on the run (and multiple assassination attempts) she's tracked down by an old boss, and she realizes the time has come to get her life back or die trying. What she doesn't count on is her universe of one suddenly expanding by a few people -- one of whom might just be a liability in the best possible way.

I didn't go into "The Chemist" looking to make comparisons to Meyer's previous work, but I couldn't help thinking this book was like Twilight reversed. Juliana is Edward -- an extremely smart, extremely dangerous predator who never dared to hope she might have a significant other and who may very well get everyone around her killed. Clumsy, adorable, selfless Bella is played by the aforementioned liability, Daniel. There's even an annoyingly lovable brother in the mix, and a showdown with "the Volturi" at the end during which everyone could quite possibly wind up dead.

Even though it didn't feel entirely original, I did enjoy the novel, and with a few exceptions the fast pace kept me blowing through the chapters. Also, there were dogs! Lots and lots of very smart, wonderful dogs! Bonus points for that.

1 comment:

  1. OK. I have NEVER considered reading The Chemist. But now my Canine ADHD (I swear it's a real thing) has kicked in and I might have to check this out. I want to know more about those wonderful smart dogs!


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