Book Review: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon
by
Daniel Keyes

Rating:

Do scientists and doctors have the right to tamper with a person’s brain power?

In a return to the classics, here’s an excellent science fiction novel that looks at this important ethical question. The story is about Charlie Gordon, a thirty-two-year-old man with a low IQ. Committed to a state home as a teenager, now he is out. He’s living in a rooming house and working at a bakery in New York, all through the help of a family friend. He is happy, has friends at work and friends at his school, where he has worked hard to learn how to read and write.

Because of Charlie’s impressive motivation, Professor Nemur and Dr. Strauss from Beekman University determine he is an excellent candidate for an experimental procedure to increase intelligence, one that has only been performed on mice. Algernon is their superstar mouse that has learned how to navigate through complicated mazes. Now Nemur and Strauss want to take it to the next level.

Charlie is willing. “After the operashun Im gonna try to be smart. Im gonna try awful hard,” he writes.

The surgery is a seeming success and Charlie’s intelligence increases, at first slowly, but later at a fantastic rate. Soon he is reading voraciously and learning ancient languages, complex theories, sciences, history, economics and classic literature and eventually surpassing Nemur and Strauss. But Charlie’s emotional intelligence is woefully behind and he doesn’t know what to do with the many new strong and complex feelings he experiences.

Through memory recall, Charlie begins to understand that the people in his life had been cruel to him, with their hurtful jokes and abuse, and that he had played a part in their jokes. “That hurts most of all,” he writes.

In addition, memories of his mother’s shame and embarrassment and her ultimate rejection make Charlie’s new knowledge painful. Even Nemur and Strauss treat him as an experiment and not as a human, forgetting that he was already a person with feelings before the surgery.

At his intellectual peak, Charlie detects a flaw in the theory and foresees his decline. How will it end as Algernon runs through his maze and Charlie navigates his own complicated path? With limited time, Charlie will try to figure it out. He writes, “I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am.”

Flowers for Algernon began as a short story in 1959. In 1960, it won the Hugo Award for best short story. The novel was published in 1966 and was the joint winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel. No surprise that both forms won awards. Despite being an older story, Flowers for Algernon raises important points about human feelings and the ethics of scientific experimentation.

Charly is the 1968 film adaptation – I’ll be watching that soon as part of my library’s summer reading challenge to watch a movie based on a book!

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Who’s That Indie Author? D. Wallace Peach

Author name:  D. Wallace Peach

Genre:  Fantasy/Science Fiction

Books:

The Shattered Sea duology – Soul Swallowers and Legacy of Souls; The Rose Shield series – Catling’s Bane, Oathbreakers’ Guild, Farlanders’ Law, and Kari’s Reckoning; The Dragon Soul Saga – Myths of the Mirror, Eye of Fire, Eye of Blind, and Eye of Sun; Stand-alones – The Sorcerer’s Garden, Sunwielder, The Bone Wall, The Melding of Aeris; Anthology – The Five Elements; Children’s Book – Grumpy Ana and the Grouchy Monsters

What’s your story and how did you become a writer?  Totally by accident!  I’d dabbled in writing for years but never considered it a real possibility. Then a temporary move for my husband’s work left me jobless with some rare free time to fill. The dear man suggested that I write a book. Well, the rest is history.

How do you balance your work with other demands?  Balance is one of those things I don’t negotiate well. It’s one reason I never considered writing while raising kids or working outside the home. Now, I’m attempting to balance aging parents and grandchildren, and it’s not easy to make time for the laptop. When things get busy, what do I let slide? Housework!

Name one of the happiest moments in your life:  That’s an easy one. The birth of my daughter. It was true love at first sight, and that’s never changed.

What’s your approach to writing? Are you a “pantser” or a planner?  I started writing as a pantser and loved following my characters on the most circuitous tangents. My first book was a 190,000-word masterpiece – a horrible one, needless to say. I had to cut 63,000 words to entice a publisher to even glance at it. After two torturous years of flaying my manuscript, I became an enthusiastic planner.

Could you write in a café with people around?  Maybe. I like the romantic writerly idea of it. But I live a long, long way from a café, so I haven’t had the chance to try it. I write in big chunks of time and might feel awkward capitalizing a cafe table for seven hours.

Have you ever written dialogue in a second language? If so, how did you do it?  For Sunwielder, I wrote dialog in a made-up language! That was super fun, but very limited since other characters had to translate and I didn’t want to bog down the prose. I made up words and structural rules and learned to speak it. I would definitely do it again if a book called for it.

What’s your favorite book and what are you reading now?  I love the book Anam Cara by John O’Donohue. My mom gave it to me years ago, and the beauty of the reflections spoke to me then and still do. Right now, I’m on an indie binge and just finished Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray. Prehistoric fiction!

What’s your favorite way to read a book: hardcover, paperback, eReader?  I love paperback books, but switched to Kindle about 5 years ago. That far, far away café is next door to the far, far away bookstore. And honestly, when I finish a book, I want to start the next one that moment!  And ebooks are less costly so I can buy more of them!

Do you think print books will always be around?  Yes, they’re treasures. If I love a kindle book, I’ll buy the print version so I can hug it.

Would you ever read a book on your phone?  I have! Mostly when traveling, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

What’s your go-to device? iPhone, Android or something else?  A giant laptop at home, and an old cracked iPhone on the road. I used to rely on an old cracked iPad, but it’s so slow now that I can’t bear it. (I tend to drop my electronics).

How long could you go without checking your phone?  Could I go? Months. I’m a hermit and can survive without human contact for decades. But that would be rude, so I check email once every couple of hours on my laptop.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, what do you do while you’re listening?  I don’t, but I want to! I just have to figure out all the new-fangled technology and cough up the bucks for Audible. What would I do while listening? Drive, exercise, garden, housework, you name it.

Do you like using social media to promote yourself and your book? If so, what’s your favorite platform?  I love WordPress, and it’s my go-to platform. I cherish the community, the kindness, the laughter and tears, all the fun that I share with this talented bunch of people. The rest of social media I could take or leave and don’t make much time for. Blogging takes a lot of time away from writing, but it’s worth it to this old hermit.

Website and social media links:
Blog: mythsofthemirror.com
Website: dwallacepeachbooks.com
Twitter: @Dwallacepeach

Awards/special recognition:  Stay tuned.


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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale
by
Margaret Atwood

Rating:

I hadn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale in over ten years so I was glad when my book club chose it for this month’s discussion. And it fits right in with the National Banned Books Week (September 23 -29). The Handmaid’s Tale has been challenged or banned many times since its publication in 1985. In Atwood’s dystopian story, the American government is overthrown and replaced by a theonomic military dictatorship in which fertile women are used solely to bear children and all other women are either assigned to a hierarchy that enforces this policy or sent to the Colonies to clean up toxic waste. The idea is to build up the country’s dwindling population, which has suffered due to nuclear explosions and other contamination. The men’s roles vary according to station and include Angels and Guardians, with Commanders at the top.

The story’s narrator is a handmaid, Offred, so named as belonging to her Commander. Handmaids are assigned to the Commanders and their presumably barren wives who participate every month in an orchestrated Ceremony in which the Commanders try to impregnate the handmaids. Although Offred is not at the bottom of the hierarchy, she is nonetheless trapped and by no means secure. If she doesn’t become pregnant, she could be sent to the Colonies.

As with all forms of oppression, ways to communicate, small freedoms, and an underground resistance give Offred hope, but their discovery is slow and unsure. A risky relationship with her Commander and even more dangerous connections with others could go either way as Offred tries to reconcile the life she lost with what may be possible. I enjoyed rereading The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a look at what could go wrong and is a good exercise of thought. I recommend it to readers who like speculative fiction and to all readers who like seeing how characters fight back in both small and large ways.


The Handmaid’s Tale is also a popular television series. Streamed on Hulu, the show has won eight Emmy awards and a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama. Seasons 1 and 2 are available to watch and Season 3 is in the works. You can even see Atwood in a small cameo role.


You may also remember the 1990 movie, directed by Volker Schlondorff and starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway and Aidan Quinn. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay.


I also read a great article about what influenced Atwood when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. Click here to read Atwood’s March 10, 2017 essay in The New York Times: “Margaret Atwood on What The Handmaid’s Tale Means in the Age of Trump.” Here are some highlights:

  • Atwood began writing in the book in 1984.
  • She was living in West Berlin at the time, before the fall of the Berlin Wall where she “experienced the wariness, the feeling of being spied on, the silences, the changes of subject, the oblique ways in which people might convey information, and these had an influence on what I was writing.”
  • She wasn’t sure she was up to the task of writing a dystopian, speculative fiction.

Atwood also answers three important questions about the book

  1. Is it a feminist novel? She says no, and yes. No because the women in her story are not all angels, and neither are they so victimized that they can’t make moral decisions. But she clarifies, “If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure and plot of the book, then yes. In that sense, many books are ‘feminist.’”
  2. Is the book antireligion? No, it’s against using religion “as a front for tyranny.”
  3. Is the book a prediction? She calls it an “antiprediction” and explains that if this kind of future can be described, maybe it won’t happen.

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The Martian – the book and the movie

   

Who believes that the book is always better than the movie? I usually feel that way, but sometimes the film adaptation of a book removes the storytelling weaknesses, takes the good parts and makes an excellent story even better. That’s the case here with the movie version of The Martian.

I very much enjoyed the book version and the huge success of Andy Weir’s book is something all self-published authors can aspire to. The book was nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read. Here’s his success story:

Andy Weir, Image: Amazon.com

Andy Weir, a software engineer, has always enjoyed studying relativistic physics, orbital mechanics and manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel. He started writing it in 2009 and spent a great deal of time researching. It was originally self-published in 2011. He first offered it for free (in serial format) on his website. Weir’s chapters were popular and he developed an enthusiastic fan base. His readers urged him to offer it in Kindle format on Amazon. This 99¢ Kindle version was hugely popular and became an Amazon best-seller, selling 35,000 copies in three months. That got some publishers’ attentions. Weir sold the audiobook publishing rights to Podium Publishing in 2013 and soon after, Crown Publishing bought the print rights. Twentieth Century Fox bought the film rights the same year and the movie, starring Matt Damon, hit the theaters in 2015.

The story is about astronaut Mark Watney, who is stuck on Mars after being separated from his crewmates during a dangerous wind storm. The team thinks he’s dead and they reluctantly escape in their Mars Ascent Vehicle. How will he survive the huge challenge ahead of him, in a NASA habitat, with no communication and only a limited supply of food and water?

I liked both reading and watching how Watney improvises and uses his mighty brain to survive. He overcomes what to a normal person would be impossible challenges and becomes the hero we all want to see. Matt Damon does a great job in the role. His sense of humor and human side make him all the more likable. The movie is directed by Ridley Scott and also stars Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels. Click here for IMDb’s listing of the full cast and crew.

I thought the book was very good, although it was a little heavy on the math and science. And that’s why I think the movie is even better, because the story rises to the top. It’s what we all want in this type of film: action and a feel-good finish. As with all action films, viewers need to let go of analyzing whether or not events could actually happen and just enjoy the story.

I recommend both the book and the movie to science fiction fans and all movie-goers who enjoy action stories about heroes and overcoming adversity. I also recommend reading the book first because I don’t think the story would be as enjoyable if you’ve already seen the movie.

Click here for Book Club Mom’s review of the book.


I watched The Martian as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to watch a movie based on a book.

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The Seneca Scourge by Carrie Rubin

The Seneca Scourge
by
Carrie Rubin

Rating:

It started with a cough and a sneeze on an airplane, but it became much more. One sick man brought more than luggage home from a long trip that began in Nairobi and ended in the coastal town of Seneca, Massachusetts.

“Did you ever think you’d be caught up in something so big?” That’s what Dr. Sydney McKnight overhears in the hallway of Boston General Hospital. They don’t know the half of it, she thinks. Sydney is an infectious disease fellow when a baffling flu pandemic strikes and threatens catastrophic losses, with no cure in sight. Doomed patients fill hospital beds while doctors and nurses scramble to treat a puzzling strain of Influenza C.

Leading the research team is the renowned Dr. Casper Jones, a new infectious disease attending physician. He may be there to help, but there’s something strange about Casper. His perfect features, impeccable attire and unusual way of speaking raise flags and the more Sydney gets to know him, the more questions she has. For one, she wants to know about the new orderly, Jackson Bryant. She has spotted Jackson talking secretively with Casper more than once. What is their relationship and why has she never seen Jackson on her shifts?

Sydney’s part-time boyfriend, Dr. Mitch Price doesn’t trust Casper either, but for different reasons.  Mitch is certain that their cooling romance is because of Casper. Maybe it is or maybe there’s just not enough spark to keep it going. They hardly have time to ponder the reason, as more and more people fall sick. But Sydney knows she can’t put Mitch off forever.

As doctors, nurses and staff rush from room to room, and more patients die, they wonder if this is just the beginning. Strange as he is, could Casper save the day?

The Seneca Scourge is a dramatic medical thriller with a quick-moving plot and an exciting science fiction twist. Author Carrie Rubin hooks the reader with the story of a deadly virus and takes it to new dimensions as she examines the ethics behind developing a cure. Sydney hits many roadblocks as she tries to understand hidden motives, strange dynamics and big secrets. And when she finally discovers the villain, it may be too late. Can the story’s sleeper heroes beat the bad guys?

Rubin tells a very good story. Her style is casual and fluid, filled with subtle humor, interesting characters and a nice dose of young professional angst. Just enough medical jargon and descriptions show how hospitals run and the politics within, an added reader interest. The story’s finish leaves some unknowns, giving the reader a bit to think about.  It’s a well-crafted debut novel.

I recommend The Seneca Scourge to thriller and science fiction readers who like to jump into exciting plots. And click here to check out Rubin’s second medical thriller, Eating Bull.

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Winter of the Gods by Jordanna Max Brodsky


Winter of the Gods
(Book 2 of the Olympus Bound Series)
by
Jordanna Max Brodsky

Rating:

Columbia professor and mythology expert Theodore Schultz is enjoying a quieter life since his recent run-in with a violent religious cult.  As a consultant to the NYPD, Theo had nearly died last summer and now he’s recuperating nicely.  And helping him is Selene DiSilva, the striking and powerful beauty he met during the investigation.

Selene is mythology’s present-day Artemis.  She’s the daughter of Zeus, protector of the innocent and goddess of the hunt, virginity, archery, animals and the moon.  While it may sound great to be immortal, Selene and her extended family have found themselves in a strange state.  Their godly powers are fading and they are coping with the very human side of aging.  Selene is still very tough, however, and she uses her power to protect and avenge.

Selene and Theo survived the dangerous adventures in The Immortals.  Now they can relax and work on their relationship.  As the goddess of virginity, Selene must consider a more modern lifestyle and Theo may be the one to make her change.

Modern romance is put on hold, however, when police investigators call Theo to help with a new murder investigation.  A man’s body has been discovered on Wall Street’s Charging Bull statue and clues point to another ritualistic cult.  When Theo and Selene discover the cult’s evil plot, they rush to decipher the clues before the next murder.

Winter of the Gods is Book 2 of Brodsky’s Olympus Bound Series, an imaginative science fiction adventure.  In this story, Brodsky’s characters take sides in the battle between good and evil, with a few of them caught in the middle.  Within that fight are several layers of conflict between Selene and her family, who are often at odds with each other.  Can they work together to fight against an imposing, but unnamed enemy?  And does it help or hurt when mortals like Theo get involved?

Many characters from The Immortals return, including Selene’s twin brother Paul (Apollo) as well as a couple mortals:  Theo’s best friend Gabriela and the story’s sleeper love interest, Ruth Willever. As a fan of mythology, I enjoyed learning many particulars about these imperfect gods and goddesses, their loyalties and their rivalries.  Mythology buffs will appreciate the author’s knowledge and her detailed explanations of the Olympians’ complicated family tree.  I had fun imagining the gods using their magical weapons and other devices with mortals, including winged helmets and gleaming swords.  Brodsky makes the mystery real by placing many New York landmarks in the story, including Wall Street, Rockefeller Center, Roosevelt Island and North Brother Island.  A terrific scene takes place at Grossinger’s the now-deserted Catskills resort, shown below.

Grossinger’s resort in the Catskills. Image: Inhabitat

As they decipher clues and gain entry into the cult’s chambers, Theo and Selene race against time to stop the murders, with numerous obstacles. The story ends in a wild finish, with many twists, surprise heroes and a few hints at what may happen in the next book.

I recommend Winter of the Gods to readers who like fantasy adventure stories in which characters must pull strength from their innermost reserves to save the day.


Like mythology?  Check out these related posts:

The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Mythology Refresher – Artemis and The Immortals
Who were the Twelve Olympians and what were the Eleusinian Mysteries?


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Who’s That Indie Author? Nicholas Nash

Who's That Indie Author pic

the-girl-at-the-bar

Author name:  Nicholas Nash

Genre:  Mystery, Thriller, Fiction

Book:  THE GIRL AT THE BAR

Bio:  Nicholas Nash is the exciting new author of The Girl At The Bar, a psychological thriller about the mysterious disappearance of a brilliant cancer researcher and the quest to find what happened to her. Nicholas resides in the concrete jungle of Manhattan in New York City with his wife and three children. An accomplished finance professional, he has a passion for reading fiction and non-fiction books which inspired him to write an intriguing thriller. Nicholas hopes you enjoy his work. He can be reached at thegirlatthebar@gmail.com.

Favorite thing about being a writer:  Working at your own pace and interacting with readers.

Biggest challenge as an indie author:  Being good at marketing and promotion, in addition to being a good author. Wearing multiple hats basically and doing a good job in multiple roles to be able to get some success.

Favorite bookAtlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and The Prize by Daniel Yergin.

Contact Information:
Website: authornicholasnash.com (under construction)
Facebook: @AuthorNicholasNash
Instagram: NicholasNashAuthor
Goodreads
Amazon


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What’s That Book? Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

Things Not Seen

Title: Things Not Seen

Author: Andrew Clements

Genre: Young Adult

Rating: 4 stars

What’s it about? Things Not Seen is about fifteen-year-old Bobby Phillips, who wakes up one morning to discover that he is invisible.

Bobby is thrust into independence when his parents are hurt in a car accident and he must stay alone while they recover. Keeping his condition secret, he travels through the city of Chicago unnoticed and, along the way, forms an unlikely friendship with a girl he meets in the University library. He and his family learn a great deal about themselves and their relationships as they try to understand and reverse what has happened to make Bobby invisible.

How did you hear about it? I saw it on a middle school summer reading list and I liked the twist of someone being invisible. I also liked the cover because it made me wonder what was happening in the picture.

Closing comments: I liked this coming-of-age story. It has a science-fiction spin that makes it modern and, surprisingly realistic!

Contributor:  Ginette

Have you read something you’d like to share?  Consider being a contributor!  Contact bvitelli2009@gmail.com for more information.

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What’s That Book? The Bone Wall by D. Wallace Peach

Whats That Book

The Bone Wall

Title: The Bone Wall

Author: D. Wallace Peach

Genre: Sci-fi; post-apocalyptic

Rating: 5 stars

What’s it about?  The Bone Wall is a story set in a broken world of the future, with desolate landscapes, fouled water and pockets of what remains of civilization. Fear, old myths, and hostility separate them. The remnants of the old world are domed cities, protected from outsiders by power shields. After centuries of use, they begin to fail. Outside the domes are tribes whose social order is enforced via force and brutality, plus the magic of the “Touched”, who are members of the various tribes with physical deformities but magical powers.

Heaven is one such domed city, and with the failure of its shield, the city is defenseless to the tribes encircling it. What happens when Heaven is invaded by outsiders is told through the eyes of twin sisters, Rimma, strong-willed twin and vengeful, and Angel, gentle-hearted and peaceful.

I am not normally drawn to post-apocalyptic novels, but the author has created such a detailed and fascinating world with such beautifully crafted, very real, characters, I could hardly put it down. There is a very subtle undercurrent to this story of our own world issues, which lends authenticity and a sense of realism. A dark novel, but one with hope, endlessly fascinating.

How did you hear about it? Fellow bloggers’ reviews and comments

Closing comment: Even if it’s not your usual genre, you’ll enjoy the read.

Contributor:  N.A. Granger
Author of:
Death in a Red Canvas Chair
Death in a Dacron Sail

You can find N.A. Granger and information about her Rhe Brewster mystery series, at SaylingAway, Facebook and Amazon.

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven
Station Eleven

by
Emily St. John Mandel

Rating:

In current-day Toronto, Arthur Leander suffers a heart attack onstage during a performance of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary is in the audience. He’s a former paparazzo, and now an EMT-in-training and he rushes to save Leander. But there’s nothing to be done. Arthur is dead and as the medics wheel him out, Jeevan notices a young actress, Kirsten Raymonde, alone on the stage, watching in fear.

That night, a flu pandemic grips the world and takes out 99.9% of its population in a matter of days. Survivors are left in a world without power. No communication, no travel, no internet. Some wander alone, some form communities to protect themselves in dangerous lands.

Kirsten survives. Twenty years later, she is a member of the Traveling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians. When they arrive at St. Deborah by the Water, a community near Lake Michigan, they hope to find their friends, Charlotte and Jeremy. But something is wrong. A woman tells them, “Your friend rejected the prophet’s advances. They had to leave.”

What follows is a series of stories that trace back to Arthur, his life as an actor and his death, the people who knew him and two curious issues of a graphic novel called Station Eleven. These are the elaborate drawings and dialogue created by Arthur’s first wife, Miranda and they describe a damaged space station that’s built like a planet and is hiding deep in space. The planet’s surface is mostly water. Most of its people live trapped in the undersea world, led by Dr. Eleven and all they want to do is go home.

Station Eleven is difficult to describe because it’s the kind of book you just have to read to understand. Mandel describes a post-apocalyptic world in which a dangerous prophet claims that they are the chosen ones and that “everything happens for a reason.” But the story is more than that. It’s a look at people who are forced to change their lives in the most drastic of ways, to build something out of nothing. Some of Mandel’s characters, like Jeevan, have already begun to change. Arthur’s best friend, Clark Thompson, is just beginning to realize how meaningless his job as an expert in changing executives is when the pandemic hits. Kirsten and other younger survivors remember little of their previous lives and do what they need to do. And twenty years later, new parents need to decide what to teach their children. Do they tell them about the world that was? What’s the point?

The book jumps around a lot, but Mandel is good at explaining the connections and before long, the jumps become seamless. And of course, they all lead to the ultimate confrontation between the good and the bad, with a satisfying finish. I like all the pieces in this story. They all work, including the parallel story of the lost space station. I like the hopeful suggestion that most people are good and noble and my favorite part of the book is the description of “The Museum of Civilization.” And I especially like how Mandel introduces Arthur at the end of his life, giving the impression of a man who has failed to achieve happiness or to understand the true meaning of life and love, until the end. Is finding peace and understand okay, even if it’s in the last hour of your life?

A great read – check it out!

Click here for more information about post-apocalyptic books.

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