Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Let me start out by saying that Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. I really enjoyed The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace, and I would even go so far as to name The Handmaid’s Tale as one of my favorite books. That’s why I’m so disappointed in this one. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Snowman seems to be the only living human left in a world full of “Crakers”, some type of bio-engineered, too perfect creatures who look to him for guidance and explanations of the world around them. Strange animals (rakunks, pigoons, bobkittens), also products of some type of biological experimentation, inhabit the wasteland as well. It’s all just a bit too much for me, so I gave up about halfway through. If you are a science fiction fan, then give it a go, but I’m off to find something else for my nightstand.

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Mary Modern by Camille DeAngelis

 I just hate it when a book starts out so well and then ultimately disappoints.  Although I don’t consider myself a science fiction fan, I am attracted to time-travel themes (think Time Traveler’s Wife or The House on the Strand).  In this take on the theme, Lucy Morrigan, a young genetic researcher, successfully clones her grandmother, Mary, from genetic material she finds on a bloodstained apron in her attic.   Lucy expected to give birth to a newborn Mary, but instead brings forth a fully grown Mary, dazed and confused, aged 22.

Assuming you can buy into the idea that Lucy could clone a human being in her basement, it is fascinating reading when Mary wakes up and realizes that she is in her familiar house, but many years have passed and everyone she knew is dead.  At this point, I couldn’t help thinking that this might be the first book to go into my “Loved it” category.  Unfortunately, DeAngelis lost me about three fourths of the way through, with the addition of a religious zealot obsessed with forcing Lucy to clone Jesus, abrupt plot twists, and even more improbable events.  All in all a good book, but not quite good enough to say I loved it.

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Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir by Marina Nemat

  Marina Nemat was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up enjoying school, friends and summers at her family’s cottage on the Caspian Sea.  That all changed in 1979 when the Shah of Iran was exiled and the Ayatollah Khomeini became the leader of Iran.   At the age of 16, fed up with an endless barrage of political propaganda, she leads her classmates in a strike to get her calculus teacher to actually teach calculus.  She soon finds herself imprisoned in Evin prison along with hundreds of other young girls, a political prisoner, tortured and sentenced to death.  Ali, one of the interrogators, sees something special in Marina and intervenes in her death sentence.  The catch?  She must convert to Islam (she’s Christian) and marry him or he will have her family and boyfriend tortured and possibly killed. 

The book reads like a novel, but in fact it is all true.  Marina eventually escapes Iran (and Ali) and emigrates to Canada where for years she suppresses her memories of Evin and the many friends she saw tortured and murdered there.  A news story in 2003 about the torture, rape and murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi  inside the walls of Evin prison helps Marina find the courage to write her story. 

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The Island by Victoria Hislop

The IslandOn my nightstand at the moment is The Island by British novelist Victoria Hislop. Set in the years before WW2 on the island of Crete, it follows the lives and loves of the Petrakis family who live in the tiny village of Plaka. A stone’s throw away across the water is the island of Spinalonga, the final stop for those poor unfortunates who contract the dreaded disease of leprosy.

The book has it’s share of characters who we’ve all met before — the beautiful, selfish daughter who marries for money, the kind-hearted duty bound daughter, the long suffering father, etc. It becomes unique, and fascinating, when leprosy touches the lives of the family and the mother, Eleni must go live on Spinalonga, leaving behind her family and life in Plaka. I was so intrigued with what life must have been like on Spinalonga for the lepers, knowing that life went on in their villages without them, condemned to live isolated on an island from which they could still see the daily activities of Plaka.

Though well written and interesting, the book ultimately left me a bit disappointed. I wanted more of life on Spinalonga, and less of the soap opera in Plaka involving adultery, murder and family secrets. On the up side, it did inspire me to Google Spinalonga, look at pictures of the actual island, and learn more about it in that way.

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