Tag Archives: SephiPiderWitch

The Fledgling by Octavia Butler

fledgling Octavia ButlerI don’t remember where I came up with this book on my reading list, but I am aware of the notoriety of Octavia Butler.  Fledgling is an interesting novel and I have admittedly very mixed feelings about it.  I do have some reservations about being totally frank about my feeling about this book because of her place in literature and as a cultural icon.  And the reality is that they are my feelings and needn’t be representative of anyone else’s.

Fledgling is a dark fantasy about a race that exists with humans and either evolved at the same time or prior to humans.  Octavia has redefined vampires as a creature that lives symbiotically with humans, mostly forming a lifelong family with their symbiots and only taking when needed but also giving long and healthful life to the humans.   However, the Ina bite also gives something akin to a drug that the symbiots become addicted to.   Its sort of a addictive/poly-amorous vampire story.

The main character, Shori, is a product of genetic engineering by her family.  Bred with human DNA so that she could remain out in the daylight and not fall into the deathlike slumber of her kind during the day.  The human symbiot whose DNA is blended with her parents Ina genes is of African descent which gives her a much darker skin tone than the rest of her kind.

Shori’s mother clan and father clan are all murdered by what is believed to be another clan of Ina.  As she begins to collect a new group of symbiots and learn about herself and who and what she is, she begins to solve the mystery of who murdered her family.  She begins to relay what she comes to know to her first symbiot, Wright as she pieces things together.  They begin to travel to a clan that she learned has the Ina sons she was promised to be wed to with her sisters before her family was killed.  Yeah, that made it a bit more interesting trying to figure out how that one works out.  Sisters of one family marry the brothers of the other.  Takes the polyamory concept to a rather bizarre level.  Interesting, but bizarre.

With her newly found family, her growing family of symbiots, they begin to piece together an investigation into who, or what, is killing off her people.

I mostly liked the book, but did find that it drug a bit in a lot of places.  The concept was intriguing though, portraying vampires as being in a symbiotic relationship with humans.  Though, there was one area where I did have some issues and that was in Ms. Butler’s insertion of racial bigotry into the story line.  Though I do understand the importance of such an issue, I felt it detracted from the story line she was developing and did nothing to aid the story.  In truth, I felt it weakened it.  I think that if she wanted to create a bigotry illustration, she would have been better served to have done it within the Ina people.  Much like was done in Enemy Mine when the alien race was used to show inequality.  But, that is just my personal opinion.

All in all, it was a very interesting novel that challenged ideas about conventional morality, norms and lifestyles.  Its a shame that it will be the last of what looked to be on the way of becoming a very interesting series.




Dr. Mutter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Dr. Mutters Marvels by Cristin O-Keefe AptowiczDr. Mutter’s Marvels is an utterly fascinating story about one of the early pioneers of modern medicine and surgery, Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter.  He was flamboyant in his dress from a very young age and it carried through and into his career as a brilliant surgeon where he sported his expensive and colorful suits into the operating rooms.

It was a time when surgeries were performed without anesthesia or sanitation.  One had to be more afraid of dying of an ailment or so deformed that one might as well die to go under the knife at this time.  Surgeries were performed before an audience as the patient was held down screaming as they were sliced open.  The surgeon wore the same clothes throughout the entire day and all the surgeries and the surgical equipment not even wiped clean.  And then the patient, if they survived, was sent home immediately after the surgery.

One of the early “strange” notions that Mutter had was a deep compassion for his patients.  He would spend great amounts of time with them going over every phase of what he was going to do, including the level of pain they would be forced to endure.  His specialty was reconstructing deformed or badly injured people, burn victims, serious birth defects like cleft palates,

The author presents Dr. Mutter with all his flamboyancy, his compassion and his innovative thinking in a highly readable manner.  This was the first I had ever heard of the man.  Father of plastic surgery, making possible for monsters to again walk out in the light of day.  Pioneer in the concept of sanitation in surgery and a champion to his patients as he fought for and got wards for them to recover in after surgery, where they could be ministered to, watched over and their wounds properly dressed to speed healing.

He was also a collector of unique and bizarre specimens.  Body parts, whole bodies, organs, bones, often paying huge sums to take them off the side show network to be housed in his lab.  The book is full of illustrations, pictures and quotes from Mutter and those that were part of his time and world.  This added to my liking of the book as I have always had a fondness for illustrated books.

His approach in teaching was also unique of the times as he engaged his students in discussions and problem solving.  At a time when all others simply lectured to a silent audience.  As such, his classes were sought out and he became a favorite among the student body.  This, coupled with his compassionate approach to healing brought the school a tidal wave of fame and income.

He was also one of the early supporters of anesthesia, for which he received much derision from his contemporaries.  They believed that a patient needed to remain awake and be an active participant in their surgery.  That anesthesia would increase the mortality rate of patients, and was against God’s will.  Mutter not only saw it as an opportunity to minimize the pain of surgery, but also the advantage it would allow in longer surgeries that weren’t possible without such a discovery.  He even devoted large amounts of time in developing a stabler and more consistent ether mixture as well as the mask for administering it.

Dr. Mutter had far too little time on this earth.  He had been plagued by a “weak disposition” since childhood and it carried through into his adulthood and career.  But, what he accomplished in his short time was remarkable.  His students numbered some of the pioneers in medicine from that time, including the first Surgeon General.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels is an excellent and fascinating read in the history of surgery, teaching and the brilliant and colorful man who changed the entire landscape with each step.  And Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz does a stellar job in bringing this forgotten figure back into the limelight he deserves.

April 2015


The Common Thread

SpiderwebWatching the news feed nowadays, it seems like the stream of legislated hate, sermonized intolerance, surveillance and just downright abuse from those in power never ends.  And it becomes overwhelmingly accepted due to a highly organized onslaught of carefully wrought ad campaigns to make the infringements seem “reasonable”.  Or by identifying one group or another as a fringe group to be feared or less deserving.  Individually, its scary.  Put together, its downright terrifying.

Each group, each faction that is under attack (almost entirely from the radical right and money barons) has a legitimate claim to the bias and bigotry thrown at them.  I sympathize with pretty much all of them.  It seems that if you are not a white christian of devout/hypocritical  (if ignorant knowledge of the bible) beliefs who votes a straight Republican ticket, then you are placed into any of a number of buckets for derision.  And the problem is, not only are they united in their war tactics, not only do they have the finances to keep feeding into their hate campaigns and propaganda wars, but they also have brilliantly divided the rest of us.

Yes, there is an assault on gay rights, but it is more than that.  Yes, there is a war on women, but it is more than that.  Yes, there is an attack on the elderly, the poor, the infirm, the weakest among us, the military (once they have served their use to those in power), but it is more than that.  Yes, there is a war on science, on critical thinking, on free thought, on education, but it is more than that.  And yes, there is a war on any religious or non-religious belief that counters theirs, but it is more than that.

The problem is that in each of these things, we have allowed lines to be drawn so that we are only fighting a piece of the battle.  We see them as unique and stand alone issues that are unrelated to the others.  We align ourselves in one or two camps and give no energy to the rest.  And that divides us and weakens us.  And though all of those battles are real, they are only one scene out of the whole picture.

The whole thing hit me when a friend made a comment on a post the other day.  I had made similar comments before, but it took it coming from someone else for the light bulb to fully go off.  Every one of these things is a Human Rights Violation.  Every. Single. One.

And it seems to me that when you put it in this light, you begin to see just how monumentally massive this situation is.  Its almost too much to process when you finally look at it.  Its so much easier to just deal with the individual bubbles.  But, all that will do is maybe, if we are lucking, permit a temporary freedom for one of the bubbles.  And build a further wall of separation as the side that has scored the win shields themselves from the rest believing to do otherwise may endanger the liberty they just acquired.  But, that is a false hope at the very least, as the LGBT community is learning, as the minorities have learned, as women have learned, as so many have learned.

Taking a woman’s right to make decisions about her body and her health away from the sanctity of her and her doctor is a Human Rights Violation.  Enforcing junk science in place of real science to further a political agenda is a Human Rights Violation.  You have the right to make whatever decision you wish based on your personal belief on your body, your health, your choices.  You do NOT have the right to impose those beliefs on others.  You do NOT have the right to rewrite laws to target an industry unfairly and in direct conflict of years of evidence that proves it is unwarranted as have been imposed on countless women’s clinics in this country.  That’s a Human Rights Violation.

You cannot open a public establishment where access is made via public streets paid for by taxpayers, receive tax credits and enjoy the benefits of a public business owner and refuse to serve someone based on their color, their religion, their gender preference.  Hospitals that are owned by religious establishments do not have the right to impose their church’s rules on the treatment and disclosure of information to patients.  The moment they take insurance payments from the general community, accept patients from the secular community and enjoy the tax benefits granted from the government, they have given up that right.  If they choose to serve the general population, it is their duty to set aside their personal and religious beliefs as far as it regards the people they serve.  The same goes for a pharmacist, a nurse, a psychologist.  Anything less is a Human Rights Violation.

Prayer has no place being part of the public school curriculum.   Nor does religious mythology such as creationism.   Religious indoctrination groups have no place on a public school campus.  This is not discrimination against Christians.  It is protection for people of all faith, and of no faith.  It is also protection for Christians of varying denominations.  The Ten Commandments are discriminatory of non-Christians and have no place on a court house or public building.  They are pushing an ideology that is unconstitutional and a Human Rights Violation.

You cannot serve in a public office where you seek to impose your religious beliefs on your constituency.  That is called a Theocracy.  Something the founding fathers were adamantly opposed to.  Our constitution was not founded on religious principles and Moses was not one of the founding fathers.  Any person who takes an oath of public office is bound to serve ALL the people and to insure that all people are treated fairly.  For they are Servants of the people, not the rulers of them.  We gave those up when we fought the American Revolution.  They may hold those beliefs and apply them to their own life and their own personal choices.  They may not force them onto someone that may not share their belief structure or make them a part of the governing laws.

Additionally, the police are servants of the people.  Not a domestic military force.  And as such, they should not be an intimidating presence in our communities, often times inciting the violence they should be preventing.  They need to be a part of the community, not an overseeing force.  Violence needs to be far more of a last resort than it has been.  Anything less is a Human Rights Violation.

Imposing unnecessary laws and obstacles to disenfranchise votes and make it harder or costly for citizens to cast their vote is a Human Rights Violation.  We have the right, as citizens, to participate in our electoral process.  In truth, we have a duty.  And we should not be dissuading citizens from voting.  We should not be looking for excuses to disallow their vote, impose unnecessary and discriminatory regulations to minimize the counts.  We need to make it easier, to educate the citizenry of their civil duty, understanding their rights and the constitution.  As it is written, not as some attempt to redefine it.  We need to strive not to have lower voter turnout, but to do whatever is needed to have as high of a voter turnout as is possible.  Only then will we have a true government of the people, by the people and for the people.  Anything less is a Human Rights Violation.

Selling off or leasing off the sacred and tribal lands of our Indigenous People is without a doubt a Human Rights Violation.  Denial of the scientific held belief of Climate Change is your right.  But, continuing practices that are known to be substantial contributors to it, thereby affecting the majority of the population who do not share in your belief is a Human Rights Violation.  As is Fracking, which is poisoning ground water, most probably causing earthquakes and creating a toxic environment for all life is a Human Rights Violation.  So is the attempt to place ownership on the clean waters of the world and the spraying of chemicals with sufficient probable causation of things like the decline in bee populations and new cancers.

I am not, nor will I ever be a “Politically Correct” person.  I believe in freedom of speech.  I believe in it wholly including the belief that I must also defend speech that I find offensive.  I believe that people have the right to hate, though I don’t understand why anyone would make such a choice.  I believe they have the right to practice any religion they wish.  To live their lives by their own principles and morals, regardless of whether I or anyone else shares them.  The line gets drawn, however, when they encroach on the rights of others, when they try and pass laws limiting the freedoms of those who don’t share their beliefs.  When it goes beyond freedom of speech, freedom of religion outside of their personal life, then it has crossed the line from “your” freedom into someone else’s.  It is not a discrimination against your religion when you are prohibited from discrimination.  If you don’t wish to be in their presence, you can simply cloister yourself in your home.  But, outside the doors of your home, your church, they have just as much right to be, to function, to thrive as you do.

I am sorry, but if you don’t want to administer birth control, don’t become a pharmacist.  If you want your child to pray in class, put them in a religious school (which needs to also give up its tax exempt status as well as that status is a form of government sponsorship).  If you don’t want to kill a stranger, don’t enlist in the military or the police.  Its just common sense.  When you enter these areas, you must accept that these things go hand in hand with the job.  That you are accepting them as part of the job description.  You have the “right” to choose another path.  If you cannot live up to the requirements of your job without imposing your personal beliefs onto others, you should choose another path.  Because your freedom cannot be bought at the expense of another’s.

Yes, each of these and more are, on their own, their own separate issue, but they are each of them also part of a greater whole.  For every one of them is a Human Rights Violation.  They must each be joined by this common thread in order for them to achieve the united front that is needed to make real change.  None of the individual groups hold enough power, enough votes to make more than a temporary change, in constant danger the moment they glance the wrong way.  Too many factions dismiss “women’s rights”, “gay rights”, “minority rights”, “religious rights (other than Christian)”, etc.  But, if all of these people keep pounding on the table and stating over and over its a Violation of their Human Rights, it makes it slowly harder for them to chip away.  It removes the wall between the gays and the women and the minorities and the atheists and the nones and all the rest.  Its a Violation of Human Rights.  Period.  And the Violations need to stop.  Now.  Erase the lines and grab the common thread.  Because we all want the same thing.  Basic. Human. Rights.


The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger by Sarah WatersThe first book I read of Sarah Waters was Tipping the Velvet.  I was fascinated with her style and the rich and complex characters she created in its pages.  Its taken me a while to get around to another of her novels, but I have finally come back to her.

Little Stranger is a very different novel than Tipping The Velvet.  Its a haunted story about an old family living in a very old manor that is falling into disrepair.  Its enchanting in that it is told in the old gothic horror story that slowly draws you into the mystery of the tale and introducing each of the characters through the eyes of Doctor Faraday whose mother was a maid for the manor when he was a child and his earliest memories of it was taking a token from the plasterwork in one of the rooms.

Dr. Faraday begins to spend more and more time with the Ayres family after being called out to minister to their maid Molly.  He forms bonds with all the members of the family, particularly the daughter Catherine, a very plain spinster who is full of energy and has the strength and fearlessness of most men (and nearly the build).

The book is told in a style that is almost reminiscent of the true Victorian Gothic horror stories.   It rich in the detail of the surroundings and slow in building up the suspense.  For much of the book, you are unsure if its trying to be a love story, a drama, or a mystery with the slightest hint towards a ghost story.

I can understand why some people were not drawn to the story, as it is slow.  But, that was one of the magical things to me.  Its a nice change to get lost in the atmosphere of a well crafted tale that is as much about mood and details as it is about plot.  Having a fondness for the Gothic Horror, I was enchanted with the book and loved the curiosity of the slow pace in trying to figure out what the next unfolding would be.

I am thinking I need to read more of Sarah’s works, for this shows the diversity she is capable of.  She loves the history of her novels and wraps you in the details so you can be right there to breath in the dank air of the old mansion, the dust flying through the air from a room years past use and a family where times seems to have stood still.

Its a book that you can get lost in and be transported to another time.  She weaves it beautifully and if you don’t demand the every page must be action packed, but writing as it used to be, then grab it, find an overstuffed chair to curl up in and some soft music to play in the background while the rain taps the roof and you step through her time portal.

April 2015


God Is Not Great – Christopher Hitchens

God Is Not Great - Christopher HitchensWell, I am sure that Mr. Hitchens is equally as controversial as Dawkins, so we shall see how quickly this review is swooped upon.  (I did one on The God Delusion and had a near immediate rambling assault on Amazon.)

My biggest issue with the book is Hitchens’ reading it.  I have heard him in debates and found him drolly entertaining. However, in the reading of the book, his voice fluctuates both in volume as well as in clarity.  I was often forced to try and fill in the blanks of sentences lowered to a jumbled mumble.  I am not sure who was at the control board during the recording, but they should have been whacking him with a pointer each time he started to slump over and talk into his shoulder.

That said, as always, I find Hitchens to be intelligent and insightful.  He does cover much of the same ground that Dawkins did in The God Delusion (or vice versa, not sure whose came out first)  I am also not sure the reasoning of his commentaries about disagreeing with Dawkins on the subject.

Mumblings aside, I found this book to be excellent in its airing of the histories and realities of some of the largest religions in the world.  I learned quite a bit as well.  I learned that Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church was jailed as a con artist and suspected of necrophilia.  I was also surprised that Hitchens didn’t take issue with the Church’s habit of going through death records and baptizing segments of the deceased population regardless of their religious beliefs in life.  He actually found that to be a brilliant answer to the dilemma of correcting past prejudices of not allowing blacks or others into the folds of a church (such as had been the views of the Church of LDS in the earlier days)

I was also surprised to learn that most of these religions “holy books” were delivered to illiterates and transcribed by others.  This also included Joseph Smith, Mohammed, etc.  I knew that was the case with the Koran.  I did’t know so with the others.  So, I find it hard to believe that the legitimacy of these “holy texts” are so unquestioned given the highly questionability of their origins.

He speaks at time with dry humor an insight.  I smiled at his recounting of how he was more than willing to attend the Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son or a Muslim religious ceremony or any of any number of religious ceremonies for friends.  However, the same respect and accommodation was never returned to him.  These same friends always found it necessary to try and help to save his soul.

I think one of the most shattering chapter in the book was the one on is religion child abuse.  Hitchens probably showed more emotion in this section than any other as he explained why indeed, religious indoctrination was child abuse.  Especially when it came to the rituals of the genital mutilation of children.  (And this was the first time I had learned that original Jewish circumcision involved the Rabbi biting the foreskin and sucking it off the child’s penis then spitting it out)  Holy crap!  He also gave very detailed descriptions of female genital mutilation (most of which I was already familiar with).  This chapter alone is enough to deprive on of more than a few good nights sleep.

I do give Hitchen’s credit in that he didn’t just go after Christianity and its religions.  He proved himself quite knowledgeable on a good many religions and drug all of their dirty laundry out into the glaring light of day to be seen for what it was without the candy coating, including the Catholic Church’s support of Hitler and the Nazis, the ethnic cleansing in Rhuanda, etc.

Additionally, he backs up all of the genocides, slavery, rape, torture and other horrors with citations from all of the holy books on when god himself commanded or approved of such things, without pausing even for a breath to add in the same comment they hypocrisy of how god can set down laws in one passage only to command his people break them in the next.  I have to admit, I have also had a problem with those selfsame hypocrisies.  At least most of the pagan gods painted themselves in their true colors.

Hitchens does all of this from the voice of an accomplished journalist, stating the facts as the record shows them, haunting in their stark horror.  Above all, he shows that not only do we not need religion to be moral creatures.  In truth, we somehow, many of us, manage to be so in spite of it.

In closing, I do have to make a comment about the music I can only assume Hitchens chose for the book.  Although very pretty, it just seemed very out in left field to the content of the book.  Which made me smile and giggle a few times as it gave pause between the chapters.  But, if you are willing to take a stark, unvarnished look at religion, its history and its priesthood, you couldn’t find a better read.  Okay, Dawkins is up there as well.

March 2015


The Weird Sisters – Eleanor Brown

Pink HouseThe Weird Sisters is a novel by Eleanor Brown about the Andreas family, particularly the three sisters, Cordelia, Rosalind and Bianca.  Their father speaks in Shakesperian verse.

I wanted to like this book.  And its not that I disliked it.  I had a mixture of both.  There’s not a great deal going on in the book to make up for the off putting aspects is the biggest problem.

All of the girls come home because their mother has breast cancer.  Rose never left.  But, the story isn’t really about her.  She’s what brought them together.

The book is told in what appears to be a collective voice of all three, but again, not entirely.  So, you lose track of if its the communal voice or a sort of individual voice.  This is without a doubt the most confusing part of the book.  But, though there are part of the story where it is interesting, it keeps losing it.  To be honest, I am not sure why I kept reading it.  I generally lose patience with books that I don’t care for.  Which probably explains why there are so few that I review with bad marks.  I can’t make it all the way through.  Well, I suppose since I made it through this one, I owe it at least a 2 star, but that is a bare 2 star.

March, 2015



The Execution of Noa P. Singleton – Elizabeth L. Silver

The Execution of Noa P. SingletonThe Execution of Noa P. Singleton was a very interesting and unique book.  Its about a woman, Noa P. Singleton who is on death row for killing a pregnant woman.  Its told in the first person, by Noa herself.  She is unapologetic and seemingly unremoreseful.  She has 6 months left till her execution date.  During her time in prison, she has had very few visitors save the media and attorneys.

Then she is visited by Marlene Dixon, the mother of the woman she is on death row for killing and a high powered attorney.  She says she has had a change of heart and no long believes in the death penalty and wants to help Noa’s sentence be commuted to life imprisonment instead.  Marlene brings with her a young man named Oliver to help her.  They want her to tell her story on the reason that it will help them in building the case that could spare her life.

The story is told in the form of journal entries and Noa speaks of her life on death row, the tedium of being kept in a cell for 23 hours of the day and allowed outside for 1 hour.  She seems to be indifferent to this as she seems to be about everything.

Marlene does add another voice later in the book as she begins to write letters to her deceased daughter Sarah.  And in these letters, you begin to see a very calculating and vindictive person.  This creates another level to the mystery and you begin to start questioning what really happened.

Noa begins to tell her life story to Oliver, slowly unfurling to him a far more complex person than he originally thought.  He begins to do his own investigating and what he discovers leads him to believe that Noa didn’t get a fair shake and hopes to try and get her a new trial with what he uncovers.

I have noticed that a lot of people seemed to dislike this book or only slightly like it.  Mostly because of the vagueness and indifference of Noa, and not enough from the other characters.  I disagree with this.  I found the book to be written in a very unique and haunting voice and wonder if this is what might be expected of a woman who was this close to her execution on death row.

I think its that people want a more “likeable” character in Noa.  Or, they want her to be a true sociopath.  What they find is neither of these, but a woman who is resigned, indifferent, bored.  Its only in her journal that the story of what happened begins to fully unfold.  Her father finding her just shortly before the murder.  The victim, his young lover, a girl her age that he met while he was trying to track her down.

She learns about Sarah when she meets Marlene, who wants her to break the two of them up because she doesn’t feel Noa’s father is good enough for her daughter.  More and more layers begin to develop as the story progresses.

I found it to be a very complex story told in a very authentic voice.  I would not be surprised to find there are many in prison that would have a similar tone.  Noa would be barely likeable to most people as she doesn’t even seem to care much about her father or anyone else in her life.  So, in that way, she was a sociopath.  But, she was not only lacking in empathy, but lacking in emotion almost entirely.  Its a haunted tale about how things are rarely how they appear and guilt and innocence are often a multi-layered thing on the same coin.

Its an excellent novel and even more so given its a first novel.  Well worth the time to read.  I, for one, will watch for the next book from this young author.

February 2015