Review – The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Nightshade Books

ISBN: 9781597801584

3.75/4.25 stars

I put off writing this review because, even after several weeks, I don’t know what I think of this book. On some level, it was brilliant but on others it was so sad and disturbing that I almost put the book down because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go on. I finished and while I can’t say I enjoyed this book, I was amazed by it.

Anderson Lake is a calorie man in Thailand posing as a factory manager. What he’s really there for is to look for fruits and vegetables thought to have gone extinct that are now reappearing in street markets. His company, AgriGen, wants the seeds. Through another business associate, he meets Emiko, a bioengineered human working as a sex slave at a whorehouse. Their two lives collide as a new bioengineered plague runs amuck in Bangkok, the government begins infighting for power, and a company with the money to buy off the world lands on the shores of Thailand.

There is much more to this story, but in the interest of spoilers, I’ll say no more. As I said above, parts of this book are brilliant — a world running on traded calories, bioengineering corporations releasing plagues, bioengineered humans. It’s dark, scary, and oddly believable. You can buy into the world and the science behind it: engineered foods, humans, and superbugs. But there’s something so dark about it that it was also so depressing and disturbing that I wanted to shower the reek of this book off me at times. These corporations are so money hungry they don’t even think of the people in their way (and in the way is really how these corporations think of people); releasing plagues without thought so they can take over promising a cure for what they themselves unleashed.

Each and every character is on their own. There’s no sense of community anywhere. Even when one character finds himself caring for someone, he pushes the thought away almost horrified by his own feelings. They’re all horrible but it’s the world that made them that way and you see that but still hate the way they interact and don’t. Everything is some exchange. And then there’s Emiko, the bioengineered new human. She’s a sex slave. She’s bound by her genetically engineered DNA to obey. Imagine for yourself how’s she’s treated.

But I have to go back to world building for a moment here. Science fiction and fantasy are all about the worlds. Bacigalupi commands the world in The Windup Girl. He stretches it beyond belief and you see how his would and could be possible. No checks. No balances. The manipulations of science, the shattered lives of people who can’t get out of the way fast enough.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression about this book. My husband liked it (that was the reason I read it) but I think you need to go in with an open mind and one that isn’t too easily offended. It’s an interesting take on what would happen in a world were energy trading takes place and science has the ability to change lives at the drop of a hat. If you’re looking for something different, this might work for you.

The Sunday Salon – Sharing Books

Every so often, I exchange books with some of my co-workers.  This week, I shared a few new favorites (The Girl Who Chased the Moon and The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen) and an old favorite (Good Omens by Neil Gaiman).  The person I loaned Good Omens to had never heard of Neil Gaiman.  It took every last bit of restraint I had to not say what was in my head — “What?!  How have you never heard of the most wonderful writer who goes by the name of Neil Gaiman?  What?!”  I thought everyone knew of Neil Gaiman.  Ah, the book bubble I live in some days.

My mother will also be the recipient of several books I liked and re-discovered while doing my semi-regular clean of the shelves.  She cracked me up when I was telling her about the books though and as it turns out, a good friend of her’s will also be getting some books because she said, “Ooo, that sounds like something Peggy would read.”  Guess what Peggy, you’re getting’ some books!

I know some of these books may not make it back to me, some many take months before I see them again, and I’m good with that.  I’ve read them all and enjoyed them and it makes me happy to be able to share with friends and family stories I liked.  I’m also interested to hear what people think of the books.  A small part of me wonders if they will love them as much as I do.  That’s what sharing is all about and I’m sure my mom is glad to hear I’ve retained my skills.  🙂

And now for some link love…

Want to read reviews of the worst book ever?  This made me giggle it was so strange.

Fictional character quiz.

I don’t belong to a book club but this profile has me intrigued. I think one of the reasons I never enjoyed book clubs was because they always turned to gossip, nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to talk about the book and that never happened.  Do you belong to any book clubs?  How does it work for your group?

This is completely unrelated to books but I can’t help sharing.  SHARK WEEK starts today! I can’t tell you how excited I am.

Happy Sunday.  I’m off to spend another day indoors hiding from the heat.

The Sunday Salon – My Books

I thought I’d take a moment today to talk about my books.  More specifically, where the books I review on this blog come from.

There are several sources to draw from:

  • Personal books I’ve bought (this category does include ebooks).  This is how I acquire most of the books I read and review here.
  • Personal books that have been bought for me.
  • Library books.  Although, thanks to a little tiff with the library and its amazing ability to constantly misplace books and sometimes misplace them permanently so as to make them lost, I haven’t taken any books out in a while but it might be time to get over it on my part.
  • I do also, from time to time but not on a regular basis, request advanced review copies of books I’d like to read.  These books, for the most part, make up a relatively small portion of my reading since I don’t ask for many.
  • I’m also a reviewer for The BookReporter website.  I reviewed books for this website before starting my own blog and usually read two or three books for the group every two months.  I do include some of these reviews here and tag them as BookReporter reviews.
  • Finally, NetGalley.  I joined a while back and then did nothing with it.  I decided to take another look and have downloaded about four books.  Not many I know.  It’s not that the book selections aren’t interesting, they are, but considering the stack of books already leaning precariously to the right on the small table I consider my TBR pile, I’m trying not to add a virtual stack as well.
  • Books that authors and publicists pitch me.  I get these emails every once in a while and in most cases, I do not accept the books mostly because the books are not the type I read and I don’t feel I can do them justice.  In some cases, I have accepted the books.  It’s rare but it happens.

Why bring this up?  A person who sees me often, and almost always with a book, asked me where I get my books from.  If he wondered, then maybe some of the people reading my ramblings here might also wonder and I thought it might be a good time to mention it.  So there you have it.

Some links this week —

Bookshelf Porn has this lovely beauty to share this week.

On Flavorwire, you can learn how to drink like a famous author.

The Los Angeles Times Book Blog, Jacket Copy, has some French reading for the summer.

The Guardian has a list of the best 100 non-fiction books.  I’ve read about five books on the list.

Happy Sunday.

Short Story Quick Reviews – The Gauntlet and The Queen’s Witch

The Gauntlet: A Kit Marlowe Short

By Karen Chance

Smashwords Edition – Free Nook download from Barnes & Noble

3.75 stars

Kit Marlowe is a vampire working for Queen Elizabeth I.  He’s sent to the Queen’s prison in search of a witch to help with his work.  He finds the woman he needs at the prison, a powerful witch named Gillian, and decides she’s fit for what the Queen wants but before he can get out with her, a magical battle takes place between coven witches and mages, and Kit is forced to fight alongside Gillian to get out alive.

Witches, mages, and covens battling it out for the right of survival and throw in a vampire for fun and well, just call it fun.  Why not?  When I read this book I was on a fantasy bender and also a short story run which is not my usual preference but something was really appealing about this.  An hour’s worth of reading for a magical battle was just what I needed.  Chance didn’t skimp on the magic and while it would have been great to have more information on how the magical system worked, there wasn’t much time for that but I was OK with it.  Kit and Gillian carry it off and though much is left unexplained, it was still entertaining.


The Queen’s Witch: A Kit Marlowe Short

Karen Chance

Smashwords Edition – Free Nook Download from Barnes & Noble

3.75 stars

The Gauntlet’s follow-up.  Having recently escaped from a prison stronghold with a vampire named Kit, Gillian is now a witch with a price on her head.  Kit, however, needs her once more promising to take Gillian and her daughter to safety after she helps him procure a jewel meant to poison the Queen.

I have a Nook and while browsing the Barnes & Noble online store one day I found these free downloads.  Both looked interesting enough so I took advantage.  Really, free books, how could one not.  🙂  This one is short, only 37 pages, but it was fun.  Gillian and Kit have an entertaining relationship and it being so short there isn’t much background here — more is in The Gauntlet which preceded this one — but I found myself liking the two characters more and more and wondering if I could find more shorts.  And then I thought I would even be willing to pay.  Gillian and Kit feel like fully developed characters and while the story does feel as if there should be more, it was a good few page for me.

Sunday Salon – Why I Shouldn’t Go to Going Out of Business Sales

Yesterday, while out enjoying the lovely weather (it’s raining today so getting out yesterday was imperative) we crossed paths with the Borders that’s closing in our neighborhood.  We decided to browse a bit and that’s how I came home with six new books.  In bookstores, browsing and buying are the same thing for me.  My TBR pile is officially out of control but it’s all good because I managed to pick up several books on the mighty big list so I’m considering it a win-win.

The Gates by John Connolly – a young kid goes trick or treating a few days early and finds out his neighbors have managed to open the gates to hell.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley – a writer using history as inspiration starts to wonder is she’s dealing with an ancestral memory.

Poison by Sara Poole – a young woman searching for her father’s killer finds herself in the position of poisoner for Cardinal Borgia.

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse – a man traveling in the French Pyrenees during a snowstorm crashes his car and ends up at a small tavern where he meets a woman with a tragic story to tell.

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger – a lady’s maid finds a new life but also finds out it’s not one meant for her.

Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman – the last days of the marriage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Recently, these books also made it into the house:

Livia: Empress of Rome by Matthew Dennison – present from my husband who knows how much I love ancient Rome.  It’s my next non-fiction read.

Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon – LibraryThing Early Reviewers Give Away.

Twice a Spy by Keith Thomson – from the publisher.

And from the library:

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis – for the Time Travel Challenge.

The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick – other than being fantasy, I don’t know much about it.  I found it searching but it looks interesting.

Busy the next few weeks?  I will be. 🙂

Last week I had the chance to read an ARC of The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen and if I had to describe it in one word it would be wonderful.  I’m planning to finish Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran today — another favorite author — and from there I have no idea what’s next but at least I have options.

A few fun things to share this week:

Harry Potter Quiz at The Guardian.

Life instructions, Jane Austen or JWwow (she’s on MTV’s Jersey Shore  if you don’t know who she is and since I had to Google that I wanted to share that bit of knowledge so others don’t have to look it up).  Trust me, you’ll go with Jane Austen.  Somehow this one made me feel old but smart then vindicated.

Minis Tirith out of toothpicks.

What your books do when you aren’t home.

New David Foster Wallace story to appear in The New Yorker. It’s been a few years since I’ve read one his books but I still don’t think I’m ready to tackle Infinite Jest.  I may never be but it will always be on my list.

Happy Sunday.

The Sunday Salon – Sharing is Fun

While browsing the internets this week, I came across a few things that made me want to share.  My mom is probably bursting with pride to know I’m using my sharing skills.  🙂

The first is an article that appeared in The Washington Post earlier this week – ‘Tolkien Professor’ Corey Olsen Brings Middle-Earth to iTunes Via Podcast.  His website, The Tolkien Professor, is even more interesting and I’ve already found a few books on Tolkien criticism that will be added to my list.  I haven’t downloaded any of the lectures from iTunes, only because I’m hopeless when it comes to that and somehow always mess something up that confuzzles my husband, so I’m holding off but it will happen at some point.

This I found on BBC News – Divided Attention Disorder? Log off and read a book.  I laughed while reading it (it’s written by a comedian so it was intended) because this is something I do.  Feel overwhelmed?  Read.  The part about googling the plot though is something I’ve done, but I won’t hang my head in shame.  I like to know the end.

I had a good week of reading too.  I finished Spook by Mary Roach, Autumn: The City by David Moody, and started A Conspiracy of Kings by Meghan Whalen Turner.  I even managed to sneak in the writing of a few reviews this week too so I’m feeling very accomplished on the book front.

I’m planning to make a four course meal tonight for Valentine’s Day.  We’re celebrating a day early thanks to crazy Monday schedules so I’m off to start cooking.  Happy Sunday.

The Sunday Salon – Long Books and Loot

For the second week in a row, I’ve been in a one week, one book relationship.  The first was a non-fiction book that I was having some issues with (I wasn’t liking it so much and found some of it annoying so it took me longer, even longer than my normal slow pace associated with non-fiction books because there were times I thought about winging it far from my being.) and the second week was consumed by an almost 800 page historical fiction tome that, well, it just took me a long time to read.  I did enjoy it though so there are no complaints.  🙂

So what book was it?  The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick.  Last year, I read her Arthurian legend trilogy, Pendragon’s Banner, loved it so much I knew I needed to read more and when I saw this one, I bought it.  Lately my restraint tactics which I practiced all last year in regard to buying books have been tossed casually into a black hole from which they will never ever return.  Although, the new books are all ebooks so they aren’t taking up any physical space which is probably why I’ve kept at the buying the last few days with little regard for anything other than how much money is left on my gift cards.  The answer to that is not much.  I also picked up A Clash of Kings by George RR Martin (can’t wait for it!) and Un Lun Dun by China Mieville.  I read two of his books last year and he’s becoming a favorite.

To show there’s more to me than just hitting the download button, I also stopped by the library (thanks honey for double parking and deftly avoiding a ticket) and picked up two books that I’m looking forward to reading.  OK, one I already started…

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach.  Mary Roach writes the funniest and most entertaining non-fiction books I’ve ever read and this is going to be the perfect one to get me back on the non-fiction wagon which I jumped off of in January.  My second book is A Conspiracy of Kings by Meghan Whalen Turner.  I thought, really believed, that I had finished this series last year but I didn’t and well, that needed to be fixed and now I have the final book and all is well.

I’m off now.  My husband has informed me there is football stuff to be watched.  Happy Sunday everyone and enjoy the game!