The Reality of Sharing Space

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Reality television, 10 teenagers, and an opportunity to go to space. In Waste of Space by Gina Damico, it seems as if this very premise is a chance of a lifetime and that nothing could go wrong…but it can.

Ten teenagers are presented with the opportunity to travel to space for a reality television show, Waste of Space, vying for a grand prize of one million space dollars (…whatever that amounts to in currency on Earth). The kids (or at least most of them) believe that they are actually in space while they are actually in the Arizona desert on a soundstage in a “space plane” built by both a special effects company and scientists of a lesser known governmental space agency. When communication to the kids suddenly is severed, the producers realize that the scientists have taken over and strange things begin to happen on the ship, making those who think they’re on Earth question if they might somehow actually be in space.

An incredibly quick-paced read, the story unfolds before us as a series of evidence compiled from phone calls, video recordings, emails, and aired and behind-the-scenes transcripts of footage. The writing is infused with plenty of humorous quips and references to both build upon and counter some of the ridiculous events of the story. Each of the characters did serve a specific purpose in the narrative but it seemed as if their primary role was fulfilling the quota of stereotyped reality show characters, which was ultimately understandable though groan-worthy in its own right. This was a light, entertaining read that poked fun at the reality television racket.

Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

Daring Daughters

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After a cataclysmic event destroyed the country as we know it, a secluded community with its own rules survives in Jennie Melamed’s Gather the Daughters, but the daughters begin to question the rules dictating their lives.

In a community descended from ten ancestor families, whom the community now worships, daughters are trained at an early age by their fathers how to be a good wife. On the island, the population is kept safe by not leaving and having no knowledge of the world beyond their shores, apart from what little their worship book and the Wanderers tell them. Several daughters who have yet to reach puberty, when they’ll go through their summer of fruition and find a husband, begin to question if there’s anything or anyone beyond their island and if they can have a life as anything other than a wife and mother.

There was a lot about the premise of this story that was intriguing, yet it was also utterly frightening in the possibility of this actually happening and disturbing in what it both overtly and obliquely portrayed. While I was disgusted at how the women and girls seemed to accept the men’s behavior as normal, I also couldn’t stop reading to see who might be able to change things and how they might accomplish it. The type of societal structure in the community left women oppressed and submissive, but there were at least some of the young girls who asserted their agency, offering a modicum of an optimistic outlook for the characters (and readers); however, I was disappointed in the character whose actions bring the narrative to its conclusion–it just felt like a let down that while much was changing for this particular family, nothing significant seems to have actually changed.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Political Power Plays

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The decisions you make in your life have a lasting impact on you, as well as those around you. For two young women in Seoul, their lives, once closely connected, divert drastically due to the decisions they’ve made in Yoojin Grace Wuertz’s Everything Belongs to Us.

During 1978 in Seoul, two friends, who come from very different social strata, Jisun and Namin, are studying at the nation’s top university but with disparate goals in mind for their lives. Jisun comes from privilege and wants nothing to do with her father’s empire, instead wanting to pursue activism to better the lives of the common people during the current sociopolitical climate. Namin comes from poverty and with her remarkable intelligence works incredibly hard to earn a medical degree to bring security and success to her family. After meeting an ambitious young man, Sunam, the girls’ lives drastically change from the decisions they make in their relationships with each other and with Sunam.

It took a little while to become invested in the characters and the story, but once it caught my attention about halfway through, I wanted to learn what the outcome would be, although I was ultimately let down by the lackluster ending. Perhaps the lag in the first half came from the moderately roving point of view narrative style that was used to connect all the characters together, but seemed to meander more than anything else. This narrative serves as a reminder of the massive consequences that can come from your actions and the actions of those around you, even if these consequences might not directly impact you. With not many stories focused on Korean culture in the forefront of American’s minds, there were lots of possibilities for this story to explore and educate; instead, it focused more on melodramatic relationships that could have been set almost anywhere, but it was still a decent read.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Women and War

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Three widows, their children, a castle, and World War II era Germany are the bare bones comprising The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, where these women’s lives unfold in new ways after the end of the war.

Toward the end of World War II, there is a resistance effort to assassinate Hilter in order to prevent further atrocities, but it ultimately fails, leaving the men of the resistance dead and their widows forced to endure their demise. Marianne von Lingenfels, the wife of one of the resistors and best friend to another, had promised to protect the wives and children of the resistance. In keeping her word, Marianne returns to the castle of her ancestors and tries to bring as many broken families back together as possible, starting with that of her best friend by locating his son, Martin, and wife, Benita. As Marianne’s new makeshift family develops, she and they are faced with coming to accept how the decisions they’ve made define them.

As a story of three women brought together by the tragedy of Hitler and war in Germany and their struggles to come to terms with their decisions during this time, the narrative dealt with heavily emotional topics without straying too far into the graphic brutality that occurred during this period. Jumping around in time to unfold the women’s stories worked well to divulge information at times when it would make the most impact to the narrative and reveal the most about a particular character (and the character development throughout was fairly well done). It was interesting to read about the perspective of the women who were linked to a resistance effort in Germany during this incredibly tumultuous time, as this is not a perspective of World War II that is often read about.

Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

Sleuthing Sightseer

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Traveling and experiencing what the world has to offer. It’s a lovely prospect, which can be either more or less enjoyable when it’s part of your job, depending on what you do and your perspective. In Chris Pavone’s The Travelers, writing for a travel magazine is a little more complicated than it might seem on the surface.

Will Rhodes writes for a magazine called Travelers and gets to travel around the world to gather information, experiences, and photos for his articles. During his travels, he meets a beautiful woman who causes him to compromise the fidelity of his marriage, spurring him into action to keep a secret larger than simply being unfaithful to his wife. Secrets build as Will continues to travel for the magazine and gather intelligence on the people he’s already meeting for work, at the request of a woman who he thinks might be working for the CIA. Getting drawn into a larger plot of international intrigue, Will’s choices determine the outcomes of many people’s lives.

While there’s undoubtedly an intricacy in writing a complex and compelling spy story, I found it rather frustrating to have the concept of spying so obliquely hinted at – to the point that it was blatantly obvious – throughout the narrative but not having it confirmed until the very end. There were a lot of various smaller story lines that worked toward the climax of the larger story, but it was a lot to juggle the various interludes of seemingly lesser important people; the execution of such an intricate matter of multiple people’s stories was lacking in its suspenseful finesse and had me waiting for the ultimate point to be made instead of thoroughly being immersed in and enjoying the story.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.