Tag: Media Monday

Media Monday: Medical dystopias with RJ Crayton and Jeff Altabef

first life coverThe books: Life First series by RJ Crayton, Shatter Point by Jeff Altabef, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The music:Heaven’s a Lie” by Lacuna Coil

Imagine a world where everyone can be healthy: no cancer, no failing organs. What would you be willing to give up to make this a reality? Or, more importantly, what would you be willing for others to give up for you to be healthy?

Those are the questions explored in this week’s books.

First, RJ Crayton introduces us to the Federation of Surviving States (FoSS), a country made from the remnants of the United States after pandemics wiped out 80% of the population. In this future country, life comes first. No exceptions. That means risks are discouraged, and if you’re a match for an organ donation to someone who needs it, you’re required to comply. But Kelsey, the MC of the first book, Life First, doesn’t want to comply. It’s not that she’s selfish or wants the recipient to die; it’s that she wants to make the decision herself. What follows is a massive legal battle that culminates in a fight for her very life, not just her kidney.

shatter pointBut the FoSS government isn’t necessarily all bad. As we learn in book two, Second Life, they just want the best possible medical outcomes – even if sometimes it’s at the expense of the first experimental patients. In this book, Kelsey’s paraplegic best friend, Susan, is given the opportunity to walk again, and must decide if the strings attached to the offer are worth the reward.

Jeff Altabef also explores the dark side of government intervention in his psychological thriller Shatter Point. Government scientists have developed a drug that can improve cognitive functioning, as well as a vaccine that cures cancer. The key question becomes, who has a right to these drugs? Is it okay to maintain a second class of citizens, so that others can thrive? Is it okay to experiment on people without their knowledge, given the possible greatness of the implications for everyone else?

Kazuo Ishiguro takes this a step further in Never Let Me Go, a deceptively simple novel about a group of kids raised in privilege at a secluded boarding school. As the MC, Kathy, reflects back on her life, she reveals the dark reasoning for the existence of her and her friends. The end is heartbreaking, as we’re told in plain terms just how selfish people are willing to be – as long as it’s not their lives being destroyed.

The song I picked for this week is dark, just like the books. The singer asks to be “set free” because “your heaven’s a lie” – exactly what the characters in this week’s books come to realize too, as their government’s heavens turn into their own personal hells.

Media Monday: Dragons

coranurse coverThe book: Cora and the Nurse Dragon by H. L. Burke

The music:Kill Your Heroes” by AWOLNATION

H.L. Burke is well on her way to becoming the next Dragon Lady. Her first series, The Dragon and the Scholar (first book is free here), followed the relationship between a cursed dragon and the woman he loved.

Cora and the Nurse Dragon is a fun read. Cora lives in a world where dragons are common pets – for those who can afford them. She dreams of racing dragons one day but is stuck raising cheap, tiny mayfly dragons who only live a few months. Her luck changes when her nemesis throws an egg at her, which hatches into a rare nurse dragon with a very unique ability.

While I enjoyed this book as an adult, it’ll definitely appeal to its target audience of kids. Cora and her best friend Abry strike a fine balance between following and breaking rules, between independence and reaching out to the adults in their lives for help. They find a way to deal with bullies, as well as higher issues of what makes a law moral. The climax is darker than I expected, but nothing kids can’t handle. Overall, it’s a great clean read for kids with some good messages along the way.

Even though the story only takes place over the span of a few months, Cora manages to grow quite a bit throughout the story, as evident by the choices she makes at the end and her reasoning for them. Because of this, the song this week is AOLNATION’s “Kill Your Heroes.” Because sometimes, what you thought you wanted isn’t the right choice at all.

Media Monday: Old people

nagnagnagThe book: Nag Nag Nag: Megan and Emmett Volume I by Kathy Steinemann

The music:Shoot Me” by Nik Kershaw

I read a lot of heavy stuff – literary classics, dark thrillers, textbooks – and so it’s nice to come across light, funny stuff. And that’s exactly what Kathy Steinemann’s book, Nag Nag Nag is.

It’s a collection of stories about a couple, Megan and Emmett, who’ve been married over 40 years. They know how to irritate each other, and frequently have fun doing so. But at the same time, they’re still in love, which is evident not only by their bursts of passion, but in the way they irritate each other – it’s loving and playful, not spiteful at all.

Throughout the book, readers discover humor in the mundane, from a camping trip with their grandkids, to a burglary of their house (foiled by their cat), to a simple trip to the grocery store. This humor is sweet, often crude, but realistic and refreshing.

The music to go with the readings is a fun song by British 80’s pop sensation Nik Kershaw. He’s traded in his teen crush status for middle age, and his songs reflect that. “Shoot Me” is a catchy song about his thoughts on aging. Megan and Emmett aren’t quite to this point yet, but I can clearly envision them having a conversation that follows a similar vein.

Media Monday: Dysfunctional families and sympathetic losers

The book: Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed by James Bailey

The movie: Take Me Home

I’m currently working towards my master’s in social work, wrapping it up this year with a practictum in a local school district. After years teaching, combined with everything I’ve learned in this program, I know all about dysfunctional families. And I love them.

Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed is about a very dysfunctional family. Mom left when the kids were little. Older brother copes by being a jerk to everyone. Older sister copes by sleeping with everyone. CJ, the protagonist, copes by moving to the other side of the country as soon as he has a chance. He’s not very successful there, basically mooching off his girlfriend while trying to become a successful writer, but he’s not looking back.

Until his father commits suicide, and CJ returns home to Seattle for the funeral. He’s forced to deal with everything he tried to escape: his parents’ divorce and the jerky stepfather, a high school ex-girlfriend who wants to ruin his life, and siblings who are just as pissed at the world (and him) as he is.

CJ, however, has a hard time dealing with being back home. He’s always put the blame for his crappy life on everyone but himself, despite some bad decisions and jerky behavior towards everyone. Over the course of the novel, however, he comes to see himself as an active participant in his mess of a life, while learning more about his family and seeing them as just as much the victims as he is.

Many families I’ve worked with have similar issues, and Bailey captures the family dynamics, as well as character growth, very convincingly.

Amazon Prime has learned I like quirky indie movies, so it recommended Take Me Home, a film about a sympathetic loser named Thom. Thom, like CJ in Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed, doesn’t really have his life together. He wants to be a photographer but it’s not working out. Fortunately he has his own cab, and he picks up riders in NYC for extra money.

One night he picks up a woman distraught over her husband’s affair. Claire tells him to “Just drive,” and so he does, ending up in Pennsylvania the next morning. She’s pissed, of course, because that’s a huge fare, but then decides he can just keep driving her to California so she can see her sick dad.

Thom wants to impress her, so he lies – about his career experiences, about working for a cab company, about his actual name. She loses her purse in the middle of Kansas, and it’s at this point she turns from sarcastic bitch to a team player. This is also where the dysfunctional families come in, for both Claire and Thom, although each is messed up in its own way.

I personally would’ve cut out the last five minutes of the movie (Netflix has informed me I like “depressing quirky indie dramas), but it’s still worth watching to see Thom’s growth from selfish jerk to actual human, much like CJ’s in Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed.

Media Monday: Assassins and X-punk

assassin_promo-200x300The books: The Viper and the Urchin by Celine Jeanjean and The Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker.

The music: Anything by Placebo

A couple years ago, I decided I wanted to write a steampunk novel, but I’d never read any steampunk. Since then, I’ve read several dozen novels in the genre – enough to know the punks are a loose collection of genres, set anywhere from the Victorian era to the Wild West to ancient Rome. There’s steampunk, cyberpunk, futurepunk, Will Smithpunk, zombiepunk, elfpunk…basically every punk you can imagine, and then some. My favorite is probably the Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker, set in ancient Rome with guns and steam engines and a chatty police-officer-turned-vigilante who falls in love with a stoic assassin. The first book is free, and you’ll get hooked like it’s crack.

The Viper and the Urchin is the story of an assassin, but that’s where the similarities end. Longinus kills not for the thrill or for politics, but for notoriety. It’s all about his stylish reputation – so of course he’s appalled when a common street thief, Rory, not only has to help him with a job, but learns he’s actually afraid of blood. Rory wants to be a warrior swordswoman and when she realizes Longinus is great with a blade, she blackmails him into teaching her all he knows. When Longinus’s livelihood is threatened by a copycat assassin, she’s determined to get to the bottom of it, if only to continue her training.

The two characters are great together. Rory is unrefined and purposefully obnoxious, and Longinus isn’t sure how to react so he ups his arrogance. The two come to deeply care about each other, but in a natural, platonic way that fits the book’s fun, lightheartedness.

Even more than the excellent writing (and it really is excellent), I was impressed by the setting. Despite the main city being set in the tropics, it had the feel of Victorian London. The best thing, though, is that every character was dark-skinned. And this wasn’t a plot point, either, more a “let’s mention it in passing because it’s not a big deal; it’s completely natural for this part of the world” point. As someone who’s hypersensitive to the lack of diversity just about everywhere, I really enjoyed this little extra (although it’s not really reflected on the cover).

One of the best parts, though, was that I didn’t predict the ending only 25% into the book. I figured it out halfway through but thoroughly enjoyed the author’s bit of misdirection. I enjoyed the whole book and highly recommend it.

The accompanying music choice is actually why this post is so late. I bought my first Placebo CD 18 years ago – it was the first CD I bought online, because I couldn’t find it locally. I hadn’t listened to them in a couple years, so while trying to pick a song I ended up just sitting and listening to all their albums.

iTunes tells me they’re “alternative and punk,” and their drums certainly are. Maybe some of the guitars too?

Although lots of their songs fit, I finally settled on “The Bitter End.” It encompasses a lot of themes from the book, like the mix of emotions Rory feels after being screwed over by her partner and the hopeless resignation Longinus feels when he realizes who’s trying to steal his identity.

Media Monday: Searching for something in the Frigid Northlands

The book:The End of the Trail” by Louis Rakovich

The music: “Lágnætti” by Sólstafir

A few years ago, I lived in North Dakota. It’s beautiful up there – endless prairies, miles of sunflowers in late summer, and snowpiles taller than me. I think the cold messed with my head because I actually kinda miss those winters. For the past year or so I’ve been on a Frigid Northlands kick, listening to Icelandic bands while writing about Vikings and planning my roadtrip to Hudson Bay to search for selkies.

This week’s book, “The End of the Trail,” is not about Vikings. But it could be. It’s about a saltminer living on the cliffs above his saltmine, a barren wasteland (like North Dakota in the winter) that’s claimed the lives of everyone he loves. He lives on because of inertia and the belief that maybe, someday, there’ll be more for him. He doesn’t fit in with the people around him in the dying kingdom, and he doesn’t fit in with the nobility in the nearby castle with a dying king. He wants to, though. He doesn’t want to accept his fate – to die amid rumors, only to be forgotten as time takes the vivacity from the stories – but he’s not adverse to holding onto happiness in any form he can, even if he’ll end up in obscurity more quickly in the end.

The prose in this story is beautiful, and it’s worth picking up for that alone. Throw in a story about when to fight and when to settle, when to press on and when to give up, and this could be one of the best shorts you read.

The music of Sólstafir, especially “Lágnætti,” pairs perfectly with “The End of the Trail.” Even if you don’t speak Icelandic (which I don’t) and have no idea what the lyrics are, you get the sense of a search for an inarticulate more that might not even matter in the end.

Media Monday: African mercenaries and child soldiers

The books:

The music:Fatima” and “Strugglin'” by K’naan

Last fall, I moved into a new house. It’s in the part of town single white women aren’t encouraged to live in, but I love it because of all the diversity. There are at least five languages spoken on my block, in part due to a recent influx of immigrants and refugees. Reports says there are 30 languages spoken at the nearby elementary school, from Karen to Kirundi.

I’ve worked with some of these immigrants. From a coworker who fled Sudan to Egypt, taught himself English, and found his way to the Midwest, to a young Ghanian woman who came over with her family and found herself homeless after deciding she wanted to forgo marriage in favor of college, some of their stories aren’t pretty. I’m really looking forward to my school social work internship this fall, so I can work with some of these immigrant kids.

My whole point is that I tend to see the human side to war. At the same time, I want to understand my neighbors’ and clients’ experiences, so I’ve been reading a lot about African conflicts, from multiple perspectives.

First there’s The Consequential Element by Dee Ann Waite, which I’d describe as a geopolitical romantic thriller. An archeologist in central Africa has found a rare element and sends his notes to his niece, á là Indiana Jones. The CIA and Chinese military are after her, as is a Congolese warlord. A handsome mercenary and some old Batswana friends help her out. It’s a well-written, well-researched story, but the reader’s sympathy is always directed towards the protagonist, and the story lacks the nuance needed to make the warlord and his child soldiers three-dimensional.

Only the Dead by M.W. Duncan is a novella about a mercenary in Africa. It lacks the romantic subplot and instead focuses solely on the protagonist’s struggle for survival in the jungles of Liberia. The author does a decent job of building empathy for the child soldiers, allowing the reader to see that they’re victims of circumstance as well. He includes a very touching scene about a boy left to die as the army evacuates its village headquarters that’ll leave the reader angry more isn’t being done about forced enlistment of children.

And if you want to get really angry and sad, pick up A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Child Soldier by Ishmael Beah. When Beah was twelve, civil war struck Sierra Leone. After witnessing the brutal murders of his family and friends, he was conscripted into the government army (yes, governments use child soldiers just as much as rebels; the Sudanese government is doing it as you’re reading this), hopped up on drugs, and made to commit atrocities kids that age shouldn’t even know about, let alone witness. Fortunately he made it out alive and was one of the lucky kids who was rehabilitated.

The music pick, Somalian rapper K’naan, has a similar story. He was on one of the last flights out of Mogadishu after the country descended into violence (20 years later and it’s still violent anarchy) and settled in Toronto. His songs mix his experiences as a troubled innercity black male with the violence he witnessed in Somalia.

Like the protagonists in this week’s books, K’naan is just looking for a path to healing, and like my neighbors, clients, and coworkers, it’s often easier said than done.

Media Monday: H.L. Burke

dragon's curseThe books: The Dragon and the Scholar series by H.L. Burke

The music: “Bring Me to Life” Evanescence

The Dragon and the Scholar series is comprised of four fantasy books about the adventures of a scholar who’s fallen in love with a dragon.

Book 1 starts out with scholar Shannon sent to the kingdom of Regone to heal a young king with a serious attitude problem. Turns out he was injured fighting dragons after one ate his brother. When a dragon shows up near the castle, Shannon takes it upon herself to convince him to leave without bloodshed, but instead she ends up enjoying his company.

Without any spoilers, the rest of the series is about her relationship with Gnaw, as the dragon calls himself. The two are obviously in love, but Gnaw is a pragmatist – how could Shannon possibly be happy with him – and keeps pushing her away. Shannon tries to hold out hope that they’ll get a happy ending, but Burke throws a nice mix of obstacles in their way, from other princes to vengeful wizards and even a power-bent Fey queen from the past.

Overall, The Dragon and the Scholar series is a quick read with likable characters and fun plots.

For the music, I think Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” is fitting for the whole series, as the overarching plot concerns how Shannon can save Gnaw – both from his dragon nature and his own thoughts.

Media Monday: Good ole rock and roll

Not My Thing coverThe book:Not My Thing” by E.D. Martin (yeah, I’m self-promoting this week)

The music: The Steepwater Band

Since moving back to my hometown a couple years ago, I’ve become my dad’s concert buddy. There’s a local venue in town that gets great regional rock/blues acts for decent ticket prices, so whenever an interesting show comes through my dad invites me along. The best part, however, isn’t the music – it’s the people watching.

I’ve gotten a lot of great stories out of stuff I’ve seen there: “The Best Day of Herb’s Life,” based on this accountant guy we saw at a Samantha Fish concert, and “Killing Johnny Garcia,” about the devil giving up a life of chaos to become a middle-aged, overweight guitar virtuoso. And, of course, “Not My Thing.”

Not My Thing” is about a regional band out on tour. I came up with the idea at a Steepwater Band/Royal Southern Brotherhood show when I noticed the guys from the opening band mingling in the crowd. What’s it like, I wondered, to be in a band, playing a small venue where a few people know your music but not enough know it to recognize you in the crowd? What’s it like to play for the love of music rather than fame or money, and what happens when the music runs out?

The Steepwater Band is rock, pure and simple.

Media Monday: The End of the World and Agnes Obel

Savage DawnThe books: Savage Dawn by Inge Moore and Anyone? by Angela Scott

The music: Agnes Obel

AnyoneImagine you’re off on a weekend camping trip, or maybe just asleep in your bed. Without any warning, there’s a natural disaster. You seek shelter – a secluded cave in the forest, the bomb shelter in your backyard – and wait for the disaster to end. Except it doesn’t end; it just keeps getting worse. You wait for someone to come rescue you, but months pass and you’re still alone. What do you do? How do you survive?

Such is the dilemma in today’s books. In Savage Dawn, a small group of families and strangers band together to try to survive after a series of volcanoes end civilization. In Anyone?, teenage Tess must try to find her dad and brother, aided by a guy who may not be what he seems, after meteors wipe out most of humanity. Both are post-apocalyptic stories that push their characters to the limits.

Agnes Obel‘s music reminds me of Rasputina, but more haunting.  Close your eyes while listening to “The Curse,” and imagine yourself standing on an empty street, strewn with ashes and litter and lined with empty, dilapidated buildings, not a soul around for hundreds of miles.

What’s your plan for surviving the apocalypse?

The Musings of E.D. Martin © 2011-2020 Privacy Policy Frontier Theme