What Am I Reading – Chapter Thirty-Four

Hi Everyone!

It’s been awhile since the last chapter, but I have a whole new slate of book to show you that I’ve been reading for about a month now!

There’s no time to lose! Let’s begin!

No-Mod: Book 1 of the Mute-Cat Chronicles by Derek Porterfield is about a human and the techno-religious city of Aberthene. In that place, every one is augmented by biomedical modifications. As a result, they are part-human and part-machine. The church rules the state and controls everything. Addeleigh Simmons cleans out suicide booths during the day and goes to classes and studies at night. She’s working towards obtaining those modifications since she’s only human, which makes her an outcast. Her existence is upended when an armed group of Red Guards storms her dormitory, and she escapes from the third floor window with her cat Bruce. This begins a journey that will expand her world.

I’ve haven’t read much science fiction, so I don’t know how widely used the techno-religious environment is in that genre. Nevertheless, I think it’s a unique atmosphere. While it’s nothing new to have stories about religion controlling every aspect of life, I think this book presents that concept in a distinct way, especially how religion encourages people to augment the body parts that God had created. It almost feels that they do this to be closer to that deity.

Addeleigh (or Addie for short) is a typical outcast. Her life is miserable because she can’t afford to have any biomedical modifications, and that’s her quest. She does have some witty dialogue with some men who perform surgery on her when she breaks her leg after she jumped from her third-story window. We’ll see how much more character development she gets.

While the main story is about Addie and her pursuit to live a better life, the book splits between her exploits and that of a gang trying to find out who their boss is. The group is consisted of what one expect like the leader; the dumb, but tough one; the smart one; and the female. Even though I’m rooting for all of them, I’d like for them and Addie to interact at some point.

Also, I find it interesting that the book stops a third of the way in to explain the origins of the person who created the religion that currently controls Aberthene. Nonetheless, it was definitely necessary since they are the clear antagonist in the story.

Overall, No-Mod is good so far, and I look forward to finishing it soon. I hope to read the second book in the series Godless at some point too.

Now, let’s move on to another journey of a lifetime.

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith is another modern retelling of Peter Pan. Instead of focusing on the boy who never grew up, it tells the story of Native American Lily and English Wendy. Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. However, their parents plan to spend the summer apart, which puts the family as well as Lily and Wendy’s relationship into limbo. One night, a boy comes through the window and intends to take them away along with their brother Michael from their home to a place called Neverland. Will Lily and Wendy find a way to get back to the family they love?

This is the third novel that I’ve read from Cynthia Leitich Smith, and it’s the first one that I’ve read since starting this series. I like it so far. It emphasizes an aspect of the Peter Pan story that is easily the most problematic: the depiction of the indigenous people. In the original story by J.M. Barrie and in subsequent adaptations, they play a limited role with Peter saving Tiger Lily from Captain Hook and peace scene afterwards (which sometimes results in a racist song). Then, they disappear from the rest of the plot. Sisters of the Neversea effectively brings that aspect to the forefront not only with including multiple native children from various tribes on Neverland, but also with Lily being indigenous herself (she is from the Muscogee Creek Nation).

The portrayal of Peter Pan in here is not much different from the one in Darling Girl. However, since this is a juvenile/YA novel, it makes him to just to be controlling and insensitive to both girls and indigenous people. Both Lily and Wendy express concern over this, and yet, under his “spell,” they fly away to Neverland.

Speaking of flying, I like how the book expresses that logic and its byproducts. Along with thinking happy thoughts, the more pixie dust one is given, the more one’s personality gets magnified. So if one is naturally prideful, they get even more so when they get sprinkled with that magic. In this way, whoever gets the dust doesn’t feel like themselves when they fly, hence the reason why Peter Pan is able to convince many to join him in Neverland.

The only thing that I have nitpick is how the narrator goes “You may be wondering…” or “If only they knew…” on various occasions. I don’t know if that’s from the original novel, but I roll my eyes over those parts because it feels condescending. But then again, I’m older than the intended audience, so I don’t know how they would react to that.

Nevertheless, I still like it, and I can’t wait to see if Lily, Wendy, and Michael are able to get back home.

Let’s soar from a familiar tale to a more unknown one.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a historical fiction tale about the real life stinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff – a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. It was sunk on January 30, 1945 by a Soviet submarine, and more than 9,000 people lost their lives. The book itself tells the stories of four fictionalized people on the ship – Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; Emilia, a delicate, but brave Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy; and Alfred, a Nazi servant with delusions of grandeur who works on the Gustloff decks.

First off, I never knew about this sinking prior to reading this YA novel, but now, it makes me want to learn more. It apparently had the largest loss of life resulting of the sinking of a single vessel in maritime history.

As for the story, it goes into different perspectives constantly, which, in other circumstances, would make me connect less to the characters. This is much the case in the movie Dunkirk. Unlike that film, Sepetys does put all (or at least most of the people) in the same location, so one gets to read how each of them feels about the same situation. This is especially true when Joana tries to save Ingrid – her blind friend – from drowning, despite putting herself in more danger according to Florian.

Another aspect that I like about the book is how it acknowledges both Nazi and Russian discriminations against Polish people and the language barrier. Although Emilia has blond hair and blue eyes, she’s still in danger if she ever speaks Polish. At the same time, she was violated by a Russian soldier. When Joana, Florian, and the rest of her group get on the ship, they tell the officers that Emilia is Latvian to avoid any detections. In addition, whenever she speaks to other characters, they note that she speaks in broken German, so it’s hard for them to understand her at times.

Alfred is clearly the most antagonistic of the speakers, but I wouldn’t call him the antagonist right now. So far, he hasn’t done anything besides writing letters to his girlfriend, boasting about his “good deeds,” taking orders from the higher-ups, spewing out sexist stuff and Nazi propaganda, and trying to hit on Joana. We’ll see how this unfolds.

So far, I’m at the point where they are boarding the Gustloff, so I’m curious to see how Sepetys handles the sinking.

I’m listening to the audiobook now, and it’s really good. I love how each of the 4 main characters sound distinct in their own ways. Jorjeana Marie, according to her website, is an award-winning television writer and actress. She has done both in Mickey Mouse FunHouse. In addition, she has recorded several audiobooks like the Nancy Drew Diaries series. Marie voices Joana as determined to help others to heal the guilt that she feels for not doing enough.

Will Damron takes on the role of Florian. He has recorded lots of audiobooks like Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, and he is even an author himself since he published The Tercentennial Baron (the first in The Bellirolt Chronicles series) in 2018. Damron sounds a little older for a character who’s supposed to be in his late teens/early twenties, but then again, I don’t know a whole lot about Florian himself. We’ll see how I feel at the end of the book. Nevertheless, Damron sounds great whenever Florian is frustrated and secretive and can play up the character’s softer side well.

Cassandra Morris is Emilia. Morris is a voice actress whose roles include Alice and then Yubel in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX as well as Suguha Kirigaya/Leafa in Sword Art Online. She too has narrated lots of audiobooks including A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. Morris gives Emilia strength in her character, while maintaining her vulnerability and delicateness.

Finally, Michael Crouch voices Alfred. He too is a voice actor whose credits include characters in Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and has recorded several audiobooks that span many genres like Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll and The Proving Trail by Louis L’Amour. I’m not surprised that Crouch has done work in animes because his voice definitely suits an antagonist putting on the airs (like Alfred does in the book). I couldn’t have imagined Alfred’s voice as anything other.

At last, but not least, a book that I’ve been giving a lot of attention to as of late.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand tells the tale of Howard Roark, the extremely uncompromising young architect; of Dominique Francon, an exquisitely beautiful woman who marries his worst enemy despite loving Howard passionately; and of the society who tries to bring him down. This novel sowed the seeds of Rand’s famous Objectivism philosophy and presented the idea that man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress.

For those who want to know how I feel about Objectivism, I don’t think this is right place to express my thoughts on it. However, I certainly have some, so expect them when I do my full-on review of the novel.

I’m about 260 pages in, so whoever betted on me giving up prior has already lost.

For the content itself, it definitely would’ve benefited from an editor. It seems like every character, no matter how important they are to the story, have a speech of some sorts that goes on and on. Granted, there are times where the detailed descriptions are tolerated. For example, since architecture is an integral part of the novel, Rand describes almost every characteristic of the buildings that are mentioned. Also, Rand didn’t like her work being reduced, especially when it came to the 1949 movie adaptation.

Speaking of that film, I’ll be talking about that with Zita Short on her The 300 Passions Podcast, so stay tuned for the movie review and that episode!

Going back to the book, if there’s one thing I like so far, it’s Dominique. I like how cold, distant, and witty she is, and how she uses that to shield her deep love of various things, including Howard, to prevent them from ruining her.

We have now come to the end of the thirty-fourth chapter of “What Am I Reading?”

Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates. Also feel free to email me here for any review suggestions, ideas, or new titles!

Published by emilymalek

I work at a public library southeast Michigan, and I facilitate two book clubs there. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, play trivia and crossword puzzles, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

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