“A Fierce & Subtle Poison” book response and December selection!

The last Wednesday of the month means… monthly book review! November’s selection was A Fierce & Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry, which is a mystery with a splash of sci-fi that takes place in Puerto Rico.

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Last month I wrote that it was an unusual experience for me to read a book with a male protagonist, since ever since the Virtual Book Club started most of our selections have been female-led. Lo and behold, the main character in our November book was a 17 year old male! It took me several pages to realize this since A Firece & Subtle Poison is written by a woman, and has female hands on the cover.

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Brief synopsis:

Lucas is a 17-year-old Texan who goes to Puerto Rico every summer since his father is a hotel developer there. Although he is a mainland American, he has spent a significant amount of time on the island since his childhood. He has a core group of local friends that he returns to each year. He and the friends heard scary stories about the boarded-up home down the street when they were children. Later, as tweens, they’d fold up paper wishes and throw them into the garden of the boarded-up house. Finally, when the book gets underway, he is a teenager sneaking down the alleyway of the mysterious house to make out with girls. The book unfolds in three parts.

The exposition is where we learn about the various old señoras’ rumors pertaining to the mysterious house. Lucas meets a girl who he falls for, Marisol. Then, Marisol disappears. In the middle act, Lucas meets a strange, sick girl who lives in the mysterious house. At the end, there is a dramatic and exciting chase through the jungle. Overall it was a really easy read that I finished in one day.

Response:

I recommend this for teens that like Stephanie Meyer (although I’ve never read Twilight or any other books by her) since this is a mystery & pseudo-romance with creepy paranormal/sci-fi elements. It was pretty surface-level for what it was, which is OK for a YA book.

The thing that really got my brain going, and possibly the deepest thread in the book, was about Lucas’s real-estate-developer father’s impact on Puerto Rico and the impression that the locals had about the outsiders. I really got deep into what it means to be an insider and an outsider. I think of the recent development and rejuvenation of Tijuana, which I certainly benefit from and I think benefits the city as a whole (jobs, quality of life), but I realize that development like this widens the wealth disparity and pushes the poor farther out from the city center. The standard pros and cons of gentrification.

Then I got thinking about Puerto Rico and how there is another layer to the dynamic. In the novel they see the rich Texans as outsiders, which I think is valid. There is a natural reaction of suspicion to “otherness.” But if PR is an American territory, and we are all Americans — which was the rallying cry after our government refused, and still struggles to aid Puerto Rico after the recent devastating hurricane season — then it’s definitely a double edged sword. Do we belong to each other, or don’t we? Very &/Both, if you will. The us/them dichotomy clashes with a “we are Puerto Ricans but also Americans” sentiment and the fact that many mainland Americans didn’t even know that PR was part of us until recently.

Layers, on layers, with lots of opinions, lots of gray area, and no real answers. Except, you know, that FEMA needs to get it together and send some more help down there. That we can all agree on.

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take! 


Our Virtual Book Club normally meets the last Tuesday of the month over on Facebook. Did anyone else have whiplash from Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Biz Sat, etc? I think that impacted the number of attendees we had online last night but nevertheless it was great checking in with my fellow readers. We are always looking to grow our group. If you’d like to join us over there, message me on Facebook to be added.

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For December, I challenged the group to either re-read a childhood favorite or pick a youth/children’s book that they never got around to. I am currently deciding between Anne of Green Gables and A Wrinkle in Time (because, Mindy Kaling). I may just read both.

Please join along as we continue reading interesting books and debating ideas in a friendly space.

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“Dark Matter” book response and November selection!

Virtual Book Club
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I’m one day off but it’s time for my monthly book review! Last year we picked The Graveyard Book (review, buy) for our spooky October read, and this year we read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch which explores how our past shapes our future—through a science fiction lens.

Interestingly, the majority of the books our club has read feature strong women as the protagonist. Only 5 books out of, what, 16(?) have been man-centered, and 3 of those were chosen when we stretched out of our normal zone to pick something “exciting” or “scary.” I’m sure there is much more to say on this topic regarding gender and books, but I’ll just stop here. If you can recommend a paranormal, adventure, sci-fi book starring a woman, please leave it in the comments!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links above and below. 

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The premise I can reveal to you since it’s featured in the promotional matter: Our main character, Jason, is a family man and teaches introductory physics at an average college. He loves his wife and son: even if he occasionally thinks his life could have turned out differently, he is satisfied with the way things are.

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One night, after celebrating with his colleague who won a very prestigious research award, Jason is abducted and knocked out. He wakes up in a world that is similar to his, but different. His wife and son are gone and he is the one who had been awarded the prestigious research honor.

If this premise is interesting to you, go ahead and buy the book or check it out from the library. It reads like watching a thriller movie and you’ll probably be able to get through it in a week if not a weekend.

The rest of my response features spoilers after this point. Scroll down past the next photo to resume. 

So, the book hinges on the concept of the multiverse, of which I had never given any thought until I was forced to, while reading. In the multiverse, every action you take spins off another version of you who did the opposite thing. And there are an infinite number of alternative universes. This basic concept is where ya lose me. Every action? What about typing this post right now? What about if I had Swiss cheese on my sandwich instead of American? I understand backtracking to major decisions like what college I went to or who I dated, and imagining different lives springing from there. But I don’t believe the idea that a world in which those decisions were made differently can exist.

Sidebar: There are big-time scientists who actually theorize that the multiverse is real. I don’t buy it. I kind of feel like I might end up on the same side of history as those who couldn’t believe that we revolve around the sun or couldn’t fathom that the earth is round, but here we are. I just can’t wrap my head around it and I’m depositing it in the sector of my brain that holds sci-fi concepts. 

Anyway, I had a lot of fun trying and failing to stay ahead of the twists in Dark Matter. I  jotted down virtual notes and color coded them (love that feature on the Kindle Fire). Then at the end of the book, I reviewed them all to see how wrong I was. “Ryan is the kidnapper.” Nope! “Amanda is his lover in the other universe.” Nope! I kind of love how clever I thought I was, and how wrong in reality.

Our hero Jason figures out that “other Jason” or Jason 2 is responsible for kidnapping him and stealing his life. The biggest twist comes in the final third of the book. When Jason 1 finds his way back home, the book isn’t even on the home stretch yet. I found what happened next the most mind-blowing of all, but I don’t feel like I should share that here, even with that spoiler alert above.

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Reading this reminded me how much I like thrillers like the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series (although that isn’t really sci-fi). Anyway I will definitely need to keep my eye out for new, exciting books to buy or to check out from the library. Especially as we “fall back” this weekend, my evenings are going to be dark pretty much from the time I get out of work. If I’m not careful I will spend so much time watching TV this winter. Definitely going to try to dedicate some time to reading instead.

As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take! 


We moved our discussion group (on Facebook) from Tuesday to Monday night this month to account for Halloween. Libby knocked it out of the park with thought provoking questions and cool multiverse-themed photos, one of which I borrowed for this post. We are always looking to grow our virtual book club. If you’d like to join us over there, message me on Facebook to be added.

For November, the group is going to read A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry. As usual, I just stared a long, addicting Outlander novel (how does this always happen?) so I need to hurry up and finish that before jumping in on my book club read. Please join along with me, Libby, and the rest of our group as we continue reading interesting books and debating ideas in a friendly space.

“Shattered” book response and October selection

For September, our Virtual Book Club decided to individually read whatever we felt like, which was very freeing. I have a lot going on this fall including celebrating Doug’s and my 30th birthdays; both celebrations happened in September, and I am trying my best to produce consistent, high-quality content at The Voyageer, and I only have so many hours in a day.

Let me admit that I actually didn’t read anything in full this month. I started a couple of books, browsed The Little Book of Hygge, and downloaded my next-to-read Outlander novel from my library’s e-book collection to my beloved kindle paperwhite. Now that September is behind me (more or less) I can get back into the Virtual Book Club and our Creepy October read (revealed at the end).

This post contains Amazon affiliate links above and below. 


Even though I didn’t finish a book in September, I still want to post about one I read this summer. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign came out in April and I had the chance to read it in July. I thought this was timely since HRC’s own book, What Happened, just came out and has been topping best seller lists and causing all kinds of controversy. First let me say that I think the cover art for Shattered is far superior than What Happened...

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The photo and the type are both striking.

I feel like my head has been spinning so much in the past two years, almost as if it’s going to be disconnected from my neck and body. The 24-hour news cycle is so exhausting and impossible to keep up with. Every day, a new story breaks, before we’ve all had time to digest the day before and put all the pieces together. This past month we’ve had to worry about hurricanes, earthquakes, civil rights, democratic rights, and nuclear war. It’s too much to keep track of, and reading this book reminded me that it has been this way for a while. Facebook and Twitter offer a never ending stream of things to be concerned about and downright outraged by, and the current clowns in charge keep us on our toes with a new gaffe or scandal to steal our attention on the daily.

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Reading this book felt like putting the puzzle pieces together, about one year too late. It covers the whole campaign from the launch, to the primaries, up through the election. So much light was shed on important events that had stacked up on top of each other and it all seems so clear now. The private server, each primary state result in order, Bernie’s influence, the DNC hack, Announcing the VP and Comey’s ill-timed investigation announcement, and the list goes on.

The authors, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, are journalists who were set to write a book about Hillary’s historic campaign as the first woman nominee from a major party, and presumably to draw the path towards victory. However as their detailed analysis and inside information shows, the campaign body was complicated, confused, and chaotic. And we know how things turned out. The book pulls back the curtain to show us the way the political machine moved last year.

Aside from the obvious villains (but her emails!), Bernie Sanders was taken to task for drawing out an already long primary season. As a Bernie supporter, it was good for me to get a dose of some hindsight. Sanders did what I expected he’d do, which was pull Clinton to the left before he was through with his campaign, but it was interesting to me just how much of a thorn he was in her side.

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Bernie was so inspiring but definitely had his down sides.

The biggest takeaway for me was a phenomenon that I have been noticing more and more in my everyday life, in addition to it being a major theme in this book:

Numbers over People

Spoiler alert: Hillary lost a bunch of swing states. Clinton’s young manager kept trying to run the campaign on a shoestring budget (why?) and as such was addicted to using numbers and polling data to target strategic voters in strategic states and precincts. This explains why, here in San Diego, I barely saw any Hillary yard signs or bumperstickers. Not that people weren’t “With Her,” but that the campaign knew California was in the bag so they didn’t staff or push the candidate’s presence in the state.

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The irony of her relentless pursuit of the superdelegates, then losing the electoral college, is almost too much.

The problem was the reliance on numbers and data instead of warm human connections. Clinton was behaving like a campaign robot, appealing to scientifically chosen demographic subsets at specific times. People have said time and time again that she is a lovely and warm person if you get a chance to meet her. But the show runners kept her from us, the people whose task it was to put our eggs in her basket.

It started with Pandora’s robots providing a famously awful mix of music. Now Facebook does this. Amazon really does this (oh you bought a watch? here’s 75 other watches to look at). I am sick of algorithms—telling us what we want to see or “curating” our lives for us. Some guy with a spreadsheet dictated who got campaign efforts and who didn’t, and just to save money. And now we have our current divisive, competitive, incompetent president. We need our human agency back.

The candidate who all assumed would win honestly kind of collapsed from within the campaign outward. Reading Shattered was like watching last year go by in fast-forward. Kind of like getting the answers to the test you knew you just bombed. It felt a little “too soon” when the book released in April, but reading it in July provided a little bit of closure to a still-open wound.


Virtual Book Club

For October, our club chose Dark Matter by Blake Crouch which I am looking forward to. I’m not really into scary stuff (although for some reason I really want to go see IT this month) but I’m glad that our little group challenges each other to step outside our comfort zones and choose books we otherwise wouldn’t pick for ourselves. As always please read along and check back the last Wednesday of the month for my response!