“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.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links above and below. 


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.