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Artemis

By Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara grew up in Artemis, the city on the moon. With a population of 2,000, unregulated currency (unregulated because it is not legally recognized as currency, just a unit of payment), and a law enforcement system that acts as jury, judge, and executioner, the city has developed some level of stasis around legal and illegal activities. Everybody knows everybody else, and there is nowhere to hide because only the shielded bubbles of Artemis provide life-sustaining oxygen, so minor criminal activities are brushed off and major crimes are almost unknown. As a porter, Jazz constantly toes the line of illegal activities that could potentially get her deported to Earth. She earns her living by smuggling in contraband. When one of her regular customers offers her a more nefarious job with a significantly higher payout, she quickly develops a plan for how to carry out this seemingly impossible task. When her plan goes awry, she accidentally uncovers a much darker underbelly of Artemis. Pursued by the mob and uncertain about whether she can trust the law enforcement and government entities of Artemis, Jazz turns to her small network of friends in a desperate attempt to save both her own life and her beloved city.

“Artemis” by Andy Weir starts at breakneck speed and never lets up. At the start of the book, this involves catching up to the future portrayed in the novel. Weir gradually uncovers the backstory of how Artemis came to be, what daily life looks like in the city, and the legal and social norms that developed over time. Once the reader is familiar with the chemistry requirements and unusual physics of life on Artemis (fight scenes are pretty exciting in 1/6 gravity where you can literally throw your opponent across the room), the plot starts to race along. As with his previous novel, “Artemis” is laden with science. Weir deftly weaves in the limits of physics, chemistry, radiation, and other concerns that constrain life on Artemis, while at the same time giving his characters plausible strategies to work around these limits. Weir writes with a casual tone that feels conversational, which occasionally leads to re-reading passages with complex scientific descriptions. Overall, the story moves quickly and will likely take less time to read than the 6 days that pass in the novel.

I enjoyed “Artemis,” though it did seem to read very differently from “The Martian” (or what I remember of “The Martian”). To me, “Artemis” reads like a thriller set on the moon with lots of science thrown in there. Not that that’s a bad thing – I finished the novel in 4 days. Some of the chemistry and physics explanations went over my head, but I still understood the gist of the story while brushing over some of the more nuanced details. One of the things I like most about the novel is that it portrays a fairly unconventional future (it’s the first book I’ve read in which Kenya is the gateway to space). I certainly recommend it.

 

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Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

By Rebecca Wells

Nationally renowned theatre director Sidda Walker has inadvertently caused a rift with her mother, Vivi Walker, that seems irreparable. After the success of one of her shows, a New York Times article profiling Sidda shares everything that contributed to her success, including childhood abuse from Vivi. Unmoored from her childhood and home, Sidda attempts to carry on with plans for her next show and her upcoming wedding, but to no avail. She calls a halt to wedding planning and seeks solitude with the hope that it also brings wisdom and reconciliation. In an attempt to reconnect with her mother, she requests information about the Ya-Yas, the band of four friends closer than sisters that her mother belongs to, saying that it will help her plan for her next show. Vivi obliges and sends a scrapbook of her life with the sisterhood. As Sidda wanders through the pages, she finds stories, insights, and love for the woman whose life is captured in these pages. She also finds many more questions in what answers are left out of the scrapbook. Only by yielding to the unknowns and the reality that there will always be unknowns, Sidda begins to rekindle her connections to her fiancé, her mother, and herself.

“Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” by Rebecca Wells tells the generational stories of women learning to live, love, and thrive in the deep south of Louisiana. Focusing on themes of family, Wells describes all variations of this theme in the relationships among her characters: nuclear family, extended family, and chosen family. She traces the changes in these relationships over time, showing the childhood experiences that influenced Vivi Walker’s development into an adult navigating the rewards and pitfalls of motherhood. Throughout it all is the constant undercurrent of support from the Ya-Yas, the unbreakable bonds of loyalty and love made stronger over the years through shared experiences of loss, grief, and suffering. While Sidda is limited to the information contained in the scrapbook, Wells shares the answers left out of the scrapbook about Vivi Walker’s life with the reader, drawing her audience in with seemingly insider knowledge and juicy secrets. Written in alternating perspectives and time periods, Wells creates the distinct worlds of Vivi Walker, and what Sidda knows about Vivi Walker. As mother and daughter grow individually, they also grow in their relationship to each other.

I appreciated the themes, lessons, and storylines of this book, but it took a while to get there. For me, it seemed like the plot didn’t really pick up speed until halfway through the book. It starts off with Ya-Ya jargon and insider knowledge, which is probably designed to draw the reader in because it leaves so many questions unanswered, but left me uninterested in what was happening because I didn’t have all the information. As the story progressed and more background was shared with the reader, I cared more about the story and the characters. I probably won’t re-read this book, but it certainly wasn’t a bad way to pass the time.

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