Review: Making the Monster

Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Kathryn Harkup

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 6th 2018 by Bloomsbury SIGMA

Source: Copy received from publisher

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The year 1818 saw the publication of one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time. Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley had a huge impact on gothic horror and science fiction genres. The name Frankenstein has become part of our everyday language, often used in derogatory terms to describe scientists who have overstepped a perceived moral line. But how did a 19-year-old woman with no formal education come up with the idea for an extraordinary novel such as Frankenstein? The period of 1790-1820 saw huge advances in our understanding of electricity and physiology. Sensational science demonstrations caught the imagination of the general public, and newspapers were full of tales of murderers and resurrectionists.

It is unlikely that Frankenstein would have been successful in his attempts to create life back in 1818. However, advances in medical science mean we have overcome many of the stumbling blocks that would have thwarted his ambition. We can resuscitate people using defibrillators, save lives using blood transfusions, and prolong life through organ transplants–these procedures are nowadays considered almost routine. Many of these modern achievements are a direct result of 19th century scientists conducting their gruesome experiments on the dead.

Making the Monster explores the science behind Shelley’s book. From tales of reanimated zombie kittens to electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Mary Shelley and inspired her most famous creation, Victor Frankenstein. While, thankfully, we are still far from being able to recreate Victor’s “creature,” scientists have tried to create the building blocks of life, and the dream of creating life-forms from scratch is now tantalizingly close.

I confess, I still haven’t read Frankenstein.  It’s on my list – especially after how much I loved Romantic Outlaws about Mary Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft.  But I admit I’ve spent most of the last 18 months reading fluff and I’m not ashamed.  In the future though – Frankenstein and Anna Karenina – I’m coming for you!  So, back to Mary Shelley, when I received a message about Making the Monster I was completely intrigued.  How closely did she follow the science at her time?

I admit I thought this was going to be a light, maybe even silly read.  I mean we are talking about building a monster out of corpses.  It wasn’t silly at all.  Harkup gives both a biography of Mary Shelley (very brief compared to Romantic Outlaws!); and a history of medicine and science at her time.  Fascinating and gross and still sometimes a bit dry.  I loved how the book followed along with each step of Victor’s creation and what was known, what Mary might have known – down to her relevant correspondence and lectures she could have attended.  This could have easily been a silly book, but instead Harkup gave Mary and her creation the respect they deserve.

Also, this was just a really great looking book.  The cover details were carried through the chapters with great detail.  Now I really really really have to sit down and read Frankenstein.  To my book club – get ready, this is going to be my next pick!

Thank you Bloomsbury Sigma for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

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Strange Fiction

I think I’ve just read two of the strangest books of my reading life – and strange in completely and totally different ways.

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First I read

The Prey of Gods, Nicky Drayden

Published June 13th 2017 by Harper Voyager

Paperback, 400 pages

Source: Chicago Public Library

In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .

An emerging AI uprising . . .

And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.

So Zulu demigoddesses and AI intermingling?  That might not have even been the strangest thing I could say about the Prey of Gods.  I can’t say how this book worked but it did.  I flew through these pages to see if the ancients or the technology would come out ahead and I was delighted with the ending.  I was also impressed by the diversity of the characters- race, sexuality, gender, the powerful and the seemingly powerless.  This book made me laugh, made me cringe at times and still left me thinking in the end.  I’m so glad Michelle at That’s What She Read pointed me to this delightfully bizarre read.  

And then I read

The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, Sharma Shields

Published January 27th 2015 by Holt Paperbacks

Paperback, 400 pages

Source: ARC from ALA Midwinter 2015

Eli Roebuck was nine years old when his mother walked off into the woods with “Mr. Krantz,” a large, strange, hairy man who may or may not be a sasquatch. What Eli knows for certain is that his mother went willingly, leaving her only son behind. For the rest of his life, Eli is obsessed with the hunt for the bizarre creature his mother chose over him, and we watch it affect every relationship he has in his long life–with his father, with both of his wives, his children, grandchildren, and colleagues. We follow all of the Roebuck family members, witnessing through each of them the painful, isolating effects of Eli’s maniacal hunt, and find that each Roebuck is battling a monster of his or her own, sometimes literally. The magical world Shields has created is one of unicorns and lake monsters, ghosts and reincarnations, tricksters and hexes. At times charming, as when young Eli meets the eccentric, extraordinary Mr. Krantz, and downright horrifying at others, The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac is boldly imaginative throughout, and proves to be a devastatingly real portrait of the demons that we as human beings all face.

If The Prey of Gods was delightfully bizarre, I just found this book to be bizarre.  Eli’s life is changed forever when his mother leaves with a Sasquatch called Mr. Krantz.  She doesn’t look back, just walks off into the woods leaving her child and husband behind. Eli’s story includes perspectives of his father, wives and children and even back to his mother and the elusive sasquatch.  Maybe that was part of my issue – this wasn’t a short book but the changing perspectives were not long enough for me to really care about the characters.  There are curses and a unicorn and so much talk of the sasquatch.  I wanted to love this but I think maybe I just prefer my magical realism to be full of happiness.  So no fault of the book, just not my cup of tea.

Any new strange recommendations for me?

It’s Monday What Are You Reading? 

How is July half way over? I’m finding myself thinking about back to school reading which is insane!  I just put A Wrinkle in Time on hold at the library- cross your fingers that my First Grade queen of the Rainbow Fairies series will read something else!

I’m reading Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin which I am loving. Next up are library books Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire and after hearing about Prey of the Gods from Michelle at That’s What She Read I had to check that out.

I’m on a mission to read off my own shelf so I also am going middle grade and trying The Sixty Eight Rooms about my beloved Art Institute of Chicago.

Phew that’s a lot. What are you reading this week? Thanks to The Book Date for this check-in!

Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

Thanks Sarah for hosting this check in of fiction and nonfiction pairings – I love this idea and my TBR list is growing!  I’m cheating as I haven’t quite read all of these but…

Flappers: 6 Women of a Dangerous Generation was a fantastic nonfiction read [thanks again Eva for pointing me to it!!].  I could easily go down the rabbit hole reading more about all of them but I am most dying to read this fiction.. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald Zelda is totally fascinating.  I need to read her own work as well as some fiction about her life.

The Underground Girls of Kabul exposed me to a whole style of life I’d never thought of.  I really still need to read The Pearl that Broke Its Shell for a fictionalized version of this life in Afghanistan.

Last here’s three phenomenal books to fill you with feminist rage and empowerment both. All of these books made me cry.  All should make you want to stand up and do something! All the Rage by Courtney Summers, Dietland by Sarai Walker and Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West.  Lindy West is my new nonfiction obsession!  Honorable mention hare is also the amazing Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.  Read them all!

 

Library Checkout: October

Happy Halloween!  Thanks Shannon for letting me post about my ongoing library addiction with this check-in.  I officially am out of room for my library stack – I need an intervention. I’ve been on a light reading kick. I need to step up my serious books to go with my non-fiction for November.

Checked-Out Read:

  • Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews
  • Overruled by Emma Chase
  • Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West – EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS IMMEDIATELY!
  • The Princess & The Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes by Duncan Tonatiuh – thanks to Emma at Miss Print for this review These pictures were gorgeous, the story was great and it sparked some fun conversation about myths and Mexico in my house
  • The Night Gardener by Terry Fan

Checked out To Be Read

  • The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe by CS Lewis – if I can pry the kid away from the damn Rainbow Fairy books we’ll keep going
  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo – I’m afraid to start almost!
  • The Green Road by Anne Enright
  • My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg – YAY
  • The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
  • Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
  • Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

On-Hold – Clearly the kid needs a library card

  • The Bad Beginning: Book the First by Lemony Snicket
  • The Princess and The Pony by Kate Beaton (thanks again Emma).  There were tears at my house when the library lost our first hold
  • Hilary Rodham Clinton: Some Girls are Born to Lead by Michelle Markel
  • Princess in Black by Shannon Hale
  • Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson
  • The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett – only #62 this could be worse

What’s on your library shelf this month?

 

It’s Monday: What Are You Reading?

So last week I decided to finally read A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas.  Basically I’m not broken for fiction, especially fantasy.  If you didn’t listen to me when I loved A Court of Thorns and Roses then listen now!  I just don’t know where to turn so for this week I’m going to stick to nonfiction and go for a totally different genre when I’m ready for fiction.  

Last week was also my 10 year wedding anniversary and my husband and I went to The Girl and The Goat to celebrate.  I’m still in recovery from the meal.  My first reading inclination was to follow this meal with rereading Sweetbitter for the restaurant experience – but see the above ACOMAF issue; so I started Generation Chef: Risking it All for a New American Dream by Karen Stabiner.  I’m really enjoying how Stabiner is unfolding the opening of a new New York Spanish-style restaurant, even though I’m going into work hungry after reading.  I just checked The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman out from the library again so hopefully I’ll finish this time before it has to go back to the library.  I also have Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West which I’ve seen nothing but raves about.  All good options for my broken book heart. 

When I’m ready for fiction I think I’m going to pick up A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – reviews like The Gilmore Guide to Reading have me ready to love this.   I might also be ready for some fabulous Flavia de Luce in Thrice The Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d.  Eva at The Paperback Princess enjoyed this one and I can’t wait to see what else Flavia gets into. 

I really wanted to love The Devourers by Indra Das but something about the violence has just put me over the top.  I think I have to call it a DNF.  

What are you reading this week?  Thanks to The Book Date for hosting this check-in!

Library Checkout September 2016

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This move at least forced me to not hoard my library books because I was so afraid of losing them!  However, instead I’ve lost my kindle which is really a terrifying feeling.  I have such good ebooks checked out and I can’t get to them!  

Checked Out and Currently Lost Ebooks

  • Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
  • A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (yes this is because I also can’t find the hardcover I preordered.  Shut up)

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Checked Out Currently Reading

  • The Traitor’s Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America by Alison Pataki (meh)
  • The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis. The kid is up and down on this so far. I will make her love it! 
  • The Cartel by Don Winslow – I’m not reading this but my husband is. He’s obsessed and in love. So if Mexican cartels are your thing this is apparently highly recommended!  I don’t think I can do the violence he’s describing personally though it sounds excellent.

Checked Out Read – These are August too

  • The Sight by Chloe Neill 
  • Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel – Check out this review at the Gilmore Guide to Books but I really enjoyed this! 
  • Apprentice in Death by JD Robb (perfect post move read)

Holds

  • Love Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi  (Thanks Sarah for the reminder!)
  • Overruled by Emma Chase
  • My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews
  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (I’m 17th in line and might not be able to handle this wait! But if I buy it will I just lose this too?)
  • The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
  • The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton – this has been in transit since May. I’m slightly worried that the kid will never get to read about the pony that toots too much again. 
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Returned Unread – Too many good things to list. It’s kind of sad. I’ll just put them back on my list and pretend August/September never happened! 

Thanks Shannon at River City Reading for this check-in! What’s on your library shelf this month?