Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Refugees

The Refugees 
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Published: February 2017

8 short stories that span the wide spectrum of Vietnamese-American immigrant experiences. From literal ghost stories of those haunted by the past, to a neighborhood rivalry between two mothers struggling to make a difference, each story peers into a broken family displaced by war.

4 out of 5 stars: Beautifully moving stories of hope, sorrow, and nostalgia. For me, the standouts were "Black-Eyed Women", "War Years" and "I'd Love You To Want Me." I enjoyed these so much, I may have to revisit The Sympathizer (which still sits right where I left it when I got distracted by who knows what and failed our burgeoning book club so miserably. I'm better now, guys, promise!)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Brooklyn's Sweet Ruin

Brooklyn's Sweet Ruin: Relics and Stories of the Domino Sugar Refinery
by: Paul Raphaelson
To Be Published: Oct 2017

The Domino Sugar Refinery is an iconic figure of the Williamsburg skyline. At one point it was the world's largest sugar refinery, processing 4 million pounds of raw sugar a day. However production steadily decreased throughout later half of the 20th century and it eventually closed in 2004. Though it was granted historic landmark status in 2007, its fate has been in limbo since.

When I lived in Brooklyn I'd run by it daily, always wondering what was going on behind those shuttered doors. I mean, it stands on prime real estate in an area intent on gentrification, where posh waterfront studios just keep shooting up at an alarming rate. "Brooklyn's Sweet Ruin" gives a final glimpse into the heart of the Domino Sugar Refinery before its demolition. There is a certain sadness in seeing relics of an industrialized era, but in the nostalgia there is awe and wonder at what architecture and workforce are capable of.

4.5 out of 5 stars: The photos are absolutely gorgeous (with an undeniable "Fallout" vibe) but what I appreciated most was the accompanying write up: interviews with workers, a brief history of the refinery, and context for its place in history.


From the Kickstarter page, view from the East River
PS: Apparently this book started as project on Kickstarter, and you can find more information on this video posted by Paul Raphaelson and his website.


// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Freshwater

Freshwater: a novel
by: Akwaeke Emezi
To be published: Feb 2018

Seamlessly weaving a Nigerian mythos of mischievous gods (Ọgbanje) with a Western understanding of psychopathology, this breakout novel burrows into the experience of trauma, self-awareness, and spiritual awakening.  The deeply surreal story is narrated by a girl with "one foot on the other side" and the chorus of selves that reside in her fractured mind. Somehow despite the extremely heavy and personal subject matter, Emezi's narrative voices are as entertaining as they are painfully relatable.

5 out of 5 stars: What a fucking fantastic, unique read. I knew next to nothing going in and honestly want to cut this review short to extend the same courtesy to anyone else who may happen upon my page. That said, I read it on the tails of my vacation to the Yucatán peninsula, where I had the opportunity to learn more about the mysticism of the Mayans and their regard for their wind serpent god Kulkulkan. It's interesting how certain animals or representations resonate similarly with different ancient cultures. The Igbo and the Mayans may have been separated by a continent and ocean, but they both revered the power of the serpentine life force.

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

PS: If you liked this you should also check out:


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Where the Wild Coffee Grows

Where the Wild Coffee Grows: The Untold Story of Coffee from the Cloud Forests of Ethiopia to Your Cup
by: Jeff Koehler
To Be Published: Nov 2017

"Where the Wild Coffee Grows" takes us on a well-researched trek through the history of the coffee, bringing together the writings of explorers and historians as well as first hand accounts from living farmers, scientists, and magnates of the coffee industry. The journey begins in the forests of Ethiopia, where communities view the coffee preparation ritual as a social activity, an expression of their spiritual connection with nature. Then we follow the beans as they make their way into the Middle East and Europe through conquest and trade. We end in the modern era, riding the wave of mass-consumption and artisanal quality in a globalized market. Yet ominous clouds of issues billow ahead, threatening the natural existence of our favorite beverage: the steadily changing climate, the spread of fungal blights, and the unfortunate homogeneity of coffee-plant genetics leave the future uncertain.

4 out of 5 stars: As Colombian-American, coffee is quite literally my lifeblood. I felt like I owed it to my multi-cup-a-day habit to learn a bit more about this precious beverage, and I found the history of mankind's relationship with this bean to be fascinating. The first few chapters were a bit long-winded and overly detailed while excavating the history of Ethiopian politics, tangential to the story at hand. But once the text returned to the global impact of coffee and threats to its future, the book was hard to put down. The perspectives compiled for this work will appeal to coffee snobs and scientists alike, though honestly anyone with a taste for the black gold will enjoy reading up on its past, present and future.

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Curl Revolution

The Curl Revolution: Inspiring Stories and Practical Advice from the NaturallyCurly Community 
by: Michelle Breyer
To be published: October 2017

Anyone with naturally curly or wavy hair knows how challenging it can be to tame. The goal of this book is to offer support and advice to women and men with textured locks. Michelle Breyer is the co-founder of NaturallyCurly.com which has been a resource of the curly-haired community for almost two decades.

First, we learn about the history and formation of the website and CurlTalk forums. This transitions into a section that provides emotional support to curlies. In a world that hasn't always been accepting of the "wild" or "natural" look, many people have been raised to hate their unruly hair (by well-meaning parents, schoolyard bullies, or subtle social cues).

Then, what I found most useful, the rest of the book provides information on identifying your own curl type, detailing regiments for cleaning and styling hair, as well as tips for cutting, coloring and controlling frizz. Interspersed throughout the text we see accounts of how individuals have embraced their curly hair and what their own personal routines entail. The photos taken for the book are colorful and striking and truly capture the beauty and diversity of textured hair.

4.5 out of 5 stars: None of this information is new per se (as it is all hosted on their website), but this book is an excellent resource for those who may be overwhelmed by the amount of information available online. I can also see this being a great gift for someone who is trying to embrace the wavy/curly/coily natural lifestyle but doesn't know where to start.

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Pretty sure I'm a 2B/2C wavy type. Houston humidity loves to destroy my attempts at curl management, can't wait to try out new hair care cocktails on these thirsty locks!



Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

White Oak Bayou, before and after
As Hurricane Harvey continues to batter the gulf coast and work is cancelled for the week, all I can do is sit at home and obsess over weather reports. Oh, plus watch bayou as it inches ever closer to our apartment complex's back fence.So far so good. We're extremely lucky to be located on the top floor, and my heart goes out to the rest of the greater Houston area and areas of Southeast Texas that are experiencing 800-year flood levels.

Friday, August 25, 2017

We Were Eight Years In Power

We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy
by: Ta-Nehisi Coates
To Be Published: October 2017

We Were Eight Years in Power is a compilation of eight essays Coates published with The Atlantic. Each essay is preceded by an introductory chapter that explains why he wrote the piece, what was going on in his life, and how his perspective has changed since it was published. These "blog post-like" tidbits have an almost memoir-like quality to them, offering behind-the-scenes insight into the writing process and allowing Coates an opportunity to vent frustrations unconstrained by the more diplomatic, expository tone of the essays.

Inevitably this book will be compared to Coates' award-winning Between the World and Me as they both ruminate on racial tension in the United States. But where Between the World and Me is deeply personal, raw, poetic and often bombastically esoteric, We Were Eight Years in Power feels more academic. Beautifully written and immensely powerful, it marries heavily-researched longform journalism and unapologetic sermonizing. The essays cover a wide swathe of topics that include meditations on what it means to elect a black president, brief biographies of Malcom X and the Obamas, a case for reparations, and an appeal to recognize the continuous role white supremacy has played in our nation's history.

The title of the work references a post-Civil-War speech given by a member of the Reconstruction legislature in South Carolina. Yet, the titular "We" also echoes modern-day citizens hoping for meaningful change in the area of race relations. The parallels abound, as we too are in the midst of an intense backlash and political tidal change following the wake of progress. As we all know, those who refuse to acknowledge history are doomed to repeat it.

5 out of 5 stars: As someone who hasn't really been following the prolific Ta-Nehisi Coates beyond his last bestseller, all of the essays were new and exciting. Veteran readers of the Atlantic may not be as impressed. Still, the reflection chapters do bring something new to the table and really tie it all together. Come what may, I will definitely be referencing this book for years to come.

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Healthy Meal Prep


Healthy Meal Prep
by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon
To Be Published: December 2017

A colorful, friendly primer to meal-prep cooking that includes an introduction to the art of weekly prep, 12 full-fledged weeks of meal plans, and tips and tricks for snacking and storage. Each weekly meal plan offers beautiful photographs, shopping lists and recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner variations on a theme, e.g. low carb, vegetarian, Asian or Mediterranean. Overall, well organized and extremely useful. That said, if you're not a fan of eating the same meal for a few days in a row, this may not be the book for you. After all, the factory-like assembly of clone meals is basically the whole point of meal prep. Variety is the spice of life and I love rotating cuisines as much as the next gal, but I personally have no issue with repeating lunches if it means I can consolidate the tediousness of calorie-counting, macro-fitting, food-scavenging into one day of the week.

5 out of 5 stars: As someone who probably spends too much time scouring Meal Prep Sunday and mindlessly pinning meal prep recipes, I fall squarely into this recipe-book's target audience. I've even cooked recipes from the authors' YouTube channel, which is part of the reason I was so excited to check out the book in the first place!


// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bad Girls from History

Bad Girls from History: Wicked or Misunderstood?
by Dee Gordon
To be published: December 2017

Bad Girls from History recounts a wide array of tales of some very mischievous women. The wickedness captured in these stories ranges from the standard mistresses and adulterers, to the naughty-by-trade pirates, gangsters and witches, all the way out to the most deplorable serial killers and one-off murderers.

2.5 out of 5 stars: Each account is clearly well-researched, pieced together from what remains of records of the past, yet some of the tales still leave the reader wanting more - more historical context, more information about the society that these women found themselves in. Overall, it was interesting to learn of these women's lives and impacts on the world around them, but the book felt as though it was spread a bit thin.

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Artemis

Artemis
by Andy Weir
To be Published: Nov 2017

Jasmine Bashara is a citizen of the Moon's first city, Artemis. Raised by a hard-working welder, but independently employed as a freelance porter (aka smuggler), she finds herself at the epicenter of an elaborate conspiracy and must use her quick-thinking problem solving skills to stay alive.

Despite the inherent pressure in being the sophomore novel following an international bestseller, Artemis truly delivers as a gripping page-turner clearly cut from the same cloth, but more than able to stand up on its own. The novel is kinetic, engrossing, and an engineer's wet dream (whether you get your kicks from reading about mechanical processes or from pedantically picking them apart). My only criticism is that the characters, endearing as they were, could be a bit immature. I curse like a sailor and love witty banter as much as the next guy, but at times the dialogue felt a little under-cooked, like the sparring of teenage affectations.

4.5 out of 5 stars: Weir continues to fill that Michael-Crichton-shaped hole in my heart with his take on thrilling lab-lit, i.e. going into excruciating amounts of detail when describing scientific and chemical processes. Honestly, Artemis takes up the torch even more than The Martian as it unravels a slightly wider spread of world-creation and plot: without giving too much away, we're talking geo-political and economic maneuverings on top of all the knee-deep science jargon.

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Get Well Soon

Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them
by Jennifer Wright
Published: February 2017

Each section dissects a disease that ravaged a populous and how society fought back, admirably or otherwise. My favorites were the Antonine Plague of the Roman Empire, the Black Death of the Middle Ages, Smallpox's impact on Native (North and South) Americans, and the great American cover-up of the Spanish Flu. The only chapter that felt a bit out of place focused on lobotomies, but it was still interesting.

4.5 out of 5 stars: I personally enjoyed the running tongue-in-cheek commentary that accompanied historical context and topical musings but if you're looking for a no-nonsense textbook of facts, this may not be for you. Each chapter has a built in moral lesson, but if you're an anti-vaxxer or are especially sensitive to criticism of Reagan's sense of humor you may not appreciate the sermons.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Vacationland

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches
by John Hodgman
To be Published: October 2017

Former deranged millionaire John Hodgman has run out of fun false facts for us and has decided to instead to get very, very real. In a collection of essays that span his migratory patterns across New England, he has pieced together a deeply personal memoir from reflections on his life. We visit western Massachusetts to learn deference to The Dumpmen and the rock-stacking river witches : we travel to the cruel beaches of Maine to contemplate privilege, aging, and the craftsmanship of boats.

At one point, in reference to therapy, he says,
"Just having permission to talk about yourself, to let your dumb thoughts out of your head so you can see them as they hang there in silence, is an illuminating gift."
and I feel that it resonates the tone of the memoir as a whole. And really, the work of comedians in general. Whether they pour their lives into the stage as stand-up bits, or as characters on satirical news shows, isn't it all just to help themselves (and presumably the audience) deal with reality in one way or another? So if writing up a memoir is what it takes to process the existential dread that accompanies the relentless passage of time and the unruly nature of facial hair, then onward march, man. You're helping the rest of us feel less alone. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an entire drawer of mouse poop to continue to ignore.

He Who Must Not Be Named gets it.

5 out of 5 stars: As a follower of his podcast, audiobooks and Netflix special -- this is the first time I've physically read something of his. If I can even call it reading, this memoir is so true to Hodgman's voice, I literally heard it in my head. A fun brand of deadpan humor that is both self-deprecating and sincere.

Note: The aforementioned quote was taken from an advanced reader copy and may not be final. So you should probably go buy one in October just to be sure.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Published: May 2017

 A very compact, yet quite thorough sampling of astronomical topics. We bounce from the ingredients of the cosmos to particle physics, from relativity to dark matter and a quick breakdown of the electromagnetic spectrum. Woven into the science lessons, we also get some pushes toward critical thinking and humility:

"Ignorance is the natural state of mind for a research scientist. People who believe they are ignorant of nothing have neither looked for, nor stumbled upon the boundary between what is known and unknown in the universe."

Overall, well written and accessible, a must-read for anyone in need of a quick refresher course on the fabric of the universe.

4 out of 5 stars: As someone who loves to read pop-sci physics books but never made it past PHYS 101 in college (*ahem*), I knew this would be right up my alley. Then again, as someone who loves to read pop-sci physics books, I should have realized that there wasn't going to be lot of new information presented here. But that wasn't deGrasse Tyson's fault! This offers a good, solid base of information for anyone who wants to learn about astrophysics but gets overwhelmed by the trail of links you must follow when researching on Wikipedia.

Bonus: after listening to the audiobook, if you crave more NdGT, he gave the 100th commencement at Rice University which I was actually quite a bit bummed about missing (until I remembered how godawfulhot it is outside during graduation season)

Sour Heart

Sour Heart
by Jenny Zhang
Published: August 2017

A collection of stories exploring experiences of Chinese immigrants now scattered throughout the boroughs of New York. Each short stars a young girl struggling to stay afloat - dealing with assimilation, poverty, and coming of age in the City. The stories are so raw and fully-developed, it feels like we're getting tiny glimpses' into Zhang's own childhood (though some may as well have been from mine).

5 out of 5 stars: I especially liked the bits that dug deep into the dynamics of close-knit families -- how even inseparable siblings inevitably grow apart, how we must savor our grandparents' tales of the past even when they feel so disconnected from our own reality, and how our relationship with our parents ebbs and flows as we age.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Chateau

The Chateau
by Paul Goldberg
Expected Publication: Feb 2018

After losing his job, well-seasoned DC journalist Bill Katzenelenbogen flies south in an effort to stave of a budding existential crisis and redirect energies into an investigation on the untimely death of his college roommate (a distinguished plastic surgeon well known as "The Butt God of Miami Beach"). While in town, he visits his estranged father and becomes immediately entangled in a complicated web of feuds erupting from within the Chateau condo between the Board vs. Residents, Russian Immigrants vs Americans, and Jews vs. goys. Set during the inauguration of Donald Trump, this novel tackles political and social tensions from the perspective of immigrants on either side.

4.5 out of 5 stars: Overall, a fun read: satirical and subversive with heavy doses of despondence and brutal realism. I especially enjoyed the tidbits of Russian literature and poetry and vocabulary that were sprinkled throughout.

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Friday, August 4, 2017

Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
Published: March 2013

A deeply spiritual and existentialist novel traverses space, time and layers of narrative. On the one hand, this is the story of Ruth, a struggling Japanese novelist living in rural Canada with her quirky eco-artist husband and her persnickety cat. Wandering the beach one day, she finds the diary of a Japanese teenager, Nao who writes about everything from the cruel torment of middle school bullies to her great-grandmother, who is a revolutionary, feminist Zen Buddhist nun.

As the stories unravel, parallels emerge and we explore how they are related- on a quantum or spiritual level- and how the act of reading is itself is a mechanism of connecting with another being, the writer, across time. Ozeki masterfully draws from Western and Eastern philosophies' musings on life and death, suicide and the meaning of existence.

Plus, the whole thing starts off with a pun! It both a "Tale for the Time Being" in that it is written of the present moment, as much as it is a tale written for a human time being, capable of existing in various expanses of time through the act of reading.

5 out of 5 stars: Extremely powerful and engaging, with a wide cast of well-developed, complex characters (some borderline autobiographical*).


* Ruth Ozeki is a novelist and Zen Buddhist priest. And much like the protagonist of the novel, she too is married to a Canadian artist named Oliver. So, guess it's a true story, calling it!

Planet Factory

Planet Factory: Exoplanets and the Search for a Second Earth
by Elizabeth Tasker
To be published: November 2017

In a fantastic primer for budding planetary scientists or armchair explorers, astrophysicist Elizabeth Tasker shares her passion and expertise for the astronomical sciences. Planet Factory chips away at the mountains of exoplanet research and presents it in approachable chunks of historical context, current research and exciting conjecture. Tasker describes how celestial bodies emerge from swirling space dust, details prevailing theories for the varying compositions of known planets and explores the incomprehensibly strange worlds that exist in distant systems (hot Jupiters, super Earths and rogue planets, oh my!).

4 out of 5 stars: There were some stretches of text in the middle that felt a bit tedious and recursive, going through the litany of possible explanations for any findings that didn't fit neatly into the currently accepted theories. But hey, that's science! The repetitive circular critique of hypotheses is both a strength and weakness in the text: it was honestly very refreshing to have each theory delineated with a little dollop of doubt, teaching the reader to question and critically assess previous explanations when presented with new evidence. It's even addressed point-blank in the introduction: any scientist trying to report this amount of interstellar research as fact with the pretense that 'we've got it all figured out' is doing a disservice to the reader and to the field. Overall, this is a very friendly introduction to the awe-inspiring mysteries of our universal neighbors.

Sidenote: I was a little surprised to see no mention of the TRAPPIST-1 system until I realized that announcement was just made February of this year, so of course the author didn't have time to cram in a whole new chapter of reactions to these 7 little buddies and their ultra-cool dwarf. That said, this book leaves me feeling well-equipped to tackle the news of exoplanet discoveries on my own.

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


Monday, July 31, 2017

Theft By Finding

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002
by David Sedaris
Published: May 2017

Nothing like 25 years worth of journal entries to capture the quirks of day-to-day life. Sedaris' wry observations are casual, comfortable and consistent, peppered with hilarious gems and stranger-than-fiction encounters.


4 out of 5 stars: The audiobook is read by David, which makes the journal entries especially intimate and real. And sidenote, how did I not know that David and Amy Sedaris were siblings??

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Moving collection of essays passed from father to son on community, culture, and growing up black in America. Coates takes us through his formative years, navigating the unspoken language of the streets, and how to abide and thrive in a violent world. He describes experiences at his historically black alma mater, his "Mecca", grateful for the safe haven to cultivate curiosity and investigate the rich heritage of African Americans. Perhaps most importantly, he refuses to shy away from the more weighty discussions of police brutality and the history of slavery and oppression of the West.

4.5 out of 5 stars: Some passages are borderline esoteric, but on the whole, this is a beautiful, lyrical, accessible read. The audiobook read by the author, which I really enjoyed.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Homesick for Another World

Homesick for Another World
by Ottessa Moshfegh
Published: January 2017

Collection of short stories that I can only describe as grimy mumblecore. Some characters are tragic and relatable but most are just creepy and desperate and downright repulsive. I'm all about skeevy unlikable narrators so nothing wrong with that outright. There were a few stories in the bunch I really liked, gross protag or not. But all of them heaped together was a bit much, especially with the overlapping obsessive stalkers, disenchanted alcoholics, aggressively naive teens, etc.

3 out of 5 stars: Some of these stuck their landing brilliantly, but others I felt wanting. I'm currently on my library's hold list for  Eileen, so I can't wait to get a better feel for Moshfegh's voice.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Reason You're Alive

The Reason You're Alive 
by Matthew Quick
Published: July 2017

 First off, the narrator is essentially Cotton from King of the Hill: a crotchety, politically incorrect Vietnam vet who will be played by Robert de Niro when this inevitably becomes a motion picture. The story itself reads like a memoir as he chronicles his recovery from brain surgery, trying to understand his bleeding heart art collector son, and making peace with his tumultuous past.

4 out of 5 stars: It was very eye-opening to read a book written from the perspective of an ultra-patriotic conservative- there is no shying away from issues such as racism, homophobia, mental health, nationalism and gender roles. Whether or not I agreed, I feel like I now better appreciate how people reach those conclusions.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky


What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky 
by Lesley Nneka Arimah

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is a collection of stories set in Nigeria that explore the bleakness of existence, the infusion of ancient fables in a cultural narrative, and a disquietingly dystopian brand of magical-realism. The stories themselves could stand alone*, but as a well-crafted collection their emotional weight is magnified. Though each of the stories individually grapples with grief, self-preservation, and mending the fabric of torn families, each reaches a gnawing depth somehow more heartbreaking than the last.

* One of the stories was independently published in the New Yorker (Oct 2015), "Who Will Greet You At Home" and gives a taste of the collection's more fantastical side.

5 out of 5 stars: I love me some morbid reality, toss in some ancient parables and post-apocalyptic futures and I am beyond sold.

Friday, July 21, 2017

I Contain Multitudes

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
by Ed Kong
Published: Aug 2016

The title is a clever reference to Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself' but literally refers to the massive communities of microbes that inhabit our bodies. According to the NIH, some estimates show microorganisms outnumbering human cells by 10 to 1 (though they only make up 1-3% of our mass because they're so teensy!). Depending on where you look - skin, mouth, genitals - there are different types of bacteria performing various roles, contributing to our natural biochemical processes. While this book describes the relationships humans have with bacteria, we really have nothing on some plants and animals studied, where the symbiosis has reached a level of critical co-dependence. So we get a good review of the history of microbiology as well as more current research in the field as it explodes in popularity. I for one, welcome our bacterial overlords.

5 out of 5 stars: Kong deftly captures the pendulum of scientific attitudes towards bacteria - swinging between the extremes of "germophobia, where all microbes must be vanquished, towards microbomania, where microbes are heralded as the explanation for - and the solution to - all our ills." In the end, they are all necessarily out to harm or support us, we're all just part of the same complicated machinations of life struggling to continue existing.

Goodbye, Vitamin

Goodbye, Vitamin
by Rachel Khong
Published: July 2017

Simply put, the journal entries of a young woman maneuvering a failing relationship, complicated family dynamics and father diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Poignant moments nestle within lighthearted journal blurbs keep it short, sweet, but incredibly moving (the dad's notes on his daughter's childhood had me welling up something fierce).

4.5 out of 5 stars. Anyone else who has witnessed the slow fading of a loved one's dignity and sense of self as their family helplessly stands by in support will find bits and pieces of their own story in these pages.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Industries of the Future

Industries of the Future 
by Alec J. Ross
Published: Feb 2016

 Senior Innovation Adviser to the Obama administration and tech policy guru Alec Ross deconstructs recent trends in tech around the world in an effort to project some semblance of where we're headed in this increasingly digitized, analyzed global market. He explores the frontiers of robotics, genomics, Big Data, cryptocurrencies and cyberattacks-- but not without setting the historical stage for each industry's inception and meteoric growth. I think what I appreciated most was learning how different nations are setting the stage for advances in these fields: either by trying to recreate Silicon Valley, by opening up the workforce (to young adults and women), or by leap-frogging past generations of innovations (ie: African countries getting cell phones before landlines)

4.5 out of 5 stars: Informative and educational, but somehow in the span of a year, some parts of the book have already become outdated (UBER's outta control like whoa).

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Published: Sept 2014

A post-apocalyptic tapestry of narratives that seamlessly weave various points of view across a fragmented timeline. The story itself is surprisingly believable and very well executed, grounded and incredibly moving. Honestly this seems like the sort of novel that'll be assigned to future classes of reluctant high school English students. Learn about raw human nature, existentialism and social dramaturgy, all while quoting Shakespeare!

5 out of 5 stars: This was a pleasure to read.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
by Carlo Rovelli, (translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre)
Published: March 2016


Tiny, poetic morsels of physics exposition originally written as columns for an Italian newspaper. With passion and precision, Rovelli plunges into the past, present and future of physics: the nature of spacetime, the architecture of the cosmos and theories that attempt to characterize how we perceive and interact with reality.

5 out of 5 stars: A clear successor to Sagan and Hawking and likely a bestseller for years to come (which I am happy to ensure single-handedly as everyone I know is getting a copy this Christmas sorry not sorry).

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Your Brain is a Time Machine


Your Brain is a Time Machine: The Neuroscience and Physics of Time
by Dean Buonomano
Published: May 2017

Great overview of how the fields of physics and neuroscience approach the study of time: how they overlap and where they butt heads. Historical context, thought experiments, and countless research studies form the framework for how our concept of time has evolved across fields of study. Circadian and biological rhythms inform our mental alarm clocks, but we also employ various levels of more precise neuro-timers to properly parse speech, music and memories. Sundials, crystal quartz watches and atomic clocks capture the external, more objective passage of time, though Einstein's theories of relativity counter any hope of leaning on time as an unqualified absolute.
One dichotomy I found super interesting is the battle of presentism vs eternalism. The former holds that the present, the NOW, is the only moment grounded in reality, while the past and future are inaccessible and only exist in our memories or mental projections, respectively. This is the theory supported by our conscious experience - we feel that each passing moment, each NOW, is somehow qualitatively different than any moment in time not currently being experienced. Eternalism on the other hand, posits that time is the fourth dimension and reality can be presented as a 4D variation of a cube --like a block of cheese where the present moment is merely a slice. This is the view supported by modern physics, because time is relative to the observer and there is no evidence to suggest (beyond our intuition) that the present moment is any more real than any other moment in time. The world of scifi rejoices.

4 out of 5 stars: Expansive and well-researched, I appreciated the author bringing us into the proverbial trenches of each explicitly detailed experiment. That said, though the chapters themselves had a purpose and flow, there were times that felt a bit meandering and unnecessary for the Bigger Picture being painted.

Annihilation

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1)
by Jeff VanderMeer
Published: Feb 2014

 An unnamed biologist takes notes in her journal as she and four other scientists are sent on a data-gathering expedition into a mysterious territory known only as Area X. Though it starts out with measurements and observations, it becomes increasingly difficult to discern hallucination from reality the deeper they explore. VanderMeer's fanstastical descriptions push the boundaries of our perception, and the narrative reads like the heady haze of someone lightly dosed.

4 out of 5: Here come the acid flashbacks! Short, sweet and I can't wait to pick up the next in the trilogy.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ready Player One

Ready Player One 
by Ernest Cline
Pusblished: Aug 2011

Reads like YA fic but clearly written with adults nostalgic for the 80's in mind. Set in a bleak and crisis-riddled future where most people spend their time plugged into a virtual-reality MMO/Second Life type of game searching for an easter egg quest hidden by the late creator. Surprisingly packed with references and trivia, would recommend for anyone who digs precocious kid adventures and mental chess a la Ender's Game. Get ready to dive way too deep into 80's pop culture, scifi/fantasy lore with a crash course in old school arcade and console videogames.

Bonus: They've just released a trailer for the upcoming 2018 film! I wonder if Spielberg will be able to resist referencing his own work - like how Will Wheaton both makes a cameo in the story and reads the audiobook.

4.5 out of 5 stars: A fun, all-consuming read for anyone ready to fetishize the 80's and secretly wish we'd just barrel into Energy Crisis post-apocalyptic VR world already.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pandora's Lab

Pandora's Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong 
by Paul A. Offit
Published: April 2017

Scientific progress is a double-edged sword; behind the advancement of knowledge is shadow of unforeseen consequence. This book aims to break down seven of the worst, most destructive fallouts of the 20th century. Extremely well-researched, each chapter presents the technical and historical contexts of the 'discoveries' as well as their repercussions to modern day. That said, this is far from anti-science, rather, an honest look at what happens when healthcare, nationalism, activism and even environmentalism go unchecked by data.

5 out of 5 stars: Listened to this in the car on a drive up and down from Dallas, A++ roadtrip material -- it sparks some really fun, albeit heated, discussions.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body 
by Roxane Gay
Published: June 2017

Roxane Gay didn't write this heartbreaking memoir as a cry for help, to seek attention or pity. She writes because breaking down experiences, bottled emotions, and sharp pop culture criticisms into essays is what she does best. This is an exposition of her traumas and observations as much as it is a platform to discuss the experiences that bind anyone struggling with an unruly body, a history of regrettable decisions, or a complicated relationship with self-esteem. This collection of essays is raw, defiant and uncomfortable to read. This must have been monumentally hard for Gay to share with the world, but her strength and grace is a beacon for all those struggling in silence.

4 out of 5 stars: Much like Bad Feminist, there were times I found myself disagreeing with her interpretations-- but sometimes recognizing the baggage, biases and stubbornness that each individual brings to the discussion is as important as the discussion itself.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Stiff

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers 
by Mary Roach

Death is as much a part of being human as life, but what happens to our bodies after we die is an oft avoided subject. So in case you ever wanted to know the various stages of body decomposition, the history of rogue anatomists turned gravediggers, the many avenues of research that require human limbs and tissues, as well as the future of body disposal (we're way past embalming and cremation guys, it's time for liquid dissolution and ecological dispersal!), this is the book for you.

4 out of 5 stars: Some tangents went on a bit too long, and some bits left me wanting to know more - but all in all, solid patchwork of topics that don't get a lot of airtime.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1)
by Stieg Larsson (translated by Reg Keeland)
Published: Jan 2008

Really fun whodunit thriller, can definitely see how it got to be an international sensation. But beyond the fast-paced action and mystery, I appreciated the emphasis placed on discussing domestic violence issues and statistics. Delving into the corruption of financial institutions and gray areas of journalistic integrity were also nice cherries on top.

4.5 out of 5 stars: Really everything you'd want out of a thriller - interesting, multi-dimensional characters, intrigue and suspense, little dash of sociopolitical commentary. Guess I should watch the movie(s)!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo 
by George Saunders
Published: Feb 2017

In a style reminiscent of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead / Waiting for Godot, George Saunders manages to make an extremely somber subject playful and light-hearted. The broken narrative structure can be unsettling at first, but once you get into the rhythm, it flows intuitively.

5 out of 5 stars: I know I am definitely not alone in my appreciation of Saunders' voice, I honestly think he could write about anything and still hook us in. Sidenote: apparently the audiobook has David Sedaris, Nick Offerman and George Saunders himself as the three main characters so that might be a fun way to revisit the story!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Telomere Effect

The Telomere Effect: The New Science of Living Younger 
by Elizabeth Blackburn, Elissa Epel
Published: Jan 2017

 Telomeres are repeating nucleotide sequences hanging out on the tips of our chromosomes - they protect the chromosomes and deteriorate with each cell division (isn't aging a bitch?). But turns out the length of telomeres are also affected by a myriad of environmental factors: chronic stress, metabolism, sleep etc. Really was not expecting this to be a self-help style book but honestly, it was very refreshing to see all of the "tips" backed up by clinical research (and any advice was promptly followed up with varying degrees of assurance, depending on the evidence available). Plus it's pretty cool to read about telomere research from someone who literally won a Nobel Prize for her work in discovering them.

4 out of 5: In essence this is a data-heavy look into factors we may or may not be able to manage and how they affect the rate our cells age, but it's not like the advice itself is new. Drink water, eat raw foods, sleep a decent amount, don't be chronically stressed. Still, cliche or not, I enjoyed the delivery and the foundation of experiments.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

No Place to Hide

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State 
by Glenn Greenwald
Published: May 2014

 Starts as a play-by-play of how Edward Snowden reached out to Glen Greenwald and all of the conversations leading up to the leak of classified documents, which is pretty fascinating in and of itself. We learn about Snowden's background, his motivations, and get to watch the behind the scenes bureaucracy of a world-renowed newspaper. Then Greenwald thoroughly breaks down the main points behind the documents and how they all fit into the context of an unrestrained mass surveillance machine. It's goddamn Orwellian. Greenwald also details the fallout from the leak, how corporate media demonizes whistleblowers and why subversion in journalism is so crucial to transparency.

4.5 out of 5 stars: The tone can be a bit dry at times, but I honestly think that was the less-than-ideal audio format (I needed something to listen to on walks!) because the narrator reads through each tedious part of the included documents including every "REL to USA, NO FORN" headers and every line of included tables.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Lab Girl

Lab Girl 
by Hope Jahren
Published: April 2016

Geobiologist Hope Jahren delivers a raw, unflinching memoir that explores her passion for science from eager child to award-winning researcher. Each life lesson is accompanied by an associated blurb on plant biology and growth so whether she's working in a hospital basement mixing drugs, digging through soil to learn about ancient climate change, or explaining how to use a mass spectrometer - her clever, self-deprecating anecdotes are as educating as they are moving. She is open about the harsh realities of being a woman in STEM academia but really bares her soul when it comes to the intersectional struggles of mental health treatment and pregnancy.

5 out of 5 stars: Powerful shit, man.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad 
by Colson Whitehead
Published: August 2016

This depiction of slavery in the South and the hopeless illusion of freedom in the North was genuinely hard to read. Cora's frantic travels across the country drag the reader through different regions, exploring complex perspectives on race relations, never quite escaping the moral necrosis of manifest destiny.

4 out of 5 stars: This is a tough book to review. On the one hand, it was difficult for me to get through it and for the most part was thoroughly unenjoyable. The gruesome treatment of slaves, free folk and sympathizers was obviously extremely unsettling, but more subtly, I felt a distance between myself and the main character and her dispassionate narrative. But when I think about the story itself, of course it's not going to be enjoyable, it's about slavery for fuck's sake. And Cora's tone throughout the novel just reflects the detachment she feels from the journey, from her surroundings, from her life. What an awful blemish on the history of the States.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
by J.D. Vance
Published: June 2016

Man, this book had A LOT of hype. Well-read friends and raving articles alike have touted it as the beacon of light into the darkness that is the downtrodden, forgotten working class of Rust Belt / Middle America. While it definitely offers a glimpse into that, first and foremost this book is a memoir of the author's family's struggles. The personal aspect grounds the sociological studies and census reports that he dispersed throughout, and I do appreciate how he has offered up his family history as a representative of the hillbilly culture that can be foreign to those outside of it. Vance's story really really captures the essence of the American Dream and shows how someone can rise from a culture of violence and poverty to become a marine and Yale Law School graduate (though, spoiler alert: he graciously acknowledges that his doting but hard-ass grandmother made this possible and takes almost no credit for himself)

4 out of 5 stars: I was expecting a slightly different balance of anecdotes-to-epidemiological narrative. Which is really no fault of the book! That's on me. It was still a very informative and moving read.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena 
by Anthony Marra
Published: May 2013

Interwoven narratives of civilians in a rural village of Chechnya and how their lives progress amidst the first and second Chechen wars. Beautifully composed, heartbreaking, and optimistic in the strength people find when pushed to their limits. While this is a work of fiction, many of the stories and experiences come from nonfiction work - which honestly makes the story's impact that much more devastating.

5 out of 5 stars: I maybe cried. Quite a bit.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist
by Roxane Gay
Published:

 A well packaged bundle of criticisms. Gay's essays range from openly vulnerable self reflections, to combative social commentary with some pop culture deconstruction sprinkled on top. At times she contradicts herself or comes off a bit severe, but that's part of the point she is trying to get across: no one is a perfect feminist idol to everyone and it's unfair to expect that of anyone.

4 out of 5 stars: There were definitely times I felt myself pushing back against her harsh tone, but it was a good opportunity to think critically about why it struck a nerve in me and what biases or ignorance I bring to the table.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Lost at Sea

Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries 
by Jon Ronson
Published: October 2012

Super fun read- it's like the tapas of investigative journalism. Each chapter is a bite-sized exploration: from the Insane Clown Posse's conversion to Christianity to Stanley Kubrick's meticulous collection of noteboxes; from the 'geodemographic' computer program that decides who to inundate with junk mail based on zip code to people who donate their kidneys to strangers. And everything in between.

4 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian 
by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith
Published: October 2007

A deeply unsettling tale of a woman who stops eating meat and incidentally has her marriage and family life unravel around her. The Vegetarian explores some of the darker, more disturbing pits of human motivation and desire...not for the faint of heart.

4 out of 5 stars: Packs quite a punch for such a short book. Does a fantastic job of blurring the lines between mental health and magical realism.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Girls

The Girls
by Emma Cline
Published: June 2016

A fascinating glimpse into the dynamics of a 1960s counter-culture commune (heavily inspired by the Manson Family) all through the eyes of a disenchanted but hopelessly naive tween caught up in the raw, electric momentum.

4.5 out of 5: I reeeeally enjoyed the framed narration: the story is recounted decades after the events took place, capturing the reckless desperation of youth paired with the gentle admonishment of middle age.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Kingdom of Fear

Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century
by Hunter S. Thompson
Published: Nov 2003

A delightful patchwork of autobiographical escapades, political rants and historical insight. Follow Hunter through his persistent lobbying for civil liberties, a campaign for Sheriff of Aspen, and that one time got Jack Nicholson an elk heart for his birthday. But be warned, no work of HST would be complete without a healthy dose of of sex, drugs, dynamite, and violence.

4 out of 5 stars: The end is perpetually nigh, folks. Mahalo.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Soonish

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything 
by Kelly Weinersmith, Zach Weinersmith
To be published: October 2017

Power couple SMBC cartoonist & Rice University professor pick apart ten burgeoning fields of research: from space elevators, nanorobot swarms, 3D organ printing to brain-computer interfaces... and beyond! It’s no small feat predicting how upcoming technological advancements will play out -- both accidental discoveries and the complex dynamics of interacting fields of research can really throw a wrench in timelines (we were promised self-tying shoes and hoverboards damnit!), but the Wienersmiths do a fantastic job of presenting what’s out there, where it’s likely headed, and what we can expect to see ...Soonish.

5 out of 5 stars: No, I'm not just excited about this because I'm a hard fan girl of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and anything associated with my alma mater. But also yes.

In other news, snag a copy of of Soonish from the Goodreads Giveaway! (Ends 8/18/17) I was very lucky to have received an advance reader copy from a friend so I have to do my part to spread the love. Now I just have to lure Kelly and Zach into a book signing at my favorite Rice U pub...