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)