November and December 2014 Recap

Oh me, oh my! Is it really already February…of 2015??? I feel like it was just December and I blinked and now it’s February. Alas–such is life. To say January was crazy would be an understatement. I was out of town for work (and had to extend the trip), and then was busy frantically trying to prepare a presentation to present on this work. Basically, I had almost zero time for blogging. I finally had to start putting “spend 10 minutes on blog post” on my to-do list, which is why this post took me greater than 1 month to finish. BUT I FINISHED IT. It’s the little things folks…

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[1]

I read 11 books in November and December, which is surprising considering how busy I was. I even found time to review 4 books! Overall, I read a whopping 59 books in 2014. Holy wow–I think that’s a new record for me. I still plan to summarize my “2014 year in reading” (even though we are well into 2015), so stay tuned for that.

Books read:

1. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

2. My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

3. The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

4. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

5. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

6. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

7. The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

9. Duty by Robert M. Gates

10. Chocolat by Joanne Harris

11. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Book Reviews Posted:

1. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

2. A PhD Is Not Enough! by Peter J. Feibelman

3. The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

4. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

[2]

Recipes Posted in November and December:

1. Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

2. Bacon Chicken Breast with Sweet Potato Mash

[3]

After a strong showing in October, I kind of fizzled out in November but regained some momentum in December. I’m pretty proud of my December mileage because I was traveling most of the month and had to make a real effort to get those miles in.

November-DecemberOverall, I logged a grand total of 704 miles in 2014. Obviously I didn’t hit my original goal of 1000 miles or even my revised goal of 873 miles (my 2013 total + 1 mile), but I think the important thing is that I kept at it even when I realized I wasn’t going to hit either of those goals. I also realize that I probably had way more than 704 active miles in 2014 (since I don’t have one of those fancy fitness trackers that logs my every move), but these were the miles I completed with the intention of exercising. I’m pretty happy with these numbers, and plan to solider on in 2015!

[4]

Fun things I did in November:

1) Attended a “Pre-Thanksgiving” Cocktail/Housewarming Party

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I had a great time at this party hosted be Dan and Deniz. Everyone dressed up, drank fancy cocktails (or champagne in my case), and ate lots of delicious hors d’oeuvres.

2) Spent Thanksgiving in (a very snowy) Michigan

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It started snowing the day we showed up and it continued to snow in little bits for the rest of our trip. While the humans in the house didn’t mind the snow, there was one certain dog who really enjoyed it:

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Snoop, aka Snow Dog

Seriously, he just loves to burrow in the snow and hang out. So cute (but so weird)!

On Thanksgiving day, K’s parents cooked a big, delicious feast. We had two other grad students from the university join us for dinner:

SONY DSC

Snoop wasn’t sure how he felt about having company, but we sure enjoyed it!

Overall I had a really great Thanksgiving. It was very peaceful and relaxing–definitely a nice break from the insanity of graduate school.

Fun things I did in December:

1) Attended a holiday potluck and celebrated Bernie’s birthday

The 2014 holiday season was chock full of parties and fun events, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. For the last several years my friend Beth has hosted a holiday potluck, and for one reason or another I’ve never been able to go. Luckily I could this year! There was delicious food, mulled wine (which I was a few minutes too late to be able to have before it ran out), and a pretty tree. Basically it had all the perfect elements of a nice holiday gathering.

After the meal, we walked over to Kingston Mines to listen to some blues music in celebration of Bernie’s birthday. There were many photo-worthy opportunities throughout the night (The food! The tree! All. The. Friendship.), but the only picture I have from the entire night is this really grainy selfie…

 

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So I guess it’ll have to do? 🙂

2) Went to Michigan for an early Christmas celebration

About three weeks after we said goodbye to K’s parents and Snoop from the Thanksgiving trip, we were back! And so was the snow…

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Usually we have a brief “re-acquaintance” period with Snoop when we come back to Michigan after having been away for awhile, but since the period between the two trips was so short this time he seemed excited to see us pretty much right away. And boy were we excited to see him! I mean really, how can you resist this face!?

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So cute and surprisingly tolerant of the ears!

As usual, we had a really nice and relaxing time in Michigan. We spent some time with K’s friends from high school, and enjoyed some really great meals. Since we were leaving before Christmas day, we celebrated early with a fantastic meal cooked by K’s dad:

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We also exchanged gifts. I even got to open up Snoop’s stocking, which made me his favorite for about 10 minutes

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It was short-lived, but worth it!

We were sad to say goodbye to Michigan, but we had a great time!

3) Celebrated Christmas in Kansas

A few days before Christmas, we flew to Kansas to spend some time with my family.

We also have lots of little holiday traditions, one of which is to have my grandmother over for dinner on Christmas Eve. We even remembered to take pictures this year!

Family-xmaseve

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My parents also kept another holiday tradition alive–new p.j’s on Christmas Eve!

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Special thanks to our p.j. model, Jen

Thanks Mom and Dad!

Christmas day is always a little crazy in our household. We do our gift exchange in the morning, host my dad’s family for lunch, and travel over to Grandma’s for dinner with my mom’s side. It’s crazy and a busy day, but always very fun. This year was no exception! I’m so happy I was able to be home and got to see everyone!

I also got to catch up with the ladies from high school and my friend Erin while I was in Kansas! I don’t make it home that much (and probably will even less so in the future), so it’s always so nice when our schedules coordinate and we can get a quick visit in.

Overall, it was a great trip back to Kansas. We got in some quality family time and had lots of good food–smoked turkey, smoked pork, prime rib, ham, and of course Chet’s (aka Dad) breakfasts. We sure were spoiled!

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Yay! I finally finished this post! Now on to re-cap January…

Mini Book Reviews: The Club Dumas and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Since I’m super behind on my book reviews, I’m going to try writing some “mini” book reviews. I’m hopeful that writing a mini review will take some of the pressure off of writing full-fledged reviews so that I might be inspired to write a few more. 🙂

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Mini Book Reviews:

[1]

 

Club Dumas

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Lucas Corso, middle-aged, tired, and cynical, is a book detective, a mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found hanged, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers, ” Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment.The task seems straightforward, but the unsuspecting Corso is soon drawn into a swirling plot involving devil worship, occult practices, and swashbuckling derring-do among a cast of characters bearing a suspicious resemblance to those of Dumas’s masterpiece. Aided by a mysterious beauty named for a Conan Doyle heroine, Corso travels from Madrid to Toledo to Paris in pursuit of a sinister and seemingly omniscient killer.

I was really excited to read this book based on the description alone. A rare book collector trying to authenticate a previously unknown chapter of The Three Musketeers–sign me up! Initially the novel really seemed to live up to all the hype. It was mysterious, fast-paced, and I loved learning more about Dumas and book binding. Then, the novel picked up a second plot line (i.e. the search for The Nine Doors) and things started to get sort of muddled for me. It probably didn’t help that I was listening to an audiobook instead of reading a print version, but it just seemed like these two story-lines did not mesh well together at all.  I think this book would have been so much stronger if Perez-Reverte had either stuck with one plot line or had done a better job of fleshing both out.  I definitely don’t regret reading this book, but I wouldn’t want to read it again. 2.5/5 stars (rounded up to 3 on Goodreads).

[2]

moonisaharshmistress

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

It is the year 2076, and the Moon is a penal colony for the rebellious and the unwanted of Earth. The exiles have created a libertarian society in order to survive in their harsh and unforgiving environment, their motto being TANSTAAFL: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. Looming over them is the Luna Authority, the heavy-handed Earth administration, who trades life necessities to the “Loonies” in exchange for grain shipments to the starving populations of Earth.

As the situation steadily deteriorates the inhabitants of Luna come to realize that they have little choice but to revolt against Luna Authority in order to save themselves from resource exhaustion and a subsequent environmental apocalypse.

A small band of dissidents emerges to lead the revolution. This consists of a one-armed computer jock, a radical young woman, a past-his-prime academic, and a nearly omnipotent computer named Mike. These people ignite the fires of revolution, despite the near certainty of failure.

Of the 55 books I’ve read so far this year, only 2 of them can be considered “science fiction.” Clearly sci-fi is not a genre I read very often. So last year when a labmate suggested I read this book, I filed it away in my head for a “maybe someday when I’m really bored” book. Well that day came earlier this year when I really wanted to check out an audiobook from the library and everything else I was interested in was already checked out (I hate it when that happens!). I remembered this book and saw that it was available so I checked it out, and I’m really glad I did.

The story opens with Manuel (i.e. Mannie), who is a resident of the lunar colonies (i.e. “Loonies”). He is a computer technician for the master computers of the Lunar Authority, which is the lunar government established and run by the people of the Earth. One day Mannie discovers that one of the computers has “awakened” (i.e developed a self-awareness), and he develops a sort of friendship with the computer whom he calls “Mike.” In the midst of this burgeoning friendship a revolution is brewing amongst the lunar colonists, and Mannie and Mike quickly get swept up in the fight for independence.

Initially, the story was sort of hard to get into and I didn’t feel like I really understood what was going on. I eventually realized this was because the people of the lunar colony have different vocabulary and a strange way of phrasing sentences, but once I got used it I began to really enjoy the story. The Loonies and the place they live in are very different from my own, but Heinlein does such a fantastic job of world-building that I could imagine what it was like to live there. I was also impressed that the technology described didn’t seem too dated even though this book was published almost 50 years ago!

Despite the futuristic setting, this a book about politics at its core. While I may not have agreed with all of Heinlein’s theories, I found myself really thinking about the nature of revolutions and what it takes to build a nation from scratch. Mannie and his friends enter into the revolution with high ideals, but they quickly discover these theories don’t always hold up well in the real world. Heinlein’s descriptions of the intrigues and infighting of the new lunar politicians is eerily similar to that of the present day U. S. Congress.

Overall, I thought this was a really good read. It’s chock-full of political theory, but also has enough action to keep the story moving. I also thought the reader of the audiobook, Lloyd James, did an awesome job with the various accents and dialects of the characters. 4/5 stars.

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 22.0

Happy Monday everyone! It’s been a long, long time since I participated in this meme…March to be exact. Yikes! Regardless, I’m back this week to share what I’ve been reading lately along with a mini-book review.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Mini Book Reviews:


 

PhD is not enough

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Despite your graduate education, brainpower, and technical prowess, your career in scientific research is far from assured. Permanent positions are scarce, science survival is rarely part of formal graduate training, and a good mentor is hard to find.

In A Ph.D. Is Not Enough!, physicist Peter J. Feibelman lays out a rational path to a fulfilling long-term research career. He offers sound advice on selecting a thesis or postdoctoral adviser; choosing among research jobs in academia, government laboratories, and industry; preparing for an employment interview; and defining a research program. The guidance offered in A Ph.D. Is Not Enough! will help you make your oral presentations more effective, your journal articles more compelling, and your grant proposals more successful.

A classic guide for recent and soon-to-be graduates, A Ph.D. Is Not Enough! remains required reading for anyone on the threshold of a career in science. This new edition includes two new chapters and is revised and updated throughout to reflect how the revolution in electronic communication has transformed the field.

A quick glance at this title could be enough to make a frustrated graduate student want to throw this slim volume in Peter Feibelman’s face. What do you MEAN a Ph.D. isn’t enough?!?!?! But I suggest you resist that impulse, and read on.

Once you get past the eye-catching title, you will quickly realize that Dr. Feibelman, a Senior Scientist at Sandia National Laboratory, has written a clear, concise guide to help you navigate the tricky and sometimes treacherous path from graduate school to the future beyond. He usually conveys his points with both good humor and real-life examples from his years of experience.  I found the “Giving Talks,” “Publishing without Perishing,” “Choosing a Career Path,” and “Job Interviews” chapters especially helpful. Some of the points I sort of already knew intuitively, but it was good to see these reinforced by an expert!

A couple of caveats: 1) This isn’t an exhaustive “how-to” manual. He doesn’t give step-by-step instructions on how to secure your dream job or write a winning grant proposal. The purpose of this book is to make you aware of many crucial steps in the scientific job hunting process, not necessarily to describe exactly how to get there. 2) Most of the advice in this book is geared toward those pursuing careers in academia and/or a National Laboratory in a STEM-related field. This didn’t really bother me, even though I am pursuing an industrial R&D career, but it is something worth pointing out.

Overall, this is a very quick and worthwhile read if you are currently in graduate school, or are considering pursuing a scientific career. 4/5 stars.

Books I recently read:

 my-life-in-middlemarch

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot s “Middlemarch,” regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage, and family, Mead read and reread “Middlemarch.” The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described as one of the few English novels written for grown-up people, offered Mead something that modern life and literature did not.

In this wise and revealing work of biography, reportage, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, “My Life in Middlemarch” takes the themes of Eliot s masterpiece the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot’s biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead’s life uncannily echo that of the author herself, “My Life in Middlemarch” is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us.

the black prince

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Bradley Pearson, an unsuccessful novelist in his late fifties, has finally left his dull office job as an Inspector of Taxes. Bradley hopes to retire to the country, but predatory friends and relations dash his hopes of a peaceful retirement. He is tormented by his melancholic sister, who has decided to come live with him; his ex-wife, who has infuriating hopes of redeeming the past; her delinquent brother, who wants money and emotional confrontations; and Bradley’s friend and rival, Arnold Baffin, a younger, deplorably more successful author of commercial fiction. The ever-mounting action includes marital cross-purposes, seduction, suicide, abduction, romantic idylls, murder, and due process of law. Bradley tries to escape from it all but fails, leading to a violent climax and a coda that casts shifting perspectives on all that has preceded.

eleanor and park

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough… Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises… Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

This Week I am reading:

the-poisonwood-bible

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the twentieth century: the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy. Against this backdrop, Orleanna Price reconstructs the story of her evangelist husband’s part in the Western assault on Africa, a tale indelibly darkened by her own losses and unanswerable questions about her own culpability. Also narrating the story, by turns, are her four daughters—the self-centered, teenaged Rachel; shrewd adolescent twins Leah and Adah; and Ruth May, a prescient five-year-old. These sharply observant girls, who arrive in the Congo with racial preconceptions forged in 1950s Georgia, will be marked in surprisingly different ways by their father’s intractable mission, and by Africa itself. Ultimately each must strike her own separate path to salvation. Their passionately intertwined stories become a compelling exploration of moral risk and personal responsibility.

This Week I am listening to:

the rules of civility

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

In a jazz bar on the last night of 1937,
watching a quartet because she couldn’t afford to see the whole ensemble,
there were certain things Katey Kontent knew:

the location of every old church in Manhattan
how to sneak into the cinema
how to type eighty words a minute, five thousand an hour, and nine million a year
and that if you can still lose yourself in a Dickens novel then everything is going to be fine.

By the end of the year she’d learned:
how to live like a redhead
and insist upon the very best;
that riches can turn to rags in the trip of a heartbeat,
chance encounters can be fated, and the word ‘yes’ can be a poison.

That’s how quickly New York City comes about, like a weathervane, or the head of a cobra. Time tells which.

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What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 21.0

Happy Monday everyone! This week, I’m participating in the “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this two weeks in a row…we’ll see if I can keep it up!

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

My thoughts on books I recently finished:

robinson crusoe

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Who has not dreamed of life on an exotic isle, far away from civilization? Here is the novel which has inspired countless imitations by lesser writers, none of which equal the power and originality of Defoe’s famous book. Robinson Crusoe, set ashore on an island after a terrible storm at sea, is forced to make do with only a knife, some tobacco, and a pipe. He learns how to build a canoe, make bread, and endure endless solitude. That is, until, twenty-four years later, when he confronts another human being. First published in 1719, Robinson Crusoe has been praised by such writers as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Johnson as one of the greatest novels in the English language.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) trained for the ministry, became a political journalist, and finally, to many, became “the father of the English novel.” He is also the author of ‘Moll Flanders’.

Does anyone else remember the Accelerated Reader (i.e. AR) program? My middle school used this program to encourage us to read, and we had designated number of “AR points” we had to get every quarter. The number of points a book was worth depended on the difficulty of the book, and being a bookworm I always exceeded the number of points I needed, usually by a very large margin. During one quarter in 7th grade I tried to read Robinson Crusoe because it was worth a lot of points (27 to be exact…I just looked). I knew it was a classic book and I put in an honest effort, but I just couldn’t get past the first chapter. It’s bugged me for years that I was never able to finish it, so I finally decided to give it another chance.

From the first sentence I could see why I had a hard time reading it all those years ago–the prose is wordy and written in a form not easily decipherable for (younger) modern readers. Of course being a more mature reader now, I was able to get past this and even enjoy it a little bit since I knew I was reading one of the first novels written in the English language. The book is also slowwwwwww, which might have hindered my enjoyment of it 15 years ago. Sometimes I enjoyed the leisurely pace, such as when Crusoe was describing how he set up his dwelling and tamed a flock of goats. Other times I thought the book was redundant and didactic to a fault, like during the diary sequence. Honestly, the first half of the book was pretty boring at times, but thankfully the pace really picked up once he found the footprint in the sand. If not for the last third of the book, this review might be much different.

*Be warned, some spoilers ahead*

My feeling about Robinson Crusoe the man is ambivalent at best. To my modern eyes, he seems sort of like an imperialistic jerk who kind of deserves all that happens to him. His actions in the first half of the book frequently defy reason–seriously how many shipwrecks/other disasters do you need to convince you to just stay home?!?! Also, his quick disposal of the boy who helped him escape slavery was pretty upsetting and infuriating to me. On the other hand, he is a very self-aware jerk who readily admits that he has made a lot of mistakes along the way. I also found it really interesting that looking back on it all, he realizes the best times of his life (mentally, morally, and spiritually) were spent alone on the island.

Overall, I’m glad I finally read this book. Not only is it a classic adventure novel, but it also has some good points on how youthful haste can lead to later regrets. Admittedly, I found it to be very slow at times and I’m not sure I can say I actually liked it, but I do think it is worth reading at least once. 2.5/5 stars (rounded up to 3 stars on Goodreads).

Books I recently read:

tellthewolvesI'mhome

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

This Week I am reading:

middlemarch bn

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),and the canvas is very broad.

Despite the fact that it has some comical characters (Mr. Brooke, the “tiny aunt” Miss Noble) and comically named characters (Mrs. Dollop), Middlemarch is a work of realism. Through the voices and opinions of different characters we become aware of various broad issues of the day: the Great Reform Bill, the beginnings of the railways, the death of King George IV and the succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV). We learn something of the state of contemporary medical science. We also encounter the deeply reactionary mindset within a settled community facing the prospect of what to many is unwelcome change.

This Week I am listening to:

dangerous women cover

Synopsis adapted from Amazon.com:

All new and original to this volume, the 21 stories in Dangerous Women include work by twelve New York Times bestsellers, and seven stories set in the authors’ bestselling continuities—including a new “Outlander” story by Diana Gabaldon, a  tale of Harry Dresden’s world by Jim Butcher, a story from Lev Grossman set in the world of The Magicians, and a 35,000-word novella by George R. R. Martin about the Dance of the Dragons, the vast civil war that tore Westeros apart nearly two centuries before the events of A Game of Thrones.

Also included are original stories of dangerous women–heroines and villains alike–by Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Sherilynn Kenyon, Lawrence Block, Carrie Vaughn,  S. M. Stirling, Sharon Kay Penman, and many others.

Writes Gardner Dozois in his Introduction, “Here you’ll find no hapless victims who stand by whimpering in dread while the male hero fights the monster or clashes swords with the villain, and if you want to tie these women to the railroad tracks, you’ll find you have a real fight on your hands.  Instead, you will find sword-wielding women warriors, intrepid women fighter pilots and far-ranging spacewomen, deadly female serial killers, formidable female superheroes, sly and seductive femmes fatale, female wizards, hard-living Bad Girls, female bandits and rebels, embattled survivors in Post-Apocalyptic futures, female Private Investigators, stern female hanging judges, haughty queens who rule nations and whose jealousies and ambitions send thousands to grisly deaths, daring dragonriders, and many more.”

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What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 20.0 (on a Tuesday)

Happy Tuesday everyone! Despite all appearances to the contrary, I do still read and post about books sometimes. These posts have gotten fewer and farther between, but with the increasing pressures and demands of graduate school as I enter into the last 1.5 years (*fingers crossed*) this is frankly the best I can do. Really at this point, any post is a small victory. 🙂

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

My thoughts on books I recently finished:

Enemies

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Enemies is the first definitive history of the FBI’s secret intelligence operations, from an author whose work on the Pentagon and the CIA won him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

We think of the FBI as America’s police force. But secret intelligence is the Bureau’s first and foremost mission. Enemies is the story of how presidents have used the FBI as the most formidable intelligence force in American history.

Here is the hidden history of America’s hundred-year war on terror. The FBI has fought against terrorists, spies, anyone it deemed subversive—and sometimes American presidents. The FBI’s secret intelligence and surveillance techniques have created a tug-of-war between protecting national security and infringing upon civil liberties. It is a tension that strains the very fabric of a free republic.

As a child of the 90’s, I’m well aware that there are large gaps in my 20th century history knowledge. I’m not sure if my high school American history experience is typical of others from my generation, but I remember spending entire quarters on the Revolutionary War and The Civil War, but barely two or three weeks on 20th century history (and by the time I was actually in high school the 21st century had begun). So I knew there were very large gaps in my knowledge, but I was surprised to find out how much I REALLY didn’t know when I read this book. While I can’t say this work was particularly uplifting, it was one of the most interesting, disturbing, and informative non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time.

This book charts the 100 year history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but focuses mostly on its secret intelligence operations. From the Palmer Raids of 1919-1920 to the denial of a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer in August of 2001, Weiner details how the bureau fails time and time again to nab actual spies or stop crimes before they happen. It’s not that this should be an easy task to accomplish by any stretch of the imagination, it would just be reasonable to assume that we might get better at it over time…which it doesn’t seem that we really have. I found this especially disheartening in light of the time, money, and questionable suspension of civil liberties the FBI has used over the years to achieve these uncertain ends.

Despite this somewhat grim portrait of the FBI, Weiner’s book is clearly thoroughly researched and full of interesting facts and historical tidbits. For instance, did you know that to this day the FBI still lacks formal charter? Or that a German-led terrorist group set fire to the Black Tom munitions depot in 1916 which led to an explosion that damaged the Statue of Liberty? I also found it interesting to learn about more recent events that I knew of only by name, such as the Iran-Contra affair and the first World Trade Center bombing.

Overall, I found this book to be both fascinating and disturbing. Weiner does an excellent job of both telling the story of an agency with a notoriously shadowy past, and giving a fair criticism of a system in which national security and civil liberties are often in conflict. It is a bit on the long side, but reads more like a thriller than a non-fiction history. If you have any interest in the history of the FBI (or of the 20th century really), I definitely recommend this one. 4.5/5 stars.

Books I recently read:

moonisaharshmistress

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

It is the year 2076, and the Moon is a penal colony for the rebellious and the unwanted of Earth. The exiles have created a libertarian society in order to survive in their harsh and unforgiving environment, their motto being TANSTAAFL: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. Looming over them is the Luna Authority, the heavy-handed Earth administration, who trades life necessities to the “Loonies” in exchange for grain shipments to the starving populations of Earth.

As the situation steadily deteriorates the inhabitants of Luna come to realize that they have little choice but to revolt against Luna Authority in order to save themselves from resource exhaustion and a subsequent environmental apocalypse.

A small band of dissidents emerges to lead the revolution. This consists of a one-armed computer jock, a radical young woman, a past-his-prime academic, and a nearly omnipotent computer named Mike. These people ignite the fires of revolution, despite the near certainty of failure.

littlebee

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

British couple Andrew and Sarah O’Rourke, vacationing on a Nigerian beach in a last-ditch effort to save their faltering marriage, come across Little Bee and her sister, Nigerian refugees fleeing from machete-wielding soldiers intent on clearing the beach. The horrific confrontation that follows changes the lives of everyone involved in unimaginable ways.

Two years later, Little Bee appears in London on the day of Andrew’s funeral and reconnects with Sarah. Sarah is struggling to come to terms with her husband’s recent suicide and the stubborn behavior of her four-year-old son, who is convinced that he really is Batman. The tenuous friendship between Sarah and Little Bee that grows, is challenged, and ultimately endures is the heart of this emotional, tense, and often hilarious novel.

Considered by some to be the next Kite Runner, Little Bee is an achingly human story set against the inhuman realities of war-torn Africa. Wrenching tests of friendship and terrible moral dilemmas fuel this irresistible novel.

behindthebeautifulforevers

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting“ in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl“—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget

stellabain

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield.

In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.

This Week I am reading:

middlemarch bn

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),and the canvas is very broad.

Despite the fact that it has some comical characters (Mr. Brooke, the “tiny aunt” Miss Noble) and comically named characters (Mrs. Dollop), Middlemarch is a work of realism. Through the voices and opinions of different characters we become aware of various broad issues of the day: the Great Reform Bill, the beginnings of the railways, the death of King George IV and the succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV). We learn something of the state of contemporary medical science. We also encounter the deeply reactionary mindset within a settled community facing the prospect of what to many is unwelcome change.

This Week I am listening to:

tellthewolvesI'mhome

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

***

What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 19.0

Happy Monday everyone! I know it’s been a few weeks, but I’m back today to participate in the “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme.

***

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

My thoughts on books I recently finished:

orangeisnewblack

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system.

From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.

Although I hope to never go to prison (or even see the inside of one), it was interesting to take a trip there in Piper Kerman’s memoir. From the tales of her “bohemian” post-college days (when the crime was committed) to her feelings during the last moments of her prison stay, Piper tells her story in clear and entertaining prose. It was easy to get swept away, especially since I felt like she could be me or someone I knew (which I think is the main appeal of this book for most of the people reading it).

I think my favorite part of this book was the rich cast of people from all walks of life she encountered during her prison stay. She makes friends with many of the women, and I liked that she didn’t just stick with the ones who were just like her. Despite giving most of their stories a sympathetic telling, she also doesn’t make them out to be saints either, which made her experiences with them more real and believable to me.

In fact I enjoyed the stories of the people she met in prison so much that I was dismayed when the audiobook ended with no epilogue or afterward. The story just ends very abruptly and left me feeling a bit empty after becoming so invested in her (and the other women’s) stories. How does Piper adjust after she gets back to the real world? Does she have a different perspective on prison and her experience now that some time has passed? Did she keep in contact with any of the other women?  After a quick search on the internet it appears that the paperback edition DOES have an afterward, but since I didn’t get to read it I can’t comment on whether or not this would have allayed the unfinished feeling I still have about this book.

Other than the abrupt ending I really enjoyed this book. It gave a rare look into one woman’s experiences in prison, and put a human face on an often forgotten portion of our population. Don’t read this book if you are looking for a serious tome on prison sociology or some kind of “call-to-action.” This is a memoir, and thus although it asks a lot of important questions it does not answer them. 4/5 stars.

Books I recently read:

The_Pact

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

For eighteen years the Hartes and the Golds have lived next door to each other, sharing everything from Chinese food to chicken pox to carpool duty– they’ve grown so close it seems they have always been a part of each other’s lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it’s no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily’s friendship blossoms into something more. They’ve been soul mates since they were born.

So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is ready for the appalling truth: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There’s a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris took from his father’s cabinet– a bullet that Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a local detective has doubts about the suicide pact that Chris has described.

 

Maya'sNotebook

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Isabel Allende’s latest novel, set in the present day (a new departure for the author), tells the story of a 19-year-old American girl who finds refuge on a remote island off the coast of Chile after falling into a life of drugs, crime, and prostitution. There, in the company of a torture survivor, a lame dog, and other unforgettable characters, Maya Vidal writes her story, which includes pursuit by a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol. In the process, she unveils a terrible family secret, comes to understand the meaning of love and loyalty, and initiates the greatest adventure of her life: the journey into her own soul.

TheNightCircus

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

This Week I am reading:

middlemarch bn

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),and the canvas is very broad.

Despite the fact that it has some comical characters (Mr. Brooke, the “tiny aunt” Miss Noble) and comically named characters (Mrs. Dollop), Middlemarch is a work of realism. Through the voices and opinions of different characters we become aware of various broad issues of the day: the Great Reform Bill, the beginnings of the railways, the death of King George IV and the succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV). We learn something of the state of contemporary medical science. We also encounter the deeply reactionary mindset within a settled community facing the prospect of what to many is unwelcome change.

This Week I am listening to:

moonisaharshmistress

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

It is the year 2076, and the Moon is a penal colony for the rebellious and the unwanted of Earth. The exiles have created a libertarian society in order to survive in their harsh and unforgiving environment, their motto being TANSTAAFL: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. Looming over them is the Luna Authority, the heavy-handed Earth administration, who trades life necessities to the “Loonies” in exchange for grain shipments to the starving populations of Earth.

As the situation steadily deteriorates the inhabitants of Luna come to realize that they have little choice but to revolt against Luna Authority in order to save themselves from resource exhaustion and a subsequent environmental apocalypse.

A small band of dissidents emerges to lead the revolution. This consists of a one-armed computer jock, a radical young woman, a past-his-prime academic, and a nearly omnipotent computer named Mike. These people ignite the fires of revolution, despite the near certainty of failure.

***

What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 18.0

Happy Monday everyone! I hope you are staying warm wherever you are. I’m wearing two layers of clothing today…but trust me it was necessary! This week I am participating in the “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme.

***

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

My thoughts on books I recently finished:

frozen in time

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

On November 5, 1942, a U.S. cargo plane on a routine flight slammed into the Greenland ice cap. Four days later, a B-17 on the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on the B-17 survived. The U.S. military launched a second daring rescue operation, but the Grumman Duck amphibious plane sent to find the men flew into a severe storm and vanished.

In this thrilling adventure, Mitchell Zuckoff offers a spellbinding account of these harrowing disasters and the fate of the survivors and their would-be saviors. Frozen in Time places us at the center of a group of valiant airmen fighting to stay alive through 148 days of a brutal Arctic winter by sheltering from subzero temperatures and vicious blizzards in the tail section of the broken B-17 until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen attempts to bring them to safety.

But that is only part of the story that unfolds in Frozen in Time. In present-day Greenland, Zuckoff joins the U.S. Coast Guard and North South Polar—a company led by the indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza, who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight—on a dangerous expedition to recover the remains of the lost plane’s crew.

Drawing on intensive research and Zuckoff ’s firsthand account of the dramatic 2012 expedition, Frozen in Time is a breathtaking blend of mystery, adventure, heroism, and survival. It is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and their families—and a tribute to the important, perilous, and often-overlooked work of the U.S. Coast Guard.

They say bad things come in three’s, and for the U.S. Military’s operations in Greenland in November of 1942 this was definitely the case, as recounted by Michell Zuckoff in Frozen in Time. This non-fiction tome reads like an thriller/adventure novel, and alternates between the original crashes of 1942 and the present day attempt to rescue the Grumman Duck from its ice-encrusted tomb.

I really enjoyed reading this harrowing survival story, and was on the edge of my seat while waiting to figure out if any of the men would ever make it off the ice. It was amazing to me that the men could survive at all under those extreme conditions (let alone without ever having had any cold weather survival training), and that they could do it with such selflessness, integrity, and humanity. I was also touched and moved by the attempts of others to save the men and keep them alive, often at great risk to their own safety. Zuckoff’s re-telling of these events is by far the strongest and best part of the book. Side note: it was also interesting to learn things about Greenland and the arctic. For instance, did you know Greenland was part of the Kingdom of Denmark or that it is (very not densely) inhabited?

The present day sections were interesting but dragged at times (one reviewer noted they “read like a long National Geographic article”). Also, since Zuckoff had a significant financial stake in the operation to retrieve the Grumman Duck, these sections felt a bit more forced somehow. The present day story was definitely worth reading, but just couldn’t quite compare to the survival story on the ice. I found myself hurrying through so I could get back to the 1942 sections of the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. Although at times it was a bit sad, it was inspiring and very moving. 4/5 stars.

Books I recently read:

sisterland

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

call of the wild

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

First published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is regarded as Jack London’s masterpiece. Based on London’s experiences as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness and his ideas about nature and the struggle for existence, The Call of the Wild is a tale about unbreakable spirit and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan Klondike.

Club Dumas

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

A well-know bibliophile is found hanged days after selling a rare manuscript of Alexander Dumas’s classic, The Three Musketeers. Across Madrid, Spain’s wealthiest book dealer has finally laid his hands on a 17th-century manual for summoning the devil. Lucas Corso, solitary and obsessive, is the detective hired to authenticate both texts. But the further he follows the trail of devil worship, the more it leads him back to Dumas. He’s the unwitting protagonist in someone’s evil plot, but is he sleuth or hero, Sherlock Holmes or d’Artagnan?

White-Fang

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Jack London’s adventure masterpiece is not only a vivid account of the Klondike gold rush and North American Indian life, but it is also an intriguing study of the effects different environments have on an individual. Celebrate the centennial anniversary of the classic tale of a wolf-dog who endures great cruelty before he comes to know human kindness.

This Week I am reading:

The_Pact

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

For eighteen years the Hartes and the Golds have lived next door to each other, sharing everything from Chinese food to chicken pox to carpool duty– they’ve grown so close it seems they have always been a part of each other’s lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it’s no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily’s friendship blossoms into something more. They’ve been soul mates since they were born.

So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is ready for the appalling truth: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There’s a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris took from his father’s cabinet– a bullet that Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a local detective has doubts about the suicide pact that Chris has described.

This Week I am listening to:

Maya'sNotebook

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Isabel Allende’s latest novel, set in the present day (a new departure for the author), tells the story of a 19-year-old American girl who finds refuge on a remote island off the coast of Chile after falling into a life of drugs, crime, and prostitution. There, in the company of a torture survivor, a lame dog, and other unforgettable characters, Maya Vidal writes her story, which includes pursuit by a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol. In the process, she unveils a terrible family secret, comes to understand the meaning of love and loyalty, and initiates the greatest adventure of her life: the journey into her own soul.

***

What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

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