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.

***

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.

***

What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

Advertisements

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!

***

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.”

***

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. 🙂

***

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!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 17.0

Happy Monday everyone! This week I am participating in the “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme.

***

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Bookish posts from last week:

1) 2013: A Year in Reading

2) My 2014 Reading Challenges

My thoughts on books I recently finished:

jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-calling

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.

Confession: I didn’t find out about this book until after the news had already leaked that it was J.K. Rowling who had written it, and I also have not yet read The Casual Vacancy (although it is sitting on my shelf). I think the thought of reading another J.K. Rowling after Harry Potter was too intimidating–what if I didn’t like it (especially after the mixed reviews I’ve read of CV)? None of these thoughts were in my head though when I heard about The Cuckoo’s Calling since it sounded exactly like something I would love. However, now that I’ve read it, I can safety say that I liked this book but didn’t love it.

I think my biggest complaint about the book (and a quick perusal of Goodreads tells me I’m not alone here) is that the first half moves way, way too slow. Some books have a slow build-up to the action, but usually there is a good hook to keep you reading. Since this book is billed as a mystery/thriller I would have expected it to hook me more in the beginning then it did. Basically, the only thing that kept me reading for about the first hundred pages was that I knew J.K. Rowling had written this book and that if I waited long enough she probably wouldn’t let me down (luckily I was right).

Eventually I did get invested in the story, and the pace did pick up for about the second half of the book. I figured out the mystery pretty quickly, but still enjoyed reading through the end. The best part of the book in my opinion are the characters Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin, and I look forward to learning more about them in the sequel (set to be published this year???). In the end, I’m glad I had faith and stuck it out. 3/5 stars.

the smartest guys in the room

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Remarkably, it was just a few years ago that Enron was thought to epitomize a great New Economy company, with its skyrocketing profits and share price. But that was before Fortune published an article by McLean that asked a seemingly innocent question: How exactly does Enron make money? From that point on, Enron’s house of cards began to crumble. Now, McLean and Elkind have investigated much deeper, to offer the definitive book about the Enron scandal and the fascinating people behind it.

Meticulously researched and character driven, Smartest Guys in the Room takes the reader deep into Enron’s past—and behind the closed doors of private meetings. Drawing on a wide range of unique sources, the book follows Enron’s rise from obscurity to the top of the business world to its disastrous demise. It reveals as never before major characters such as Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andy Fastow, as well as lesser known players like Cliff Baxter and Rebecca Mark. Smartest Guys in the Room is a story of greed, arrogance, and deceit—a microcosm of all that is wrong with American business today. Above all, it’s a fascinating human drama that will prove to be the authoritative account of the Enron scandal.

When the Enron scandal broke I was a freshman in high school, so although I remember hearing about it I didn’t really know much about it. Several years later, when I was a senior in college working in Houston for an internship, the Enron saga was brought to my attention again when a friend said “those are the old Enron towers” as we were driving through downtown Houston. I made a mental note to learn the details of what happened, and then promptly forgot until this book was called to my attention last year. And boy am I glad it was.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that this book is a bit long. It comes in at a whopping 480 pages and is pretty technical at parts (especially for us non-finance majors).  However, it is exhaustively researched, incredibly interesting, and very readable. McLean and Elkind do a great job of turning this very complex story into an understandable and frankly page turning narrative. In addition to the telling the technical side of the story, I think the authors also do a nice job of looking at the human aspect of it–the hubris, the ignorance, the greed. The corporate executives at the center of the scandal weren’t necessarily inherently bad people, and I think this book does a nice job of separating the facts from the gossip.

Overall, I thought this was a really great book and a must read for anybody with an interest in business (apparently it’s one of Warren Buffet’s favorite books). It was informative without being too dry, and is written at a level that even non-finance people (such as myself) can easily comprehend. If I could wish for anything different, it would be an updated edition. This book was published in 2004 (almost 10 years ago now) and I’d be curious to see the authors’ thoughts and comments ten years after the fact. 4.5/5 stars.

Books I recently read:

MissPeregrineCover

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

A horrific family tragedy sends Jacob 16 to a remote island off Wales, to the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, where he finds unusual old photographs. The children, one his grandfather, were more than peculiar, perhaps dangerous, quarantined for good reason – and maybe still alive.

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.

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.

This Week I am reading:

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.

This Week I am listening to:

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.

***

What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 16.0

Happy Monday everyone! 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:

astronaut-wives-club

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

As America’s Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.

Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was proclaimed JFK’s favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived on base with a secret. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other’s children by day, while going to glam parties at night as the country raced to land a man on the Moon.

As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives-they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.

As someone who grew up fascinated by the space program, dreamed of becoming an astronaut, and actually worked at NASA for about two years I was REALLY excited when I saw this book was coming out. So excited that I actually purchased a copy (as opposed to checking out from the library), which is becoming a rarer occurrence these days. I’ve read many (many) books on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, and always wanted to know more about what happened behind the scenes on the home front. Needless to say, I was definitely the target audience for this book and I really, really wanted to love it…except I didn’t.

For starters, for a book that aims to tell the stories of wives from all 3 programs, it focuses predominately on the Mercury wives. Since I probably know the least about this era of NASA history I didn’t mind this too much at first. However, as the book continued on and I realized that Koppel was going to cram the Gemini and Apollo wives (which were much bigger groups then the original seven) into the remaining half of the (already slender) volume I found my tolerance waning. Having had about a month and a half to decompress and put this book in perspective, I realize now that a narrower focus would have done MUCH to improve the narrative. In addition to relieving the constant blitzkrieg of names and dates thrown around (which would be VERY confusing if you weren’t already familiar with astronauts and their missions), it would have allowed Koppel to give more depth (and life) to each woman.

Speaking of superficial details and flat characters…Koppel does not do a good job of distinguishing the wives from one another or even making them seem like real people. Instead of focusing on individual achievements and life stories, Koppel provides light chatter on their wardrobes, cleaning rituals, and social routines. Even when she does hit on hard issues like infidelity and divorce, it still feels like gossip from a neighbor and not an accurate, thoroughly researched biography. One reviewer on Goodreads commented that this book sounds as though she (Koppel) cobbled together Life magazine articles, and sadly I must agree.

I realize this is probably one of the harshest reviews I’ve posted on this blog, and I know much of this stems from my deep and very genuine love of the space program. This is not a great book, but the story of these women’s lives is definitely worth telling and reading. Overall, I was sorely disappointed, but recommend reading this book if you are looking for a quick overview of the astronaut wives.  3/5 stars.

Books I recently read:

Frozen in Time by Michell Zuckoff

frozen in time


This Week I am reading:

Beloved

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.

This Week I am listening to:

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 ago. 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 women 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, where the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailer is constantly and unpredictably recalibrated. 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, Orange Is the New Black 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.

***

What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

Previous Older Entries