Friday, May 30, 2014

Armchair Bea (Friday) - Memory Lane and Wrap Up (technically Saturday)

Today's Armchair BEA prompt:

Middle Grade/Young Adult 

Our final genre of discussion is one that we know is a popular one these days: books for the younger crowd, from middle grade to young adult. If you do not normally talk about this genre on your site, maybe you want to feature books that you remember impacting you during this stage in your life. If this is where you tend to gravitate, maybe you want to list your favorites, make recommendations based on genres, or feature some titles that you are excited to read coming later this year. 

So basically I'm going to talk about little Wesley's favorite books. They are not in any real order.Ready? Ready.

The Boxcar Children (The Boxcar Children, #1)

This series totally made me want to run away from home and live in the woods. Even in the 90s that wouldn't have ended well.


A book about tub toys, I'm all in. Even though there's one kind of scary point. Look how cute the puppy is!

The Call of the Wild

I read a lot of Jack London. Puppies and danger and a wild setting, yes please!

The Hounds of the Morrigan

I still love this book. It still sits on my bookshelf and I read it once a year.


I loved this whole series. I'm pretty sure I read them all. 


I can't believe she's retired! Bums me out!

There was also a children's book I loved called "Underwear is Fun to Wear" and it was a zebra and some other animal and they wore like 15 pairs of underwear everyday and they loved it because it came in so many colors and was so great. Here's a helpful FYI, when searching that through the things that come up will not be beloved children's books from your past. It will be like, men "elephant" underwear and other things that you are not expecting when looking for a kids book. So no cover for you on that one....

Do we share any childhood books?

I'm going to be off in the country for the rest of this weekend, so you're getting your Saturday wrap up a day early. I had so much fun this week, though I'm totally zoinked. I can't imagine how exhausted out organizers and coordinators are, I'm exhausted just posting and cheerleading! 

Thank you so much to the organizers for all the work they done. Thanks to the other bloggers, it was so fun to read new blogs and take part in all kinds of discussions with you. I loved whoever ran the contests where you had to share your middle name, and the other one where you had to write a haiku, that was hilarious!

 It was my first Armchair BEA and I'm already excited thinking about next year.

Also, if you're interested there's room for you to review our favorite women authored book, or talk about your favorite woman author for my blog for All Lady July!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Armchair BEA (Thursday) - Leave Your Comfort Zone Behind!

Here's today's Armchair BEA prompt:

Beyond the Borders 

It’s time to step outside your comfort zone, outside your borders, or outside of your own country or culture. Tell us about the books that transported you to a different world, taught you about a different culture, and/or helped you step into the shoes of someone different from you. What impacted you the most about this book? What books would you recommend to others who are ready or not ready to step over the line? In essence, let’s start the conversation about diversity and keep it going! 

Diversity in books has become a super hot topic this year. There's been a big push to read books by minority authors, women, and books with LGBT characters and more. 

I'm all about doing my part. So in July, every book that I'm reading/reviewing/posting about will be written by a woman author. I'm call it All Lady July! I'm really looking forward to sharing them all with you! (Would you like to guest post and talk about your favorite female author? Look in my about me section for my email,or twitter me, or send me smoke signal, whatever)

I also really love to read books about different countries, especially if it's an expat situation and you get to read about their efforts to fit into a new place. They pop up on the blog a lot!

Here's a couple that I've read and enjoyed:

"Paris I Love You But I'm Bringing Me Down" by Rosencrans Baldwin. A man gets a job in France (knowing minimal French) and brings his wife to Paris. The struggles of living in a country where just getting the cable hooked up is a struggle like you wouldn't believe makes for great reading!

Paris, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down
Also, obsessed with the cover.

"Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing and Havana" by Stephanie Elizondo Griest. A woman lives in the aforementioned places and compares it to her life in an American democracy. (I thought Moscow and Havana were the most interesting sections).

"Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid" by Jessica Alexander. A woman chronicles her journey throughout the world working for different humanitarian causes. It's so interesting and heartbreaking at points.

"Lenin Lives Next Door:Marriage, Martinis and Mayhem in Moscow" by Jennifer Ermeeva. An American woman lives next door to the building where they store Lenin's mummified corpse when they are working on it or when it's not on display. Also I think the author is doing a signing at IRL BEA on Friday? I read so many books about Russia I'm pretty sure NSA has a file on me.

Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow
Anyone have books like this they've read and would recommend?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Armchair BEA (Wednesday) - “A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” - Edgar Allen Poe

Armchair BEA prompt for today:

Novellas/Short Stories

Now it is time to give a little love to those little stories in your life. Share your love for your favorite shorts of any form. What is a short story or novella that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves? Recommend to readers what shorts you would recommend they start with. How about listing some short story anthologies based upon genres or authors? 

You know who has a lot of short stories? Ray Bradbury. One ("I Sing the Body Electric") has even been made into a Twilight Zone episode. And if you're a Lana Del Ray fan, she also has a song of the same name. So I don't know if she's a Bradbury fan or she just heard the phrase somewhere and then wrote a random song.....
Stories of Ray Bradbury

A more modern author of fantasy (and an Armchair BEA favorite judging from a lot of different blogs) Neil Gaiman also has a short story collection:

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
A fellow book blogger (Andi at Estella's Revenge if memory serves...) had a review for this book on her blog recently and I'm so intrigued by it! Also, such a fun cover!
Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

Anyone else have any that they love?

Here's the other prompt:
Expanding Blogging Horizons 
What do you think about when you think about going beyond blogging or expanding your horizons? Is it a redesign of your blog? Have you branched out into freelance writing or even published a novel of your very own? Or, have you moved into a different venue like podcasts or vlogging? This is the day to tell us about how you have expanded on blogging in your own unique way. 

I was totally encourage by everyone's great author interaction stories yesterday. I'm going to try to expand my horizons by making more of an effort to talk to authors on twitter! I've had contact with Fr James Martin and Ben Winters and they were both great, hopefully I can add more to their number!

You will never see a vlog from this blog either. If you see one, assume that some kind of creature from Supernatural has taken over my body, find me and shoot me full of rock salt.

And on that note...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Armchair BEA (Tuesday) - Beyond Books

Here is the Armchair BEA prompt for today:

More Than Just Words 

There are so many mediums that feature more than just words and enhance a story in a multitude of ways. Examples may include graphic novels and comics, audiobooks, or even multimedia novels. On this day, we will be talking about those books and formats that move beyond just the words and use other ways to experience a story. Which books stand out to you in these different formats? 

I am not a really experimental reader when it comes to format. Frankly I'm not crazy about e-books sometimes. I've never even tried to listen to an audio book! I know I should try it at some point, but I get so distracted. I'm scared that I would put it on during a long road trip by myself and then realize I'd just spaced out and not listened for the last half hour or something. Maybe I just need the right narrator? Like, Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy or Michael Fassbender or Clive Owen......

McAvoy and much adorable.
Wait what?

Sorry I get distracted.....

What I read the most that is outside of the normal book format would be graphic novels.

I'm still slowly making my way through the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and I've read Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman by Alan Moore. However the GN that connect the most with me are the historical ones. 

Just a few days ago I finished Max Brook's (of World War Z fame) "Harlem Hellfighters" about black American soldiers during World War I that have to fight with the French because the Americans won't take them. There's a review coming up on the blog in a few weeks about it, so stay tuned!

My favorite (or the most impact-full) GN I've read is the Maus collection by Art Spiegelman. There is a reason that so many people think it's amazing and that it's won so many illustrious awards. The narrator tells the story of his father's survival during World War II. What makes the story so unusual is that there aren't any people. Instead of humans, the different groups of people are all different animals; cats, mice etc. It sounds strange or even a little disrespectful, but it really gives you an unusual perspective.

The Complete Maus (Maus, #1-2)

I'm on the lookout for more good historical GN, so if you know of any let me know in the comments and I'd be most grateful!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Armchair BEA (Monday) - "Getting to know you, getting to know all about youuuu" (Name the musical!)

By way of making introductions, Armchair BEA presented us with 10 questions, and participants were asked to answer 5 of them. So here are my 5!

1.What book would you love to see as a movie? 

One book that I really wanted to see become a movie is already happening! It's Serena by Ron Rash. AND it's made even more awesome by the fact it's starring JLaw and Bradley Cooper.Be still my heart! I really hope it doesn't suck. I hope so much.

2.Share your favorite book or reading related quote.

“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.” -Ray Bradbury. Everyone try and be shocked that I picked a Bradbury, haha.

3.What is your favorite blogging resource?

Easy-other bloggers! Any kind of how-to question I always figure I know someone who can help me, book people being the friendly lot that they are. Also Pinterest is always a good go-to as well.

4. What was your favorite book you read last year? What's your favorite book so far this year?

So hard to narrow down! I will say:
2013:Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
2014: Your House is on Fire All Your Children Are Gone by Stefan Kiesbye
(Those are both pretty creepy books, generally I'm not that creepy)

5.What does your favorite/ideal reading space look like?

When I read I like to be sitting, generally with my feet up or slung over something. So in a perfect world something like:

Lounge Left Arm Sectional Chaise
Crate and Barrel

Cambridge Upholstered Chair
Restoration Hardware

Man if that Restoration Hardware one came in like a peacock blueish green and wasn't multiple thousand dollars I'd be allllll over that.

Or maybe something more like:

Yep, I like that

Or perhaps:

Armchair BEA this week...

Designed by Amber of Shelf Notes

BEA (Book Expo America) is going on this week in New York City. It's one of the (if not the) biggest event of the year in books. A lot of book bloggers are going to be there. For those of us at home, we have Armchair BEA!  What this means: you get a post from me everyday this week. I know, you're overwhelmed by how lucky you are. But it's good, you get a break from reading book reviews and I get a break from writing them! Excited to share a fun week with you!

Also I saw the new X-Men movie last night and keep dissecting it in my head. I liked it but since I don't have the background of the X-men comic book canon I have so many questions!!!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book review: "Worst Seat in the House: Henry Rathbone's Front Row View of the Lincoln Assassination" by Caleb Jenner Stephens

Clara and Henry Rathbone are names that are all but lost to history, however they were witnesses to one of the most pivotal moments in American history, the Lincoln assassination. This night at the theater will change their lives, for the worse.

 ("More than 15,000 books have been written about President Lincoln, the assassination, Ford's Theater, the aftermath of the assassination, and then Mary Lincoln's decline", can you imagine that? I feel like the only other topics that have written about more is Jesus and WWII.)

Henry and Clara knew each other long before they began courting...they were step-siblings. Clara's dad and Henry's mom both died, and the remaining parents were married.  Henry served in the Union Army during the Civil War, mostly in jobs that fit his status; mostly desk jobs out of the line of fire. Once he was even an aide de camp for General Burnside.Though he was never on the front lines it seemed like the horrors of war really weighed heavily on him. (I think he had an altered mental status at least from this point on, I think he had issues long before the assassination. I'm getting ahead of myself but keep that in mind).

The Rathbone's were not the Lincoln's first choice to accompany them to the theater that night, they actually might have been about the last. Mrs Lincoln and Clara knew each other from being in the same social circles so they were extended the information. President Lincoln really didn't want to go to the theater that night but it had been advertised that he would be there and he didn't want to disappoint people. Henry was seated closest to the door, about 7 feet away. John Wilkes Booth burst in and shot one bullet into the back of the president's head. Henry and JWB tusseled and Henry tried to pull him back from going over the box's rail. Henry was slashed on his arm from his shoulder to his elbow. He lost a lot of blood and never had full use of his arm again.

The Rathbone's took to Europe for very long periods of time, in part to escape the celebrity that came from being associated with a terrible incident and part to hide Henry's crumbling mental status. He was struggling mightily. He constantly turned all conversations to the Lincoln assassination and how it wasn't his fault that the president was shot. He lived in fear that Clara would leave him and take the children away.Mental health care was not then what it is now, and looking back at Henry's symptoms people have diagnosed Henry with PTSD, paranoia and schizophrenia.I think one of the main things that Henry had guilt about was that he (a trained soldier) wasn't able to hold back this man with no training.

One morning, shortly after Christmas in 1883 Henry locked Clara in their bedroom during an angry fit.  When the door was broken down they found a dying Clara and Henry who had stabbed himself 5 times. Henry always maintained that an intruder and broken in and committed the crime.

I never even considered the other people in the box with the Lincolns. I don't even know if I knew that there were other people IN the box with the Lincolns when this happened. It's a sad story, there is hardly a happy ending to be had. The only one is really that the kids seemed to do alright and grow up to be productive adults and happy enough. Happy enough as you can be knowing that your dad shot your mom and didn't care a thing for you...It was a short, informative, interesting read.Anyway, 3 out of 5 stars.

I recieved this book for free in exchange for an honest review from netgalley.

No vampires were hurt in the making of this review.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: "Eiffel's Tower: And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarrel and Thomas Edison Became A Count" by Jill Jonnes

I read 2 books with Paris as a setting/main character back to back and I have to say this one was the clear favorite. You hear people talking about "If I could go back in time I'd go to (blank) so I could (blank)." I don't generally have an answer to where I'd want to go,but now I do! Paris for the World's Fair! (Well...maybe.It'd be in my top ten I guess, haha).

The book talks about several different people who were directly or indirectly involved with the fair. I have a tree worth of post-it notes in this book, there are so many interesting little tidbits of information that I want to share! But I'm not going to share all of them because then why would you read the book? So here's some favorites.

From that, do you know what's coming? Bullet points, yo!

Gustave Eiffel
-He made the Eiffel Tower! (SHOCK!) But he actually usually constructed railroads and bridges. I thought he was an artist or an architect, nope!
-He really didn't want elevators to run straight up and down through the middle of the tower so he had to work with the famous Otis elevator company to design elevators that went up the legs of the tower.
-He also did a lot of work on the Panama Canal, it didn't end well.

(Personal aside, when I went to Paris I saw the Tower and it earns that capital "T". It's not particularly lovely on the surface but all of the things and wonder and beauty that are connected to it is kind of breathtaking. I almost cried when it did the "all the flashing light sparkle at once" thing. I remember looking down from one of the platforms and seeing a soccer field with two teams playing and I thought it was a good reminder that Paris is obviously, a living, breathing, vibrant city where people live next to history everyday.

Annie Oakley and Bill Cody
-The Wild West Show brought Indians and horses and Wild West shenanigans right to the heart of Paris and they LOVED it. It was the hit of the exhibition.
- A baby was born to an Indian couple during the time in Paris
-Wild Bill always reserved a large section of the audience for the poor, or young soldiers or orphans. (Aww!)

The Artists
-Theo Van Gogh and Paul Gaugain died from tertiary syphilis, which sounds like an awful way to go. As Theo got sick he would "become disoriented, would destroy furniture in furious fits, he no longer recognized his wife". He died speechless and paralyzed at 33. Gaugain managed to spread this disease to several unfortunate recipients during his time in Tahiti. What a guy.
-Whistler was an egotistical a-hole.

Interesting tidbit
-The Herald, a Parisian newspaper got in trouble for running salacious personal ads. Here is my favorite."A woman finds paddling her own canoe dreary, seeks manly pilot".

I'm just gonna leave this picture here. Do with it what you will, hahaha

This book was incredible. It was like the most interesting history book you've ever read. It reminded me a lot of Erik Larson's books, he also focuses a whole book on a certain event and you learn so much about something you didn't even know about before.I can't recommend this book enough! It also made me want to go to France, which is bad. I don't have enough vacation time or travel funds for a random trip to France! I give this book 4 our of 5 stars. If you read it let me know so we can chat :)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: "Once Upon A River" by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Margo Crane and her dad live in Murrayville, a rural Michigan town. They are related to the Murrays (of Murraysville fame) and despite having jerk cousins and a mom who ran off when she was younger; Margo (technically Margaret Lousie) had a pretty good life. But then her grandfather, the family patriarch dies, and things slowly start to slide. After a terrible event tears the family apart Margo and her dad feel even more isolated. Before long, things snow ball out of control and Margo finds herself alone at 16 with nothing and no one to help her except for a stolen gun and the boat that her grandfather left her. She has amazing skill with a gun and she always feels the most at home on the river, so she thinks she will manage on her own until she can find and meet up with her mom.

This is not how things go.

This book was bleak, all of it. I just felt sad and cold the whole time reading it. From the description of the book it sounded like it was going to be more like an adventure book and while it kind of was it was not in the carefree kind of silly way that I had anticipated.

I'm not saying that it wasn't a well written book, because it was; I just didn't enjoy it at all. (Debbie Downer book review. Yikes!) But read the book description, if you think you might enjoy it you should read it, don't let my experience stop you. So I guess I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Once Upon a River

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Piiiiigs in Spaaaaaaaaace": NASA in the 80s and Looking forward to Mars

"Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut"- Astronaut Mike Mullane

My friend J. and I have pretty similar political ideals. I imagine we line up on a lot of issues, but there is one thing that we disagree on, and for whatever reason it comes up pretty regularly: space travel. I'm of the opinion that private enterprise/companies running space flights would not be a great idea, whereas J. thinks anyone who wants to do it should be able too. (I see his point, I do, because the exploration and learning new things is the important part, but wouldn't a part of you die inside if instead of it being Mars, it's "Mars! Brought to you by Amazon Prime! Sign up now!") Anyway, after reading this book I think maybe a little less government in space flight might be a good idea.

Mike Mullane knew he wanted to be an astronaut since, basically always. He was obsessed with rockets and space as a child, and went to West Point and got a commission in the Air Force. He wasn't a pilot (not good enough eyesight), he sat in the back of the plane (like Goose in Top Gun as he points out). He also had master's in aeronautical engineering. After serving with the Air Force during Vietnam he puts his name into consideration  to become an astronaut.

The selection process is intense, all kinds of background checks, psychological evaluations,and a 3 day long physical exam (ugh). 34 people are picked from thousands of candidates and Mike is one of them. 6 of these candidates were women, the first in NASA's history. These women have my respect because Mike makes no bones about the fact that it wasn't always a pleasant environment for them. Almost all of the men were Alpha Male macho man types, most of whom had never worked with women in their fields who were professionally their equal, they have some piggish moments but they own up to it. 2 of the astronaut candidates even get married!

Interesting parts of the book:

-On Mike's first flight, one of his fellow astronauts times a bowel movement so it goes over Cuba (hey, it was the 80s and the Cold War was on).
-The Challenger explosion. Mike knew the people on the shuttle and had flown with and become close to Judy, one of the female astronauts. The reaction of the others at NASA and the investigation was sad and interesting.
-You have to be 50 miles about the earth to officially be considered an astronaut by NASA.

*The following is a salacious joke do not read if you don't like salaciousness*
Mike and other candidate astronauts are at a party with a bunch of Navy SEALS. The women at this party are pretty much falling over the top of each other to get a chance with these guys. The joke is that they call these women "great white sharks" because they eat so much SEAL meat. It's not nice, but I laughed and laughed and laughed when I read that. People are so clever.

I loved this book. It was funny, not overly technical and gave a great glimpse into a process that almost no one gets to see. The men aren't the greatest examples of chivalry ever but most of them come around. And it's a little gossipy, and who doesn't like that? I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars!

Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut

Packing for Mars:The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

(If you're paying incredibly close attention, you will notice that Mary also wrote "Stiff". I think I have an official author girl crush on her, and have already put two more of her books on my "to-read" list. I just really like her writing style, and her topics are so interesting. Which means there's probably also an author highlight in her/mine/our future as well. Stay tuned!)

Mary's main concern in the book is what exactly we would need to do now, to make long distance space travel (like to Mars) more feasible. It basically comes down to food ,sanitation and sex. (I mean, lots of things come down to those three things, right?)

Food has come a long way since the beginning of the space problem but it's still basically hideous. In the beginning everything was in a cube shape and could be eaten in one bite, because crumbs are much more annoying when they are floating around your face for weeks and months.There was a lot of trial and error (and cranky astronauts and earth bound test subjects) to improve the quality. (Especially if we're talking long long term travel how long could you survive psychologically eating things in one bite cubes?) More food is in plastic baggies/tubes now though they are still working on incorporating crunchy textures. People need some crunch in their life!

Sanitation is a huge probably for all kinds of obvious reasons.Everything is just harder in space: staying not smelly, bodily functions, showering all become monumental tasks. Astronauts have to train on a special toilet because a space toilet bowl is only 4 inches wide (normal earth toilets are 18). There's a camera involved. It's a little horrifying. I won't go into detail about this because someone could be eating. Japanese astronauts are wearing underwear that's made out of a special fabric so you don't have to change them for 28 days! (Hooray? Eww? Both?)

Sex is a bit of a problem for space travel basically because of Newton's third law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Scientists have studied mating habits of dolphins and sea otters since being in water is about as close as we can get to weightlessness. Long (potentially creepy) story short, if there is going to be sex in space there will need to be duct tape or something of the like involved.

Interesting things:
- There's a really interesting section just about gravity. If you ever find yourself in a falling elevator (like uncontrolled falling, not just descending) your odds of surviving more than 5 stories isn't good. However, you're best bet is to lie on your back because "buttocks are natures safety foam". I thought that was funny.

-There was a chimp named Ham that was sent into space, people began to call him Astrochimp Ham. Which Mary says sounds like a dinner entree. This also made me laugh and laugh and laugh. (Gosh I'm easily amused.)

-G Force is insane. How any astronauts/test pilots whoever has survived any of this is miraculous. Your insides can getting shaken into insides stew. Bleh.

I read Mike's book first, and then this book and this book mentions Mike's book a few times so I feel confident that I picked the 2 most entertaining books published recently on space and spaceflight. Mary gets 3.5 out of 5 stars!

That my friends wraps up Space Week! I hope that you have enjoyed it! Back to regularly scheduled programming next week, and we start with kind of a downer (sad trombone noise). But then it comes back around.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book review: "The Astronaut Wives Club" by Lily Koppel and something "Awesome"!

We prempt this Space Week post with news of an awesome nature. I did an interview with T from Traveling with T, and it goes up today, right here. T is a sweetheart, so head on over and doing some browsing on her blog (especially if you love feel good love stories, she is you're gal!). Then come back here and we will talk space some more. Ready, go!

Hi welcome back. Time for space.

1959 was a turbulent time in the United States, but something happened that year that had the ear of almost all Americans. On April 9 1959 the first American astronauts were announced. These 7 men were going to be the people who took the US to the stars, to explore and to try to overtake the Russians in the space race.

Behind these men were their wives and families. Some were happy families, some were not, but if they wanted their astronaut to go to space they needed to fake it. NASA only wanted brave wonderful men to go to space and then come home to their picture perfect families, that was the idea they wanted to sell to the American people. A lot of these women had sacrificed a lot to support their husbands careers, often living in remote dusty, desert bases while the husbands who worked as test pilots. When they were suddenly swept into NASA's orbit (muck muck muck) everything changed.

So the astronauts are superstars. They had women throwing themselves at them all the time, and it made some of the wives nervous. A lot of them had the right to be, frankly a lot of those guys were running around on their wives with alarming regularity. These astronaut chasing women were referred to as "Cape Cookies". (In the next post there is a more um.....hostile? and hilarious term used for these ladies).

Criticism/Complaint/Concern: This book has not footnotes, bibliography, citing references, anything like that. The book was enjoyable enough but I'd occasionally think "well where did she get that information from?". There is nary a sentence that starts with "In an interview so and so said" or "in this memoir..." Where is she getting all of this information? At first it didn't bother me but towards the end it REALLY started to bug me.

I enjoyed this book, but there were a lot of names to keep track of (what astronaut goes with what wife, etc.) which is kind of inevitable. I liked this book but then as it went on I kind of got distracted by my above stated criticism. I gave it a 3 out of 5.

The Astronaut Wives Club

Monday, May 12, 2014

Kicking off Space week! and Book Review: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

It's Space Week on the blog! This one kind of happened by accident but then I just ran with it. This is the one work of fiction that you'll be getting this week but it's a goodie. Enjoy!

Before we get to the book review can we talk about how great the name Stanislaw is? That's a great name. Anyway, Solaris a very important book in the world of science fiction. A lot of the genre's famous books and movies are built on this work's shoulders, even though it weighs in at a small 237 pages (my version page count).

Our story starts with Dr Kelvin being transferred from the space ship in which he traveled from earth over to a research vessel that is hovering above Solaris. By the time Dr Kelvin arrives to study Solaris people have known of it's existence for over a hundred years, however they know very little about it. It seems to be a "sentient ocean". It's kind of liquidy and it seems to move in waves, and sometimes if a person tries to make contact with it it will move out of the way. It seems to be indifferent to most attempts to study it but it isn't always the case.  Dr Kelvin arrives at the Station all bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to get his science on. He was invited to conduct research there at the invitation of one of his mentors, Dr Gibarian so he's excited for a little reunion with him as well.

As soon as he steps foot onto the Station he thinks something is amiss (and he is right). The Station is a disaster; there are things spilled all over the floor, papers everywhere and just kind of a disaster zone. He finally finds one of the other 3 researchers on board, Dr. Snow. Dr. Snow goes into full blown panic mode when he Kelvin, freaking out asking who he is and what he is doing there. Kelvin is incredulous, his transport ship had talked to Snow that morning and everything had been fine.Snow explains that something is very wrong on the ship, and that he isn't really able to explain it, that Kelvin will just have to see it for himself. (Kelvin is pretty sure that Snow is out-his-darn-mind at this point. Space craziness does happen.)

Snow then explains that this morning he and Dr Sartorius (the other researcher) found Gibarian dead inside of his closet in his room, having committed suicide. This is all too much for Kelvin to take in. He traveled for 6 months from earth to get here, and it turns out "here" is a nuthouse. He leaves to go to his room and Snow ominously reminds him that if he sees a "visitor" to not engage or antagonize them. Kelvin storms off to his room for a shower. Later on Kelvin is walking down a hallway is shocked when he sees a huge, Amazonian, topless, black woman, with "arms the size of thighs" and wearing a kind of grass skirt walk past him without acknowledging him. Um, WHAT? Kelvin finds Snow and has some questions like "what the hell is going on?!"

Snow explains that each of them have been having visitors, the lady in the hall was Gibrain's. Each visitor is someone they have a strong connection to, for various reasons. (On a side note we never find out who the other Drs. visitors are. There are a couple of clues that Sartorius's might be a child in a straw hat. No hints on Snow's). Do these visitors have something to do with Solaris? Is it a mass hallucination? And that night Kelvin comes face to face with his visitor.

One of my favorite parts of this book is a super little sentence. Kelvin and Snow are talking in the library and Kelvin notices that he is standing next to a large cabinet with a door ajar, and that he has one hand awkwardly placed inside like someone is hiding in there and he is holding their hand. Ah, creepy but wonderful! I give this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars, it's seminal, it's short and it's awesome.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Book Review: "Hollow City" by Ransom Riggs

Man, was I excited for this book to come out, and it did not disappoint! If you have not read this series' previous book do not go forward. If you are intrigued about "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" check out my review here. I'm going to just do a mini review here because if you read the first book you are probably waiting on baited breath for this and you will not need convincing to read this book.

I'm trying to make this as spoiler free as possible, but if you want a completely unspoiled experience please refrain.

We left our Peculiar children and Miss Peregrine as a peregrine in a few small boats, rowing away from their island home and into...well they aren't exactly sure what. They hadn't made much of a plan beyond "We need to get away and go somewhere else" so they are rowing towards where they think land will be. It takes hours and it's a harrowing trip but they arrive on dry land, though they've lost all their supplies in a boat turn over. They think they are safe but the wights are not far behind, complete with blood thirsty sounding dogs.

They eventually get to London, but it is not without a fair amount of trouble.

There are gypsies,war torn London close calls with the bombs during the blitz, unexpected Peculiars, really creepy monsters, killer bees and a freaking crazy plot twist at the end that left my mouth agape.


I love that in their search for Miss Wren they go to St Paul's Cathedral. Christopher Wren designed churches all over London, so I liked that little nod. (Wikipedia has a list, with pictures.) Also the little scene between Emma and the 2 sisters in London broke my heart a little bit, but I liked it.

I give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. I hope that Ransom Rigg's is hard at work at the next installment. And by hard at work I mean hardly stopping for food and water and bathroom breaks. I don't want some George R Martin, take-my-sweet-time thing happening here. I'll not allow it!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien

I know embarrassingly little about the Vietnam War. I know broad strokes kind of things, mostly learned from various history classes and from my parents.I picked this book because it was on some "must read" book list and I haven't read a war book that didn't involve Nazis in quite some time. Funny thing,I wasn't paying attention when I was ordering this book from the library, so I accidentally got a large print version of the book. The book is not very long, even with super sized font, so the whole time I felt like I was reading a kid's  book with really adult subject matter. It wasn't all bad, I felt like I was reading super fast for how fast I was able to get through the pages!

This book is hard to categorize. It certainly is a book about war. It's a memoir, our narrator/author is recounting his time spent in Vietnam. It's a also a work of fiction because he freely admits that a lot the stories in this book did not happen in real life. It's a cautionary tale, a warning. It's surreal and complicated and frankly doesn't need to be categorized, because it is so good at just what being what it is, why put something in a box that doesn't need it?

The story that I enjoyed the most was that of Mary Anne. Mary Anne was the girlfriend of a soldier named Mark Fossie. They were high school sweetheart and totally devoted to each other. Mark and some of his buddies were joking about if it would be possible to bring in some girls from a near by country to "keep them company". Their outpost was isolate and lacking any kind of military discipline, so the idea wasn't THAT crazy. (I mean crazy yes, but not completely unfeasible). One day there's a woman in camp, and it's not someone coming to comfort all the men, it's just Fossie's girl, arrived from from Cleveland wearing culottes and an alluring pink sweater.She gets into the routine of military life, and is full of questions. How do certain weapons work? What is important about this camp? Basically normal questions if you get dropped into a foreign country with basically no idea what you're getting into. Then things start to shift in Mary Anne...

There's 2 really unfortunate stories about baby animals which I'm hoping fall under the umbrella of fiction.

You get used to hearing stories about the men and then some of them die in battle suddenly and you're kind of left reeling. You hear stories about the men and then some of them die once they get home, unused to the adjustment of getting back into their post-war world, and you're kind of left reeling.

There's stories of the things that they carried, literally. Some items everyone carried: dogs tags, flak jackets, a helmet, c rations, water, military payment certificates. Some carried gum, extra food, comic books,first aid supplies, and drugs.One man wore his girlfriends panty hose around his neck as a protection. Even after they broke up he wore them, they'd protected him in the past.

This book is hard and scary and compelling. I can't even imagine half of the things they had to go through. I can see why this book is on so many lists of greats. I give it a 3.5 out of 5, though I don't think I will ever read it again!


Monday, May 5, 2014

"You Guys Want to See a Dead Body?" A Book List About Meat Suits

(Supernatural joke...anybody? No? Okay....)

Guys. Guys. This is my 100th post. Hooray! Thanks for sticking with me, I really appreciate it. Here's to more :)

"Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach I feel like this book covers almost every topic that you can imagine: grave robbing, autopsies, guillotines, organ donations, willed bodies, Christs crucifixion , etc etc etc. I'm not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination but everything that was discussed was presented in an informative and entertaining way. I'll highlight a couple of things that I found interesting.

Autopsies were taboos in many places, some places they were illegal. Grave robbery became a gory and illegal way to make some macabre money. However you didn't have to be dead or a grave robber to benefit. In Rochester New York in 1831 a man was paid 37 and a half cents when he sold his sons amputated leg. (So much ick in one sentence).

Donated bodies are often used to save lives. Some tests just have better results when using an actual body and not a manufactured stand in. In the 60s (and a little bit today) real bodies are used as "crash test dummies" to make cars safer. For example, for every cadaver used to develop safer air bags 147 lives were saved. Before the collapsing steering column was invented, many people were impaled through the heart in a car accident. Cadaver testing helped with this development as well. Another interesting use of cadavers was trying to develop safer footwear for soldiers who disarm landmines.

I could go on and on about all the interesting stuff in this book. The fun writing style, wide variety of topics, and yet normal page count make this a great read. I give it a 4 out of 5 rating!

Feel free to go to Toys Ru Us and buy this

"Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales" by Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

Have you heard of The Body Farm? It's the only place of it's kind (at least in the United States). It's associated with the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and basically it's a acre of land where scientists and anthropologists and biologists and several other -gists study what happens to bodies as they decay. It's helped with countless criminal cases (especially in determining time of death of victims).

Bill Blass is the one who started it all. He starts his career as an anthropologists digging up Indian graves in the Dakotas (this was in the 60s where people didn't really view this as a problem). But people knew his expertise in being able to identify a body's sex/age/race just by looking at the bones, and he began to get calls from law enforcement officials looking for help with cases. Before him and a few others there really wasn't such a thing as a forensic anthropologist.

The book was interesting because it's not often that you get to see a whole field of science develop like this. When Bill was starting he probably could have never dreamed about where the field would be now. I give this book 2.5 out of 5 stars!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

24 Hours Dublin by Anna Snyder

Fancy a mini review of a wonderful place for your weekend?

It covers the main tourist things (Book of Kells, Guinness tour) but also much more. There's shopping suggestions galore (especially bookstores). One of the places that was mentioned that cracked me up was "Lashes and Lockes". It's a hair salon that specializes in old-timey hair styles. So if you want to be a flapper for the day or something that's the place to go. Isn't that a funny concept? I love it.

I wish I had this book when I was in Dublin aways back. There's never enough time to see everything but I would have tried to make more time for the mummies, a few more bookstores, many more churches and maybe some seals.

I do love that she mentions Glasnevin cemetery and Kilmainham gaol. Those were 2 of my favorite stops in Ireland.I also like that there is transit information given on some of the attractions; and that there are restaurant recommendations especially if you're all fish-and-chipped out! The only weird thing is that I feel like it kind of cut off a little suddenly, but that could just be the copy I was reading.

Find it here!

Oh look, it's a picture of Michael Collin's grave that I took when I was in Dublin :)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Review: "Trapped" by Carrie Grant and Giveaway!

Hello new readers that may have come here from Read White and Blue. I'm so happy to have you. And lucky you, the first post you come across has another giveaway. Woot woot!

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Nearly 16 year old Emily, her two young twin sisters, and her mom are driving home from Emily's math competition in Denver when the unthinkable happens, the tunnel that they are driving through collapses. They seem to be in a type of pocket, because there are rocks blocking both ends of the tunnel. No one is crushed to death in their cars, thankfully. There was a political convention in Denver so one of the people in the cave in is the current Governor. There is also a boy named Chris who Emily helped from his halfway crushed car.

They find out that it will be almost a week before they get rescued from the tunnel and so suddenly food and water is at a premium. (This made me think of what is in my car that was edible. I have a 6 pack of Dr Pepper and a box of can orange Fantas in my trunk. So I might be hungry but I'll be on a sugar high. WOOHOO!) People begin to nervous about the safety of the tunnel since they heard on the news that the collapse was caused by a mudslide. However more and more things happen that make Emily and Christ suspect that this might not be the case...dum dum dum!

-I always get sad when there's a mousy, quiet librarian portrayal.I know that Emily needed kind of a nerdy friend to bond with, but the timid librarian stereotype is way past it's prime. Maybe it's because I'm loud and obnoxious and work in a library that I feel chagrined by these types of portrayals.
-It was a little insta-love feeling for me between Emily and Chris. Though Emily makes it pretty clear that this is the first time a boy has been actually interested in her and at that age hand holding and forehead kissing might equate to love faster, especially a girl who feels like she's invisible.
-Emily's mom is basically a terrible person. Emily will get to go of to college at some point and get away from her but the poor twins can't be more than 6, so then who is going to look after them because mom obviously could care less!
-I think it's funny that they keep mentioning that Emily always has her hair in a braid and then the book's artwork shows it down. Just made me chuckle.

I loved the premise of the book. I think that it might be more YA then NA, but I'm really not the most educated on those things, just a personal feeling.  I liked that Emily was always trying to do the most responsible thing by her little sisters. I give it a 3 out of 5 stars!

Driving home from a high school math competition, the last thing Emily expected was to get trapped in a caved-in tunnel. Yet when the dust settles, she soon finds there’s even more going on than a math nerd could have calculated. Only a few other cars survived the cave-in, leaving her trapped with a team of plumbers, a cranky old man, a Governor, and a family of five. An older boy named Chris also managed to survive the cave-in...but his bright blue eyes seem to be watching everyone just a little too closely.

As the hours tick by and the water runs out, the survivors struggle to wait for the rescue team. But Emily had seen something just before the tunnel collapsed, something that makes her realize that this cave-in was no accident. She is trapped with the killer of hundreds of innocent people–with nearly a mile of solid rock blocking every exit.

Author: Carrie Grant
Format: eBook
Publication Date: January, 2014
Publisher: Self-Published

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Are you intrigued? Or claustrophobic? Head over to Closed the Cover and enter to win a copy of this book!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Read, White and Blue starts today!

2014 Read White Blue Event

Read, White and Blue is up and running today!  An you are asking, what is Read White and Blue? It's a fundraiser for the Semper Fi Fund! The Semper Fi Fund is a group that offers assistance to armed services members and 9/11 responders. To find out more about them go here!

So what does this mean to you, the blog reader? It means go here , and get several opportunities to enter for a chance to win the Grand Prize! It includes a Kindle with tons of books donated by participating authors, coffee cups, a nice blanket and a Starbucks gift card!
(basically the essentials for a nice night in if you ask me!)

Be sure to join the Facebook event for the chance to win even MORE prizes.

This goes on all month so hurry on over and get in on the ground floor of fun for a good cause!


Also I'm tacking on a May preview. This month you're getting Space Week! A review of a book I didn't like! Dublin! A book about Jesus from my favorite Jesuit! A classic about the Vietnam War! A giveaway!

Done with the exclamations.