Tuesday, May 23, 2017

This is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, The Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers

This is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, The Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon by L. Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers


                If this title is at all intriguing to you, then you are probably a sports fan and in that case you should definitely read this book. I am a huge sports fan and have been for ages. I have my teams that I am utterly obsessed with, teams (and players) that I cannot stand and I rave and rage at the TV during games. I thought this book could be rather interesting and boy was it.
                Wertheim and Sommers uses each chapter to take a look at different behaviors of not just sports fan, but athletes, coaches, and executives and examines them under the guise of science. They look at different studies conducted around the world, some of which were simple behavioral studies but others were directed strictly to sports, and used those results to explore the topics at hand. Each chapter is extremely interesting, well researched and thoroughly convincing in the way the information is conveyed.

                Beyond anything else I was entertained by this book. It wasn’t what I expected. With that title I honestly didn’t expect to get such a well thought out, well researched book about how sports definitely impacts our behaviors. This was really well done. If you aren’t into sports then this might not be as much of a pull for you because a lot of these behaviors won’t make sense to you. They won’t ring true. But if you are sports fan, you’ll see a bit of yourself or someone else you know within this pages. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin


                I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first picked up The Fifth Season but this definitely wasn’t it. I’ve never read a science fiction, dystopia like this before. And I loved it. From the very beginning of the novel, you genuinely feel transported. Very little is given away up front and trying to figure out the mystery of this world, while being sucked into the varying narratives of Damaya, Syenite and Essun is quite the experience. This is a world where so much time has passed and so many ends have come, that no one can be sure of what history is true. This is a world where orogenes can harness the power of the Earth as a weapon, where Father Earth is fighting back against the destruction happening on his surface and where people will give their children to the Fulcrum out of fear of what they are.
                I fell in love with this narrative. Within the first 30 pages I was hooked. The grave tone of the novel from the very beginning is one that I couldn’t turn away from. There was such despair and yet so much strength within Essun that I became fully invested. As we are introduced to the different characters and narratives you realize that these characters live in a world that has been in a constant state of change and fear, with unknown entities and a complex social order. Character and world development in this book were the keys to success and with both done so well, the plot weaves itself effortlessly through the alternating narratives.

                Hands down, this was one of the most original, interesting, entertaining science fiction books that I have read in a long time. It has so much going for it: diversity, an amazingly original plot, beautifully sculptured characters and a totally original world where anything is possible. This is first novel by Jemisin I have ever read, and just like that I am sold. This is the first in The Broken Earth series and I will definitely be reading more from here on out. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates


                Intimate. Honest. Heartbreaking. Those are the first three words I think of after finishing this book. Put simply Between the World and Me is Coates speaking directly to his son, Samori about life. About what it means to be a black man in the United States of America. What it means to sit back and continuously see that you have no control over your body. What it means to continuously see bodies that look like yours taken prematurely and to see no one punished for the crime. Coates talks about his upbringing, about his parents, about his struggle and then about Howard, The Mecca. It’s as much about Coates trying to make sense of this world and it is him trying to make his son understand what it means to live in a black body.

                Talking about race with children is incredible difficult. I know from the experience of having to talk about race with my own child. It’s uncomfortable and it makes you confront certain truths that you would rather ignore. That’s what makes this book so amazing. Coates realizes that his son, who is fifteen at the time he writes this book, is old enough to hear the truth, regardless of how painful it may be. I loved this book for its honesty. I loved it because I could feel Coates pouring his pain on the pages and confronting what life has been like for him. But it isn’t just him. It’s everyone that inhabits the black body and he makes it a point to emphasize that. It feels personal because it is incredibly personal. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. I just finished this and I am filled with emotion. These instances hit too close to home because too many of these instances happen to people who look like me, honestly they happen to me. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teegee and Nikola Sellmair

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teegee and Nikola Sellmair



                Jennifer Teegee was browsing through the library in Hamburg when she came across a book titled I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I? The Life Story of Monica Goeth, Daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant from “Schindler’s List.” Monica Goeth is Jennifer’s biological mother. Monica placed Jennifer in an orphanage when she was an infant and she had been adopted at the age of 7. She never had a great relationship with her mother, but she did love the company of her maternal grandmother, Irene. Irene was the woman who loved Amon Goeth, the Commandant. Now all Jennifer has is questions about her family, about her life, about the grandfather she saw portrayed in a movie by Ralph Fiennes. He was the man shooting people in the camp from his window. She writes “He in his black uniform with its death-heads, me the black grandchild. What would he have said to a dark-skinned granddaughter, who speaks Hebrew on top of that? I would have been a disgrace, a bastard who brought dishonor to the family. I am sure my grandfather would have shot me.” Now Jennifer is trying to put the pieces of her family’s history together. This memoir is her journey to discovering the secrets she had never been told.
                What does your family legacy say about you? How does the past actions of family members dictate the rest of your life? Should it even have an effect on your life? These were a few of the questions Jennifer wrestled with throughout this memoir. She felt as if her life was split in two: the time before knowing and the time after. What was amazing is the life she chose to have before knowing about her grandfather. She lived in Israel, learned Hebrew, studied the Holocaust, volunteered and had Jewish friends. But what does any of that mean now, after knowing the horror that your grandfather put people through. These are somewhat unanswerable questions. But through this memoir you can see how she learned to cope and live with her family’s history. The love of the family that adopted her and had been a part of her life for three decades helped. But this was a journey she had to take on largely by herself.

                This memoir brings up so man valid points. It’s hard to describe. If you have someone in your family who has done terrible things, should you be held accountable? Is that a weight others should have to carry? What about others who were ambivalent to the things around them like Irene, Jennifer’s biological grandmother? She was living with Amon outside of the concentration camp. How should Jennifer feel about her, especially when she had such fond memories of her grandmother? It’s so complicated and there are no easy answers but her journey is something I can recommend others read. There is a lot of introspection, a lot of research and a certain amount of acceptance. This really is the story of her life and how this new knowledge changed everything for her. My biggest complaint comes from the way this memoir is presented: Jennifer writes part of it in first person narrative while other, more factual, parts are written by Sellmair. These different narratives were present in each chapter and it was really awkward. The choice of format made me rate this a little lower because reading the memoir like this did get tiresome. Still will recommend this and give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly


Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly



                With World War II came the need for faster, more efficient planes. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), located at
Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, needed computers. The need was so great that women were hired in very high numbers, even black woman were hired for their mathematical skill. Many of these women had advanced degrees and worked as teachers. When the opportunity arose to work for NACA they rose to the occasion. But they would experience many of the hardships in the work place that they did outside of the workplace. Even though they were vital to the work being done they were segregated and known as the West Computers while their white counterparts were the East Computers. They had to sit in a segregated lunch area and use bathrooms labeled as “Colored.” The years would pass and with the end of the war many of the women, who had proven themselves as exceptional workers, stayed and would have lasting careers breaking barriers, by becoming engineers, helping compute the first landing on the moon and cycling the next round of women into the workplace now known as National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.

                Had you heard this story before? I hadn’t and I’m really glad I took the time to read this book and learn more about a part of history that I was woefully ignorant of. These women that worked at NACA were extremely strong minded and very well educated women who broadened the horizon and gained the respect of their white counterparts. As they were making strides in the workplace and as the color barriers were breaking around them, they still had to deal with living in Virginia, a state hell bent on keep segregation and holding on to what they considered to be “traditional American values.” It was amazing and disturbing to see the juxtaposition of the women and the progress being made by America as a country as far as trying to put a man in the moon, when the United States was in such a stagnant state when it came to race relations. This book spans three decades and as much as things changed, it was at a horribly slow pace. Compared to the progress we were trying to make in space, we did horribly making sure change was happening in regards to civil rights back on Earth in the U.S.

                But what an empowering and well done debut by Shetterly! This book handles a lot of science, obviously it’s about mathematics and aeronautics, but she managed to find a really beautiful balance between the work that these women were doing and their individual stories. You were never overwhelmed with mathematical details, instead you were informed of just how much work was being done and how capable these women were. I enjoyed it. It was such an easy read with loads of information but told in a very relatable fashion. I gives this book 4 out of 5 stars.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Human Acts by Han Kang

Human acts by Han Kang



                This is the story of Dong-ho and the student uprising in South Korea. It's a story of death and longing. It's a story of a heartbreaking reality and the scars that lived forever. It's a story of spirits that can't move on and the living that cling to their presence. It's a story of memories and how they have the power to cripple and burden. It's a story of time and how some wounds never heal, psychological or physical. These stories don’t have a single narrative. Their narratives change with the passage of time within a community. This story of Dong-ho, is the story of the many who were affected the day the shots rang out and the uprising ended.
          I'm not sure if it was the changes in narrative, the use of the second person throughout, the vivid imagery, the despairing tone, the prose or the characters but I couldn't put this novel down. I wasn't expecting to be so captivated by this political fiction account of the 1980 student uprising in South Korea but without a doubt I was. The changes in the narrative and the characters used to deliver that narrative gave such an all encompassing view of the history of that uprising and the affect it had on the lives of everyone involved. Dong-ho was present in all these narratives and he was a somber but necessary presence. Some of it had to do with youth but most of it had to do with his conviction and untimely death. But every one of the narratives had such a unique vantage point especially with how Han Kang utilized the passage of time. This story just flowed through the years beautifully and showed how the events continued to affect people for decades. The images she created of South Korea before, during and after the events was so engrossing and well done. The details provided and the lingering somber tone made reading this book a visceral experience.
                I really enjoyed this novel. There were so many moments throughout this book that took my breath away. Han Kang's prose and delivery was perfectly timed to draw as much emotion as possible out of every moment. Stories like these about tragic events keep them alive. They need to be told and Han Kang was the person meant to tell this story. I give this 4.5 our of 5 stars.

Thank you Blogging for Books for this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


                They were the twelfth expedition to make their way to Area X: the psychologist, the surveyor, the anthropologist and the biologist. There was a linguist but she had second thoughts before going through the barrier. When the four crossed through, with the help of some hypnosis by the psychologist, they all had their packs on their backs. It took them four days to reach the camp. Some remains from the previous expedition were left behind. Everything was as it seemed except for the tunnel, or the tower as our narrator the biologist called it. The tower had never been mentioned and it wasn’t on any of their maps and yet there it was descending into the depths, visible only slightly above the ground. In their canvassing of the area they knew they would eventually have to enter the tower but no one would understand the implications of the writing on the wall.
                Well, this is the kind of science fiction that I really love to read. The type that obviously has some supernatural existence but is shrouded in mystery and the moaning you hear in the night isn’t human, or is it. Told in first person by the Biologist the very palpable fear of the four women taking place in this expedition is constantly referenced. This book is a venture into the depths of the unknown and the world building of the mysterious Area X is extremely well done. Vandermeer’s attention to detail and his atmosphere of fear and of something gone terribly awry, almost becomes its own entitity in this novel.

                I don’t want to go into to many details because that would give too much away. This the kind of science fiction novel that is better savored. I didn’t want to put this down. I found the biologist’s observations to be extremely disturbing and I couldn’t turn away. This book is the first in the trilogy and it sets itself up perfectly for the sequel. I am very interested and intrigued by this story. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.