Book Review: Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

Book: Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

Published February 2018 by Counterpoint|143 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Memoir

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.

This is one of those books that seem really popular, in the sense that everyone is reading it, so I figured I’d read it and see why people love it so much.

So, I wanted to love it, but it was just okay for me.

A big part of it is both the length and the writing style.  I wasn’t expecting it to be so short.  It’s not even 150 pages, and that’s including the Q & A at the end, plus a forward at the beginning.  It’s not long at all, and I think that’s why I finished it, because I really struggled with her writing style.

It felt like I was reading diary entries or her notebook, and her memoir felt really disjointed and all over the place.  Stream-of-consciousness is what comes to mind, and so Mailhot jumps around in time and place.  It is one of those books you really have to pay attention to, otherwise you’ll miss something.  Not only that, but it felt like I was reading a collection of essays.

It’s not completely Mailhot’s fault, since I went into this book expecting a more traditionally written memoir.  I also felt like I was reading the same thing over and over- it felt like each chapter involved Mailhot pining after someone, while lamenting over having one child, while her other child was taken away from her.  There didn’t seem to be any resolution or movement, and I think, what it comes down to, is that I was expecting something very different than what this memoir contained.  I also thought the usage of the word you throughout the book made me feel like I was watching things from a distance, and I had a hard time connecting with her.  I had a hard time keeping up with her thought process, since it does meander around quite a bit.

It’s a shame, since there were a few sentences that were absolutely beautiful and poetic.  I wanted to like it, I really did.  And I tried so hard to like it, but I just didn’t have it in me.  I can see why so many people love it, and I really do think that the reasons why people love it are the reasons I didn’t, but not every book is going to be for every person.  This clearly wasn’t the book for me, but I am glad that it is a book that works for so many other people.

2 stars.  Heart Berries was just okay, and I was definitely expecting a more traditional memoir.  Even though it wasn’t for me, I can see why so many people think it’s a great read.

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Book Review: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara, Narrated By Gabra Zackman

Book: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara, Narrated by Gabra Zackman

Published February 2018 by HarperAudio|Length: 9 hours 45 minutes

Where I Got It: I own the audio book

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/True Crime

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark —the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

After hearing about this book on My Favorite Murder, I knew I had to read it!  I ended up going with the audio book, since I really like the narrator, Gabra Zackman.

It’s part true crime story about the Golden State Killer, and part memoir.  I really liked hearing more about the how she investigated the case, and her interest in true crime, especially knowing that there’s a suspect in custody, and knowing that she passed away while writing the book.

It really struck me how determined she was to find out who he was and how much time she put into figuring out who did it.  It really saddens me that she didn’t live long enough to see it happen.  She doesn’t shy away from how much the case took over her life, and it’s a big part of the book.

McNamara really shows how terrifying his crimes were, and you feel the frustration of the detectives who keep hitting dead ends.  You feel how much the victims lives were changed, and yet, she never exploits their stories.  She really brought this case to life, and she really had a unique way of telling this story.

It’s a shame she never got to finish the book, and I did appreciate that it’s noted what she had already finished, and what had been put together by her fellow researchers.  I’m glad that this book was able to be published.  Because of that, it does feel a little disjointed, particularly in the audio book.  At least, at seemed really noticeable in the audio book, that it jumped around a bit, and while it does make me wish she had been able to finish writing, it is unavoidable considering the circumstances.

There’s an amazing attention to detail, and yet, it doesn’t feel like too much.  She has a lot of empathy for the victims, their families, and all of the people who worked on catching this guy.  While listening, I wanted them to find a break in the case, while knowing that when this book was being written, it was quite a ways off.  Even though I’ll Be Gone In The Dark felt very personal, it also felt objective.  She fact-checked and interviewed and researched, and it never felt biased, even though you knew she wanted the guy who did it to be caught.

This book is definitely worth checking out.  The audio does have sections narrated by Gillian Flynn and Patton Oswald (to whom McNamara was married to before her death), though most of the book is narrated by Zackman.  Zackman is one of my favorite narrators for a reason, and she really brought this book to life.

As for the Golden State Killer (since I feel like I’ve talked more about McNamara than the case she devoted years to researching), this is not a book to read or listen when you’re home alone…especially at night.  It’s terrifying how much planning he did, and I can certainly see why people were terrified.  His crimes stopped before I was born, but it’s terrifying to think that about how scared everyone must have been, knowing this guy was out there, but not caught.

5 stars.  McNamara did such an amazing job at bringing this story to life.  Zackman did a great job narrating as well, and if you like true crime, you really like this book.  To be honest, I think everyone should read it, regardless of your interest in true crime.

Book Review: Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady Of DNA by Brenda Maddox

Book: Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady Of DNA by Brenda Maddox

Published October 2002 by Harper|400 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Biography/Science

In March 1953, Maurice Wilkins of King’s College, London, announced the departure of his obstructive colleague Rosalind Franklin to rival Cavendish Laboratory scientist Francis Crick. But it was too late. Franklin’s unpublished data and crucial photograph of DNA had already been seen by her competitors at the Cambridge University lab. With the aid of these, plus their own knowledge, Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the molecule that genes are composed of — DNA, the secret of life. Five years later, at the age of thirty-seven, after more brilliant research under J. D. Bernal at Birkbeck College, Rosalind died of ovarian cancer. In 1962, Wilkins, Crick and Watson were awarded the Nobel Prize for their elucidation of DNA’s structure. Franklin’s part was forgotten until she was caricatured in Watson’s book The Double Helix.

In this full and balanced biography, Brenda Maddox has been given unique access to Franklin’s personal correspondence and has interviewed all the principal scientists involved, including Crick, Watson and Wilkins.

This is a powerful story, told by one of the finest biographers, of a remarkably single-minded, forthright and tempestuous young woman who, at the age of fifteen, decided she was going to be a scientist, but who was airbrushed out of the greatest scientific discovery of the twentieth century.

This was a pretty interesting read.  It’s been a really long time since I took biology, so I don’t remember much of anything.  But I’m glad I picked up this biography because I really had no idea that she had a role in figuring out the whole DNA thing.  I mean, I (very vaguely) remember Crick and Watson, and Wilkins seems sort of familiar, but Franklin doesn’t ring a bell at all.  I don’t know if it’s because she never came up (it was high school biology, after all), or if it’s because she did, and I just don’t remember anything.

It was clear she loved science, and that it was what she wanted to do.  She was determined and hard-working and pretty successful, and it’s sad that she didn’t get more recognition.  It’s not surprising, because she was working in the U.K. after World War 2, in a male-dominated field.  I thought that Maddox did a great job at showing why she didn’t get the recognition she deserved.

It’s a pretty balanced book- we learn about who she was as a person, but we also learn a lot about the scientific developments of the time.  Things really seemed to start changing at that time, and it was interesting to see how her work played such a huge role in figuring out the mysteries of DNA.  She was so close to figuring it out herself, and it was sad that her work was passed along without her knowledge.  That other people got the credit for figuring it out when they couldn’t have done it without her…I really felt for her.  It’s too bad she didn’t get more recognition for all of the work and research she did.

I didn’t love it, and there were times where I had to put it down because I did struggle just the smallest bit with reading it.  I’m not sure why, because I thought it was a pretty interesting read.  I did like that it wasn’t too technical, and it felt like the material was pretty easy to understand.  I do wonder what would have happened had she not died so young- she died from cancer the age of 37, and she did a lot in her life.  Would else would she have discovered and done had she not died?

3 stars.  I didn’t love it- I’m not sure why, but generally speaking I’m not a huge biography person, so that might be it.  While I really liked her story, and while I wish she got the recognition she deserved, I wasn’t as into it as I thought it would be.  I think’s a story everyone should know, because she contributed a lot to one of the biggest scientific discoveries we’ve seen.

Book Review: Banana: The Fate Of The Fruit That Changed The World by Dan Koeppel

Book: The Fate Of The Fruit That Changed The World by Dan Koeppel

Published December 2008 by Plume|304 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Food History

In the vein of the bestselling Salt and Cod, a gripping chronicle of the myth, mystery, and uncertain fate of the world’s most popular fruit

In this fascinating and surprising exploration of the banana’s history, cultural significance, and endangered future, award-winning journalist Dan Koeppel gives readers plenty of food for thought. Fast-paced and highly entertaining, Banana takes us from jungle to supermarket, from corporate boardrooms to kitchen tables around the world. We begin in the Garden of Eden—examining scholars’ belief that Eve’s “apple” was actually a banana— and travel to early-twentieth-century Central America, where aptly named “banana republics” rose and fell over the crop, while the companies now known as Chiquita and Dole conquered the marketplace. Koeppel then chronicles the banana’s path to the present, ultimately—and most alarmingly—taking us to banana plantations across the globe that are being destroyed by a fast-moving blight, with no cure in sight—and to the high-tech labs where new bananas are literally being built in test tubes, in a race to save the world’s most beloved fruit.

I thought this was an interesting read.  I didn’t love it, of course, and by the end, I started to lose interest, but there is a lot that I learned about one of my favorite foods.

Like, there’s over 1,000 types of bananas worldwide.  To me, all bananas are the same.  It’s not like, say…apples, where you know there’s a lot of different varieties.  But bananas are pretty consistent, apparently, because they all ripen at around the same the time, no matter what.

What I also didn’t know was that the bananas we eat are basically grown by cloning, and need a lot of human help.  And because bananas are the same, they’re equally susceptible to diseases and stuff.

I could go on and on about the different things I learned about bananas.  It’s something I never really thought about before, and there’s a lot I never realized.  The history and politics behind bananas and how they’re grown and shipped was something I never thought about.  We all know about Dole and Chiquita, but I never realized that they were two different brands of the same type of banana.  It’s something I never really paid attention to before.

Still, it was interesting to read what they did in order to outdo and compete with each other.  Particularly Chiquita (which used to be United Fruit).  What they did in Central America was absolutely horrible.  I won’t go into it, but it sounds like some pretty horrible conditions were there all because of, well, money.

One of the main things we see in the book is the book to save bananas from disease.  There’s a lot of different research going on to save the fruit we all know and love.  It sounds like it’s pretty hard, though, because bananas don’t have seeds, so banana scientists are trying to figure out what to do.

While the book was pretty informative, I did start to lose interest.  The book wasn’t told in a completely linear fashion, and it jumped around a lot.  One minute, you’re reading about banana plantations in the 1950’s, and the next minute, you’re reading about some researcher in the 1930’s.  It was hard to keep up with what was going on because the focus kept jumping around, both in time and with people.  I ended up skimming  some parts about halfway through the book.

I will say that if food history is your thing, this might be worth checking out.  Or if you just want to know more about bananas.

3 stars.  While I learned a lot, it also jumped around a lot, and that made it hard to keep all of the information straight.

Book Review: Just Like Us: The True Story Of Four Mexican Girls Coming Of Age In America by Helen Thorpe

Book: Just Like Us: The True Story Of Four Mexican Girls Coming Of Age In America by Helen Thorpe

Published September 2009 by Scribner|400 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction

Written by a gifted journalist, a powerful account of four young Mexican women coming of age in Denver—two of whom have legal documentation, two of whom who don’t— and the challenges they face as they attempt to pursue the American dream.

Just  Like  Us takes readers on a compelling journey with four  young  Mexican-American  women  who  have  lived in  the  U.S.  since  childhood.  Exploring  not  only  the women’s personal life stories, this book also delves deep into an American subculture and the complex and controversial politics that surround the issue of immigration.

The story opens on the eve of the girls’ senior prom in Denver, Colorado. All four of the girls have grown up in the United States, all four want to make it into college and succeed, but only two have immigration papers. Meanwhile, after a Mexican immigrant shoots and kills a local police officer, Colorado becomes the place where national argu- ments over immigration rage most fiercely. As the girls’ lives play out against this backdrop of intense debate over whether they have any right to live here, readers will gain remarkable insight into both the power players and the most vulnerable members of society as they grapple with understanding one of the most complicated social issues of our times.

Moving, timely, and passionately told, Just Like Us is a riveting story about girlhood, friendship, identity, and survival.

I really liked Just Like Us.  We see 4 girls who are very much affected by immigration policies- 2 are legal citizens, and 2 are undocumented.  It highlights how hard it is to become a citizen, and how hard it is to come here legally. It doesn’t go into a lot of depth the entire process, but you get a glimpse of what it’s like to be undocumented, and how difficult it is to become a citizen.

All 4 girls were in limbo, and they all have one foot in each world.  I felt for them, because they never asked to come. They worked so hard in school, because they wanted better opportunities and didn’t want to end up being stuck, like their parents, even though it was a possibility.

There is a lot how to become a legal citizen that I don’t know, and it’s because I never had to think about it.  I doubt I’d be willing to do some of the jobs they (and their parents) took just to get by.

I also felt like the author was very sympathetic towards the girls.  It’s hard not to be, and she spent a lot of time with them, so it makes sense.  She does try to show all of the different sides of immigration, but it did feel uneven to a certain extent.  Almost everything relating to those opposing illegal immigration felt very technical and not emotional.  It did get bogged down in the legislative stuff.  It was a huge force for all four girls, and I understand why it comes up, but part of me wishes the book had completely focused on the girls.

They had a lot of opportunities, and there is no doubt these girls are hardworking and intelligent and deserve every bit of success they get.  But I wonder if maybe some of the opportunities the girls had are because of Thorpe’s involvement in their lives.

It was hard to get into at first, because it wasn’t linear at first, but once everything is set up, it settles is, and has a definite timeline.  Not only that, but once they get to college, we only see 3 of the girls, since one of them went off to college in California, and we don’t hear much about her once they all finish high school.  I get they were all best friends, and that she went her own way after high school, but I almost wish we didn’t learn more about her, because we got almost no updates after high school.

It did give a face to what it’s like to be an illegal immigrant, and that it’s so much more complicated than I thought it would be.  Their families were so willing to do whatever they could to survive, and the girls in particular wanted to change the world.  Their story made it personal.

3 stars.  I liked it, but I wish we saw all 4 girls through college, instead of 3 of them.  I do wonder how they’re doing, and how much their lives have changed since the book came out.

Books I Couldn’t Finish: Masters Of The Air by Donald Miller

masters-of-the-air-coverBook: Masters Of The Air by Donald Miller

Published October 2006 by Simon & Schuster|671 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/History/World War 2/Military History

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Masters of the Air is the deeply personal story of the American bomber boys in World War II who brought the war to Hitler’s doorstep. With the narrative power of fiction, Donald Miller takes readers on a harrowing ride through the fire-filled skies over Berlin, Hanover, and Dresden and describes the terrible cost of bombing for the German people.

Fighting at 25,000 feet in thin, freezing air that no warriors had ever encountered before, bomber crews battled new kinds of assaults on body and mind. Air combat was deadly but intermittent: periods of inactivity and anxiety were followed by short bursts of fire and fear. Unlike infantrymen, bomber boys slept on clean sheets, drank beer in local pubs, and danced to the swing music of Glenn Miller’s Air Force band, which toured U.S. air bases in England. But they had a much greater chance of dying than ground soldiers. In 1943, an American bomber crewman stood only a one-in-five chance of surviving his tour of duty, twenty-five missions. The Eighth Air Force lost more men in the war than the U.S. Marine Corps.

The bomber crews were an elite group of warriors who were a microcosm of America — white America, anyway. (African-Americans could not serve in the Eighth Air Force except in a support capacity.) The actor Jimmy Stewart was a bomber boy, and so was the “King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable. And the air war was filmed by Oscar-winning director William Wyler and covered by reporters like Andy Rooney and Walter Cronkite, all of whom flew combat missions with the men. The Anglo-American bombing campaign against Nazi Germany was the longest military campaign of World War II, a war within a war. Until Allied soldiers crossed into Germany in the final months of the war, it was the only battle fought inside the German homeland.

Strategic bombing did not win the war, but the war could not have been won without it. American airpower destroyed the rail facilities and oil refineries that supplied the German war machine. The bombing campaign was a shared enterprise: the British flew under the cover of night while American bombers attacked by day, a technique that British commanders thought was suicidal.

Masters of the Air is a story, as well, of life in wartime England and in the German prison camps, where tens of thousands of airmen spent part of the war. It ends with a vivid description of the grisly hunger marches captured airmen were forced to make near the end of the war through the country their bombs destroyed.

Drawn from recent interviews, oral histories, and American, British, German, and other archives, Masters of the Air is an authoritative, deeply moving account of the world’s first and only bomber war.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I really love history, and thought Masters Of The Air looked really interesting.  It’s a book I’ve been reading off and on for a while, but I had a hard time getting through it.

I only got about 100 pages in before deciding that this book isn’t for me.  It’s not that it’s uninteresting, because I did think it was a pretty informative book.  Before I picked this book up, I never thought about the Air Force not being its own entity.  For me, it’s always been separate branch of the U.S. military.  But it seems like there were different incarnations under the Army- at least from what I could tell.  There’s this guy, William Mitchell, and he fought hard for an independent Air Force.

Another interesting thing was that a lot of the pilots experienced some form of oxygen deprivation- very few died from it, but something 50 to 60% experienced it.  A lot of it was because of poor planning- there was such a focus on getting the planes (and men) into the air that they didn’t think about little things.  There was a bigger focus on bombing strategy and not a lot on preparing the crews to survive in the conditions necessary to actually executing that strategy.

So why didn’t I finish it?  I had a really hard time getting through it.  It’s very detailed, and just from the 100 pages or so I read, it was clear to me that Miller put a lot of research and time into this book.  Even randomly picking up the book and reading a chapter didn’t help- I felt like I was struggling to get through it.  Since it also focuses more on military history, it’s more technical than what I’m used to reading, and that was a contributing factor in my inability to get through it.   It’s not for lack of trying, and as much as I wanted to get through it, I knew it was time to put it down and walk away.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

DNF.  I don’t feel like it’s fair to give a star rating for something I didn’t get very far into before deciding to not finish it.

Book Review: The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

the-indifferent-stars-above-coverBook: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga Of A Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

Published April 2009 by William Morrow|352 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/History/U.S. History

Blog Graphic-What It's About

From the #1 bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat comes an unforgettable epic of family, tragedy, and survival on the American frontier.

“An ideal pairing of talent and material.… Engrossing.… A deft and ambitious storyteller.” – Mary Roach, New York Times Book Review

In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of pioneers led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes, and, over the next thirty-two days, endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors.

In this gripping narrative, New York Times bestselling author Daniel James Brown sheds new light on one of the most legendary events in American history. Following every painful footstep of Sarah’s journey with the Donner Party, Brown produces a tale both spellbinding and richly informative.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

This book was an interesting read. I think a lot of people know the story, and I have to admit that that’s why I picked up the book.

It did focus on one particular woman, Sarah Graves, and her journey with the Donner Party. It did seem like it was hard to find information about her specifically, and that the author had to piece things together from what other people in the party wrote. It was also more about the events going on around her than her specifically. It was also about the time period and what life was like back then, particularly in terms of birth control and trying not to get pregnant on such a journey.

It didn’t take away from her story, and the horrors that she must have experienced. He really painted a picture of what things were like for her traveling out to California and the hope that she must have had when she started out on that journey. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to lose family and friends, and to be the one in charge of her siblings once they managed to get off of the mountain.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars. I did the book was going to be different- I thought it was going to more focused on Sarah, and I was a little disappointed that it was more about the entire group and why they acted the way they did on that fateful journey. Still, it’s a pretty interesting read, and it seemed like it was a pretty realistic look at what happened, instead going for something more sensational, and that I really appreciated.

Book Review: Panic In Level Four by Richard Preston

panic-in-level-4-coverBook: Panic In Level Four by Richard Preston

Published May 2008 by Random House|188 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Science

What It’s About:

Bizarre illnesses and plagues that kill people in the most unspeakable ways. Obsessive and inspired efforts by scientists to solve mysteries and save lives. From The Hot Zone to The Demon in the Freezer and beyond, Richard Preston’s bestselling works have mesmerized readers everywhere by showing them strange worlds of nature they never dreamed of.

Panic in Level 4 is a grand tour through the eerie and unforgettable universe of Richard Preston, filled with incredible characters and mysteries that refuse to leave one’s mind. Here are dramatic true stories from this acclaimed and award-winning author, including:

• The phenomenon of “self-cannibals,” who suffer from a rare genetic condition caused by one wrong letter in their DNA that forces them to compulsively chew their own flesh–and why everyone may have a touch of this disease.
• The search for the unknown host of Ebola virus, an organism hidden somewhere in African rain forests, where the disease finds its way into the human species, causing outbreaks of unparalleled horror.
• The brilliant Russian brothers–“one mathematician divided between two bodies”–who built a supercomputer in their apartment from mail-order parts in an attempt to find hidden order in the number pi (π).

In fascinating, intimate, and exhilarating detail, Richard Preston portrays the frightening forces and constructive discoveries that are currently roiling and reordering our world, once again proving himself a master of the nonfiction narrative and, as noted in The Washington Post, “a science writer with an uncommon gift for turning complex biology into riveting page-turners.”

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

Panic On Level 4 seemed like it would be interesting and different and informative, but I ended up not liking it as much as I thought.  I thought it would be a lot more compelling than it actually was.  And this might be an unfair comparison, but it makes me wonder how different the book would be if it were written by Mary Roach.

Each chapter is about something different, so I thought I’d talk about what I thought about each chapter.

  • The Mountains Of Pi: This chapter is about 2 brothers, both mathematicians.  I thought this chapter was boring and uninteresting, and not the best chapter to start the book with, especially given the introduction talks about ebola.   Back to this chapter, though, because ebola does come up later.  I found I didn’t really care about finding however many billions of digits of pi, and why it was so important to them.
  • A Death In The Forest: I don’t remember anything about this chapter, and I’m glad I haven’t returned the book to the library, because I had to flip through this chapter to remember what it was about- this one type of insect that destroys hemlock trees.  I was too bored to actually re-read the chapter.
  • The Search For Ebola: I think this chapter should have started off the book, and it was one of two chapters I was actually interested in.  It seems like there’s a lot we don’t know about it, and I know there was this one video I watched in a couple classes in high school about it.  I would definitely read this chapter if you pick up this book.
  • The Human Kabbalah: This chapter is about the Human Genome Project.  I’ve heard of it, but I don’t really know anything about it.  I’m not surprised by the politics involved in a few different groups working on genomes, and this was the other chapter I was really interested in.  It makes me want to learn more about it.
  • The Lost Unicorn: This about several unicorn tapestries, and this chapter was really out of place.  It didn’t fit with the other chapters (all of which were about math and science and health).  It was definitely one of my least favorite chapters in the book.
  • The Self-Cannibals: This was sort of interesting.  Not as interesting as the chapter about Ebola or the Human Genome Project, but it was better than the bugs in the forest, the Unicorn Tapestries or the pi mathematicians.  I didn’t even know that there were people who, in essence, were self-cannibals, but at the same time, it also shows how weird genes and DNA can be.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

2 stars.  Overall, it was okay.  It’s definitely not my thing, but a couple of things were interesting.  Definitely read the chapter about ebola and the Human Genome Project (and maybe the one about self-cannibals) but skip the rest of them.  I thought it would be a different book than the one I read.

Book Review Round-Up: Always Running, The Vegetarian, and Sister Of My Heart

I’ve read quite a few books recently, and thought I’d do some shorter reviews on a few of them!

always-running-coverBook #1: Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez

Published October 2005 (originally published 1993) by Touchstone|288 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction, Memoir

What It’s About: The award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles, now featuring a new introduction by the author.

Winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, hailed as a New York Times notable book, and read by hundreds of thousands, Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.

By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.

Achieving success as an award-winning poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more—until his young son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants.

At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation.

What I Thought: I really liked Always Running!  It’s very honest, and I’m actually really glad I read it.  It’s a very raw account of his life in east L.A. and his life on the streets, and how he broke free from that life.

It was hard to read, and I was especially saddened by how people were placed in certain classes based on their race, and yet, it wasn’t that surprising, especially given the time.  It’s as much his life story as it is the history of the factors that led to the rise in gangs.  His parents came to the U.S. from Mexico in search of a better life, and it seems like they tried to give him (and his siblings) a good life.

I liked the snapshots we got of his life, but at the same time, it was a little hard to follow because as far as timeline went, he did jump around a little bit.  I also had a bit of a hard time keeping track of who was who, but overall, it’s still worth reading.  You do a clear picture of why he joined a club- for protection, because it was the only way to stay safe.

My Rating: 4 stars.  It’s very vivid, and it’s still very relevant to current events.

the-vegetarian-coverBook #2: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Translated by Deborah Smith

Published February 2016 (originally published 2007) by Hogarth|192 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

What It’s About: Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

What I Thought: I’m not sure what to think about The Vegetarian.  It’s a very weird book, but in a good way.  It is interesting that she gave up meat because of a dream, and that dreams played a big role in becoming more plant-like. In a way, it seemed like becoming vegetarian was Yeong-hye’s way of gaining some sort of control over her life.  It also goes in a direction that I did not see coming, and it’s interesting that you see it through the eyes of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister.  Part of me wishes that we saw Yeong-hye narrate even a small portion of the book, but at the same time, I liked seeing her through the eyes of the people around her.

One thing I wondered was how people in South Korea view vegetarians, and if it’s something that’s very specific to her family.  I honestly assumed her family would be okay with it, and I’m not sure where that assumption came from. But something about how they reacted rang true.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I did like the first two parts, which focused on her marriage and being a muse for her brother-in-law, but I wasn’t as interested in the last part, which focused on her sister.  It’s still worth reading.

sister-of-my-heart-coverBook #3: Sister Of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Published January 1999 by Doubleday|336 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Anju & Sudha #1

Genre: Adult Fiction

Where I Got It: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni made an indelible impression on the literary world with her first novel, The Mistress of Spices, a magical tale of love and herbs. Sister of My Heart is less reliant on enchantment but no less enchanting as it tells the tale of two cousins born on the same day, their premature births brought on by a mysterious occurrence that claims the lives of both their fathers. Sudha is beautiful, Anju is not; yet the girls love each other as sisters, the bond between them so strong it seems nothing can break it. When both are pushed into arranged marriages, however, each discovers a devastating secret that changes their relationship forever.

Sister of My Heart spans many years and zigzags between India and America as the cousins first grow apart and then eventually reunite. Divakaruni invests this domestic drama with poetry as she traces her heroines’ lives from infancy to motherhood, but it is Sudha and Anju who give the story its backbone. Anju might speak for both when she says, “In spite of all my insecurities, in spite of the oceans that’ll be between us soon and the men that are between us already, I can never stop loving Sudha. It’s my habit, and it’s my fate.” Book lovers may well discover that reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is habit-forming as well. –Margaret Prior

What I Thought: I liked Sister Of My Heart.  I really liked the bond that Sudha and Anju had, and that they are more sisters than cousins.  There were times where their bond was so strong I honestly forgot they were cousins, and not sisters.

They definitely learned things that will completely change their relationship, and it’s hard to tell which secret will change their relationship more.  I have the feeling that both secrets will come out at some point.  I didn’t realize that this was the first book in a series, and at the end of the book, I was slightly disappointed that there was not more resolution.  Once I realized that it was part of a series, the ending made more sense.  It makes me wonder what will happen next for Sudha and Anju.

I will say that I found the arranged marriages to be interesting, but also hard to imagine.  Even though it’s something I know exists, it’s hard to wrap my head around it, and this book was a really good glimpse into what is one of many reasons why there are arranged marriages.  It’s also a really good look at families and the family dynamic in a different part of the world, and how different things are for people in other parts of the world.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, and I may continue the series, but not anytime soon.  I did love the relationship between Sudha and Anju and how much it changed.

Book Review: Missoula: Rape And Injustice In A College Town by Jon Krakauer

Missoula CoverBook: Missoula: Rape And Injustice In A College Town by Jon Krakauer

Published April 2015 by Doubleday|349 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Missoula, Montana is a typical college town, home to a highly regarded state university whose beloved football team inspires a passionately loyal fan base. Between January 2008 and May 2012, hundreds of students reported sexual assaults to the local police. Few of the cases were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.

In these pages, acclaimed journalist Jon Krakauer investigates a spate of campus rapes that occurred in Missoula over a four-year period. Taking the town as a case study for a crime that is sadly prevalent throughout the nation, Krakauer documents the experiences of five victims: their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the skepticism directed at them by police, prosecutors, and the public; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them. These stories cut through abstract ideological debate about acquaintance rape to demonstrate that it does not happen because women are sending mixed signals or seeking attention. They are victims of a terrible crime, deserving of fairness from our justice system. Rigorously researched, rendered in incisive prose, Missoula stands as an essential call to action.  

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

Missoula was a book I heard about last year, and finally picked up this year.  It’s also a book that I’ve put off reviewing, because how do you talk about a book like Missoula?

I got so angry when reading it, and for me, the first 100 pages or so, were really hard to read.  How people listen to it on audio, I don’t know, because I had a hard enough time reading it, much less listening to it.  Still, the graphic descriptions of rape are almost clinical, but it is something to keep in mind if you pick up this book.

I thought the first half of the book was a lot stronger than the second half, just because the second half of the book is a lot of court transcripts, and those, I ended up skimming over.  And I can’t say that I was surprised by how the victims were treated, and that the district attorney’s office decided not to go forward with prosecuting many cases, even when they had reason to, because I wasn’t.  And Kirten Pabst, one of the District Attorneys…her actions were completely horrible, and I was completely horrified by her actions, and that she would go on to be elected District Attorney.

Missoula is an important book, though, and one everyone should read.  There are a lot of small details in the book, and I felt like Krakauer put a lot of work and research into the book.  If you know anything at all about how rape is handled in the U.S., this book might not reveal anything new, but the stories surrounding the women in this book were very moving, and if it opens someone’s eyes and sparks even a few conversations, then I think it’s worth it.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

4 stars.  It was moving and hard to read, but the court transcripts were a little dry and ended up being something I skimmed.  Still, I think it’s a book everyone needs to read, because it deals with a crime that is under reported, and where victims are blamed for what they went through.