Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War was my introduction to Mary Roach and her “Curious Science” books. I’d heard of Stiff, mainly because I worked in a used bookstore in Austin, TX. It took me a few chapters to get into this book, but I’m glad I did.

I listened to Grunt on CD in my car. Usually, CD audiobooks are read too slowly for me, but it was especially helpful with this book because it was a subject that I had no prior knowledge of.

My favorite section of this book was about how much science and research goes into clothing and fabric design. Roach follows scientists as they put fabric through intense tests to make sure that it will withstand the conditions it will be subjected to in the field. She also notes that the clothing must be stylish as well as comfortable, so that the soldiers will wear their gear willingly.

Overall, this book was cohesive and well researched. I liked that it didn’t feel didactic, especially about such a controversial topic. I’ve never had an interest in war as a topic, but this examination of the science that makes it possible was an excellent introduction to both the subject and Mary Roach’s books. I especially enjoyed listenint to this book and I’ll probably look for Stiff next.

4/5

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Another Brooklyn

Jacqueline Woodson’s adult novel, Another Brooklyn, follows the childhood of August in 1970s Brooklyn. This is a deep and moving story about four teenage girls who saw the world in each other, but couldn’t protect each other from the reality of it.

This book left me feeling melancholy. I was deeply saddened by the events of the novel and how realistic they were. The friendship between August and her three best friends is movie and one of the most realistic ones I’ve read in ages. Also, I love the early relationship between August and her brother.

The lyrical prose of this novel was almost overwhelming at times. I would stop to reread sentences over and over again. I had to take a break several times even though the novel was extremely short. The reality of the story and the prose was heart-wrenching, in the best way possible.

Overall, I loved the perspective of what it would have been like to be a brown girl growing up in 1970s Brooklyn. August deals with loss, abuse, and trauma. But she copes the best way she knows how and the overall tone is one of hope more than anything else. Hope for the brown girls of both the past and the future.

4/5

Crosstalk

I’ve heard good things about Connie Willis’s writing and science fiction for a few years. Maybe I set the bar too high when I picked up Crosstalk, but I didn’t enjoy this novel. To me, it felt under-edited. The story meandered and certain elements were closer to tangents than something relevant to the plot.

Crosstalk is set in the future, when people are uber-connected to their phones and smart devices. Every single thought is conveyed immediately and no one has a private moment. Briddey, our protagonist, works for Commspan, a smartphone company that is competing with Apple. She is dating Trent, an executive at the company and he wants for them to get a device implanted in their brains that will allow them to share their emotions. When she wakes up from the procedure, she has full-on telepathy. Briddey struggles to come to terms with her new ability and gets help from her reclusive coworker, C.B.

I thought Willis was heavy-handed in her treatment of the interconnected culture that has emerged with new technology. It felt like the Old Man Yells at Cloud bit from The Simpsons. It seemed like this was the most important bit of the book to her and she repeated it time and time again. C.B., the most sympathetic character, hates the interconnected culture, even though he works to develop new technology for it.

Overall, I wasn’t impressed by this novel. The pacing was terrible and it felt like the author was just looking for an excuse to rant about how much she hates cell phones. This book did not inspire me to read any of Willis’s other books, which is definitely a disappointment.

2/5

Why Not Me?

Why Not Me? is a memoir by Mindy Kaling, of The Office and The Mindy Project fame. I chose to listen to this book because it is from a successful woman of color in the comedy and entertainment business. Mindy is an excellent role model because she is strong, funny, feminine, and imperfect. She is a complicated and complex woman, and she doesn’t look like most other people in the comedy business.

This audiobook was read by the author and I listed to it on CD. Usually, I listen to them through Overdrive on my phone because I can speed up the audio. But Kaling was one of my favorite narrators that I’ve heard so far. Her energetic manner and natural speech pattern are at a speed that’s fast enough to listen to comfortably for me.

I liked Why Not Me? because Mindy was vulnerable and honest. She spoke of her early career, her weight, and her perception in Hollywood. My favorite section of the book was when Mindy created an alternate life for herself if she had stayed in New York City instead of moving to LA. It turns into a romance at the turn of the millennium told through e-mails. This hilarious account is easily one of the highlights of the book to me, and it was even funnier hearing Mindy repeat “Regarding” over and over again. Mindy’s real life is more interesting than some romantic comedy, but she knows her tropes really well.

4/5

The Thousandth Floor

Let me start by saying that love the cover of The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee. I think it represents the content perfectly: shiny and youthful. There wasn’t a lot of weight or substance to this novel, but if you like the mindless Gossip Girl style or you are looking for a ‘palate cleanser’, then this is a great novel to read next.

It follows the stories of five different teenaged characters that live in a 1000-story tower. It seems like they are mostly ignorant of each other, but as the novel progresses, their stories are more and more intertwined. The novel starts with all of the main characters on the roof of the tower and then a girl drops to her death. Then it backtracks to how all of them got there.

I think that this novel will make a great teen movie or TV show. I could easily see it on Freeform or The CW. Plus, I saw the author at TeenBookCon in Houston and she said that a sequel will be coming out in August 2017. She also said that in the sequel, another character dies, even connecting it to Game of Thrones.

There is a shadow of diversity in this one. One of the main elite girls is at least queer, but indeterminately so, and several of the characters are people of color. As for the feminist perspective, there wasn’t anything that stood our to me as markedly feminist or anti-feminist. Overall, this book was bland and perfectly consumable all around.

2/5

The Princess Diariest

I started listening to this audiobook of The Princess Diarist a few weeks after Carrie Fisher passed away. It is mostly read by the author, with the exception of the diary entries read by her daughter, Billie Lourd. Carrie Fisher published several other memoirs and after listening to this one, I would read or listen to more of them.

I didn’t grow up on Star Wars like my brothers and so many other people from my generation. I’m not sure why they didn’t appeal to me; I love space, hero stories, and strong women. But either way, I didn’t really watch Star Wars until my late teens. So I don’t have the child-like fascination or nostalgia for the series that so many other people tend to have.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Carrie Fisher is a badass. She dealt with the spotlight her whole life, being actress Debbie Reynold’s daughter, and that gave her the ability to live according to her rules, not the rules of the media. She discusses her mental illness, her self-image, and her relationships with both her mother and Harrison Ford in this book. I can’t stand the ‘juicy gossip’ magazines, but hearing Carrie Fisher talk about her relationships made it seem like I wasn’t prying into a stranger’s privacy.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her read this book and I’ll listen to her others one day. I’m sad that I just started learning about how truly badass she was just after she passed away. Carrie Fisher left a legacy that will be known for generations to come and her candidness, unapologetic complexity, and sense of humor make her a role model for a new generation of women.

4/5

For the Roses

I read this book after one of my coworkers recommended it to me. Julie Garwood was my introduction to romance literature. I grew up with her Highland paperbacks scattered around the house, cracked and dog-eared. It’s been years since I’ve read her books, but the recommendation of my mother and coworker were enough for me to try this one.

For the Roses is the story of Mary Rose, a baby thrown into an alley in Late Reconstruction New York City. She is adopted by a rag-tag gage of four orphans: Travis, Douglas, Cole, and Adam. All of the boys have their skills and fulfill certain stereotypes. In the novel, the boys move West with her and they form a family. To me, Adam, the runaway slave who committed murder to escape and is the intelligent and soft-spoken patriarch of the family, was the most fascinating.

For a novel published in 1996, Mary Rose is less of a caricature than I expected. She’s story, willful, and stubborn. She is treated more like a child than an adult, even ignored by the men surrounding her. But, all of her decisions are her own. There are a few ‘rapey’ scenes, but it’s a bodice-ripper romance.

This novel feels like four stories in one. There is the story of Mary Rose’s childhood, her romance with Harrison, her reunion with her father, and Adam’s trial. While all of the stories find their own resolution, they do it independently. Garwood could have had at least two of the stories converge, tying the ends together instead of moving from one thread to the next.

Personally, I though Adam’s trial was the most engaging section. I would have cut Mary Rose’s reunion with her family in favor of more pages spent on the trial and its implications. But, this is a romance novel with some history thrown in, not the other way around. Overall, I found the novel to be mostly readable, with very few cringe-worthy moments.

3/5