May 28, 2015

The universe and our place in it

Science enthusiasts, especially physicists, astronomers, and cosmologists, will love The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality. Richard Panek gives a detailed and thorough account of the history of cosmology (the study of the universe including its birth, composition, and laws). All of the heavy hitters are mentioned along with some I had never heard of (Adam Riess, anyone? Saul Perlmutter?). Mathematics abounds but if you're looking for diagrams or charts you've come to the wrong place which I personally found disappointing. The writing style is not written with the layman in mind. If you're unfamiliar with the standard terminology and not completely cognizant of some of the finer points regarding these specialized science disciplines you might find yourself a bit lost. However, if you are fascinated by what lays beyond our galaxy and how we fit into the grand scheme of things then you should definitely read this book (but be prepared to come away without all of the answers that you seek).

Now I've made a slight error in judgment and the books that I had placed on hold as far back as 2 months ago have suddenly all become available at the same time. This means that I may or may not review these next couple of books in a predetermined order. Also, some of these might be lumped into one single blog post (I'm looking at you novella prequels).

Here's what I've picked up:

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson
Another English translation of the Swedish author whose work I recently reviewed. This is work of adult fiction featuring a South African girl who works her way up from being an illiterate poop hauler (Slumdog Millionaire, ahoy!) to the right hand of the King of Sweden (I think that's where this headed at any rate).

 Feed by M.T. Anderson
People are connecting themselves directly to the Internet via feeds to their brains. That's it. That's what drew me to this book because I am masochistic and have a real fear of technology destroying us all.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
A young woman stumbles upon letters written by her father which detail a quest to find out the truth about Vlad the Impaler (aka the guy who inspired Dracula). She must decide if she wants to follow in her father's footsteps and seek to unravel the mysteries that might just cross over into modern times...
No Place Like Oz by Danielle Paige
We finally get to find out how Dorothy returned to Oz and what caused her to change from its savior to its ultimate enemy.

The Wizard Returns by Danielle Paige
Everyone assumed that when the Wizard floated off in his hot air balloon that he had returned to The Other Place but he didn't and when he woke up he discovered that he had no memory of who he was. Hooray we finally find out (I hope) what side he's actually on and maybe if he has a plan to dethrone Dorothy.

May 21, 2015

I wanted to make a Time Lord joke but I couldn't think of any :'-(

A lot of people are preoccupied with time: How it should be spent, how it can be saved, and how to make sure it isn't wasted. Have you ever accused someone of stealing your time? Momo is the only person who is able to resist the allure of the grey men who are time thieves. An already unique child, Momo, is abandoned by all of her friends who have fallen prey to these menaces (and they really do sound menacing + the illustrations are delightfully creepy). Much like The Neverending Story, the city that Michael Ende has created feels tangible and real...actually it sounds like Rome. The characters leap off of the page. Fantasy is done right when your imagination is allowed to run rampant and a talking turtle is as ordinary as a gorilla that learns sign language (I still think that's amazing). Momo is all about making the most of your time by spending it with those that you love. I think this is an especially poignant message for adults who are bombarded with deadlines and to-do lists and children who often feel neglected by those same adults. The message is clear but the delivery is what makes Ende's writing so special and why I believe he is an underrated children's author in our country (but not in his home country of Germany!).
I love science and I love space soooo I'm reading The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality by Richard Panek. By this point, most people have heard about dark matter which is the stuff that can't be seen but which we know exists because of its gravitational effects on other objects that we can see. Panek conducted hundreds of interviews with many prominent scientists which shed light on the subject (and the drama in the scientific community). My science senses are tingling with excitement!

May 19, 2015

Prejudice, Plague, and a Prince + Witches, Oh My!

I am really loving the current trend of turning popular fairy tales on their heads. I thought it was revolutionary to turn Dorothy Gale into an evil sorceress but THIS is extraordinary storytelling. Not only did the story have a dystopian feel but there are cyborgs (!) and the Prince is more than just a pretty face who rescues the damsel (refreshingly, that's flipped around also). Topics such as prejudice, slavery, plague, war, manipulation, and many more are covered in Cinder, the first book of the Lunar Chronicles. I found it intriguing how Meyer envisioned our world after its near annihilation after World War IV. Further proving that young adult novels tackle serious topics, Meyer doesn't shy away from giving the reader a glimpse of the dark underbelly that pervades a war torn society. Cinder is multifaceted and complex which makes it a no-brainer to continue with its sequel, Scarlet. It would be a mistake to dismiss this one, guys.

A few weeks back, I reviewed Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. I mentioned that she had since written prequels to that novel as well as a sequel. I placed holds on all these books at my local library…along with everyone else apparently. Finally, The Witch Must Burn became available. This novella (just in case you're unfamiliar with the term this is used to describe a short story of a few hundred pages) focuses on Jellia, Dorothy's personal maid. (Readers of Dorothy Must Die will remember this character vividly.) We're also given a bit of a glimpse into Glinda the Good Witch. It's really nothing more than a tantalizing morsel to hold the reader until they can get their hands on the next installment…which might take a while in my case. :-/

So I just checked through my old posts and it seems that I have never mentioned one of my favorite books of all time, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. (It was originally written in German and translated to English so it breaks my streak of Swedish translations.) You may recall the title from the 1984 (!) film of the same name which became somewhat of a cult classic. I try to reread this every year because it never fails to amaze me utterly. With that in mind, I've decided to read Ende's less-known book Momo which actually came out before The Neverending Story. It's a children's story about an orphaned girl, Momo, who has special gifts which she uses to combat the men in grey (I immediately thought of the epsiode Hush from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). I can't wait to let you all know what I think! XD

May 14, 2015

Mark Watney vs Mars

There's something to be said about a character's likability especially if the book's primary focus is "Is this guy gonna survive?!" If the reader doesn't like the guy then why continue reading? From the very start, it is easy to sympathize with Mark and to identify with him. His sense of humor is particularly enjoyable. A large chunk of the story is told through Mark's logs from Mars with intermittent jumps to NASA and his crew aboard their ship headed back to earth. There's a believability in all of the characters; even those only mentioned fleetingly. Despite being Andy Weir's first novel, his confidence in the logistics of space travel and attention to detail make this a very compelling read (science and math nerds will love it). Space travel has and will probably always hold a fascination for many readers of which I am undoubtedly one. I can't wait to see what Weir will come out with next! This is science fiction at its very best, ya'll.
After my jaunt into the world of faiytales retold with Dorothy Must Die I had a hankering for something else along that same vein. The answer to my problem: Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Because I'm a glutton for punishment, this is the start of a series which I'm partly hoping I'll hate because Lord only knows I don't need another series taking over my life...That being said, this looks to be an exciting read! The premise is that Cinder (think Cinderalla but as a cyborg) is caught in the middle of a battle between the people on her planet who are ravaged by plague and a mysterious people (these are the Lunars I believe) waiting in space to strike. O_O

Edit: The Martian has been turned into a film! Starring Matt Damon! It will be out in US theaters on October 2nd!!

May 7, 2015

Atomic bombs + vodka + an old codger = comedic gold

Jonas Jonasson has created a fan for life. That sounds super dramatic and I suppose it is but it's true nonetheless. Irreverent humor abounds in this story about a centenarian who has truly grabbed life by the horns or in his case by the neck of the vodka bottle. Allan Karlsson, the Swede, traveled the world and made his mark in the political sphere despite having no interest in the topic whatsoever. Along the way, he managed to meet a variety of people which unless the reader has lived under a rock will be immediately recognized (and lampooned). The story begins with his escape through a window on his 100th birthday (yes, the title is literal) and follows Allan on a fantastic journey in which he makes new friends while simultaneously giving the reader a glimpse into his extraordinary past. Jonasson seamlessly works in the past with the present and I, for one, never found it jarring. A blending of true historical events with a humorously outlandish twist, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, is a must-read. (PS I just found out it was the most sold book in Sweden for 2010. Hooray!)


I'm almost afraid that no book could ever be as epic as that movie poster right there but just in case there is something out there on the same level I'm going to keep reading. ;-) My next read is The Martian by Andy Weir and it is his debut novel. The story follows the plight of an astronaut named Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars and his struggle to survive there. Considering my interest in the Mars Rover I just had to give this book a try (and all of the bookish newsletters that I follow kept recommending it to me). Soooo here we go!!

Also, I want to give a shoutout to The Bloggess (aka Jenny Lawson) who has announced she will be going on a book tour later this year to promote her newest book, Furiously Happy. You may recall that I reviewed her previous book Let's Pretend This Never Happened a few years ago and LOVED it. I am 100% going to be checking out her newest book (about her struggles and triumphs against depression) and if at all possible visiting her on tour. You guys should look into doing the same! XD

May 1, 2015

The lure of discovery and adventure

It might come as a surprise to some of you but I actually have a Bachelor's in Anthropology. That's one of the main reasons why I was drawn to The Lost World of the Old Ones. One of the focuses of this book is the examination of the archaeological record of the peoples who once occupied the Southwestern United States. Around 1300 AD the Fremont people seemingly disappeared from the region and the reasons for this have never fully been explained. David Roberts is a climber (mountaineer? scrambler?) who also happens to be a writer for such publications as National Geographic. This is the second book that he has written which focuses on this particular area of the world but according to the preface this book delves more into the why and the how of the Fremont peoples lives and 'disappearance'. His fascination and passion for the topic are evident in his attention to detail (and sometimes his dreamy prose). You probably won't be surprised to learn that I plan on doing more research on this topic by checking out some of the books he referenced as source material (especially Steve Lekson's groundbreaking work The Chaco Meridian which caused significant backlash among the archaeological elite). If you have an interest in archaeology or simply want to learn more about the wonders of the Southwest (of which there are many) then I recommend you give this book a try. It's made me want to go hiking of all things! O_O

The Pilling figurines are remnants of the Fremont culture. They were located in Range Creek Canyon in Utah (and had quite a journey to the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum - the story is in the book). (Image courtesy of  Brian Lee.)

As I've mentioned before, I seem to have a penchant for Swedish authors. In my defense, I had no idea that the book I had picked out to read next fell under that umbrella. It's The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. With a title like that is it any wonder that I just had to read this one? The story is all about Allan Karlsson who turns 100 but doesn't feel that his adventures are entirely finished so...he climbs out of the window of his nursing home and sets off. This story isn't just about what happened after he climbed out of the window though. Allan had many adventures before he even set foot through the nursing home's doors as a munitions expert who rubbed elbows with everyone from Winston Churchill to President Truman. Join me on this newest literary adventure!