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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Review: The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore

Title: The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs
Author: Michael Belfiore
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Smithsonian
Publish Date: October 20, 2009
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "The first-ever inside look at DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—the maverick and controversial group whose futuristic work has had amazing civilian and military applications, from the Internet to GPS to driverless cars

America's greatest idea factory isn't Bell Labs, Silicon Valley, or MIT's Media Lab. It's the secretive, Pentagon-led agency known as DARPA. Founded by Eisenhower in response to Sputnik and the Soviet space program, DARPA mixes military officers with sneaker-wearing scientists, seeking paradigm-shifting ideas in varied fields—from energy, robotics, and rockets to peopleless operating rooms, driverless cars, and planes that can fly halfway around the world in just hours. DARPA gave birth to the Internet, GPS, and mind-controlled robotic arms. Its geniuses define future technology for the military and the rest of us."

My Two Cents:

"The Department of Mad Scientists" is the story about DARPA, which is an arm of the Department of Defense. DARPA has existed for a long time and has been sort of the research and development arm of the American military. Although it's part of DOD, a lot of the experiments and research and development that the group has done has helped to create some of the biggest technological advances the world has seen in the past few decades. Some of their projects have included the Internet and artificial limbs. I find their group absolutely fascinating and I was looking to read this book in order to get more information about the story of DARPA. 

Most of the book actually focuses on just a few of the different projects that the group has done. In fact, each chapter focuses on a different project that it has done. Some of the book tells a little bit about the history of the group, which is absolutely fascinating. I found the fact that each of the chapters only focused on one project to be a little bit limiting only because there are so many other things that this group has accomplished throughout its existence. 

The author relies on first-hand interviews in order to talk about each of the projects which lended a lot of credibility and detail to each of the different sections. This book is best if you only want a summary of the group and not end-all discussion on all that they've been through and all that they've done. This is at least a good introduction.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt

Title: The Radius of Us
Author: Marie Marquardt
Format: eARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: January 17, 2017
Source: Publisher/ Netgalley

What's the Story?:

From "Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself.

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores-Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became that person — the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid.

Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?"

My Two Cents:

"The Radius of Us" is the story of Gretchen, a young woman who faced an assault so bad that she still experiences panic attacks well after the attack took place. It's also the story of Phoenix, who escaped from violent El Salvador in search of a new life. After ending up in detention in the United States, he is incredibly lucky to be adopted into a home in Atlanta. He'll have to get used to a brand new place while worrying about his little brother who is trapped in detention for underage children. This is a great book for young adults about a difficult subject.

I've said this before but it bears repeating: we need diverse books (look up the hashtag, all). It's so especially important for young adults. These books may be the first time that readers are able to dive into an issue like this. I really like the authors treatment of this difficult subject. In light of the election and its run up, illegal immigration has been very much in the spotlight. Sometimes it is hard to put a face on an issue. Although Phoenix is fictional, his story is very similar to so many young people out there who have come to the country illegally because the idea of staying in a bad situation in their own company was so unfathomable. It's important to see those examples in the books that we read so we can understand a little more about what it might be like to walk in somebody else's  shoes.

The writing of the book was good. The author did a great job of making the characters feel realistic through the details on their back stories. This is the second book that I've read by Marquardt and I really appreciate how she brings to life real issues without being preachy or sacrificing a good story for a message (although the message is certainly there).


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: When You're Feeling Sick by Coy Bowles

Title: When You're Feeling Sick
Author: Coy Bowles
Format: ARC
Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: January 10, 2017

Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Sneezing? Coughing? Taking a sick day? Don t worry, you ll be feeling better soon thanks to this hilarious picture book from Coy Bowles, guitarist of the Grammy Award winning Zac Brown Band. Full of encouraging and super-silly rhyming advice on how to face sick days with courage and a positive attitude, When You re Feeling Sick is just what the doctor ordered! Comes with a sheet of stickers to bring a smile to every sick kid s face.""

My Two Cents:

"When You're Feeling Sick" is a new book with some helpful advice for little ones facing a day in bed by Coy Bowles of the Zac Brown Band. My girls are finally getting to the age where they are starting to understand more about things like sick days and why they aren't feeling good. I enjoyed sharing this book with them!

The story itself is a good one. Everyone can use a little advice about how to best handle being sick without going crazy. The illustrations in this book are great! They are fun and colorful. My girls loved the pictures of the germy monsters especially. The story itself is fun but a bit clunky and lacking a bit of flow. My girls are too young to notice something like that but it threw me off my reading-out-loud game certainly. The story could have been a little bit smoother. Overall, this was a mixed bag for me but the author shows promise through his imagination!


Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto by Jen Lancaster

Title: My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto
Author: Jen Lancaster
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: NAL
Publish Date: May 4, 2010
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Readers have followed Jen Lancaster through job loss, sucky city living, weight loss attempts, and 1980s nostalgia. Now Jen chronicles her efforts to achieve cultural enlightenment, with some hilarious missteps and genuine moments of inspiration along the way. And she does so by any means necessary: reading canonical literature, viewing classic films, attending the opera, researching artisan cheeses, and even enrolling in etiquette classes to improve her social graces.

In Jen's corner is a crack team of experts, including Page Six socialites, gourmet chefs, an opera aficionado, and a master sommelier. She may discover that well-regarded, high-priced stinky cheese tastes exactly as bad as it smells, and that her love for Kraft American Singles is forever. But one thing's for certain: Eliza Doolittle's got nothing on Jen Lancaster-and failure is an option."

My Two Cents:

Quickie Review: I'm rapidly making my way through reading all of Jen Lancaster's books. My Fair Lazy is one of the few books that I haven't read. In this book, Jen goes on a journey where she is trying to better herself by trying to care about more than just reality TV and other frivolous things. She does a couple things in the book such as trying to learn about other cuisines as well as trying to read more difficult books (always my quest) in order to better herself.

As with so many of her books the best part of the book is her humor that she shows throughout the book. She has a very funny way of writing and as with her other books a lot of parts of this book had me laughing out loud. While this is not my favorite book of hers, her trademark snark is still present in this book. It is still a lot of fun!


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet by Heraldo Muñoz

Title: The Dictator's Shadow: Life Under Augusto Pinochet
Author: Heraldo Muñoz
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Basic Books
Publish Date: September 2, 2008
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Augusto Pinochet was the most important Third World dictator of the Cold War, and perhaps the most ruthless. In The Dictator’s Shadow, United Nations Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz takes advantage of his unmatched set of perspectives—as a former revolutionary who fought the Pinochet regime, as a respected scholar, and as a diplomat—to tell what this extraordinary figure meant to Chile, the United States, and the world.Pinochet’s American backers saw his regime as a bulwark against Communism; his nation was a testing ground for U.S.-inspired economic theories. Countries desiring World Bank support were told to emulate Pinochet’s free-market policies, and Chile’s government pension even inspired President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security. The other baggage—the assassinations, tortures, people thrown out of airplanes, mass murders of political prisoners—was simply the price to be paid for building a modern state. But the questions raised by Pinochet’s rule still remain: Are such dictators somehow necessary?

Horrifying but also inspiring, The Dictator’s Shadow is a unique tale of how geopolitical rivalries can profoundly affect everyday life."

My Two Cents:

"The Dictator's Shadow" is a nonfiction book about life under Agosto Pinochet in Chile. It talks about how Pinochet came to power and how he was able to consolidate his power for so long. Pinochet's regime is still a regime that is studied a lot in political science. Pinochet is a hero to some and a villain to others. His rise to power is very interesting, especially for me, a person who spent a lot of time in undergrad studying Latin American history.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this book is the author. Heraldo Munoz served under Salvador Allende, whose government Pinochet ousted and currently serves under Michelle Bachelet. He has seen his country through many different time periods and has often been on the front lines of great change. Because of who he has worked under, there is a bit of a political bend here, which is why it may be best to have a fair understanding of Chile's political history prior to reading this book.

Munoz gives a lot of detail about what Pinochet's government was like and how people lived their lives under it. It is a very interesting history because it is not just a regurgitation of the facts. He gives a lot of context about what was actually happening to the people of Chile from everything just repeating a list of what Pinochet did. This book will appeal most to those who have an interest in Latin America history and have a basic understanding of some of its recent history.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

Title: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person
Author: Shonda Rhimes
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publish Date: November 10, 2015
Source: Library

 What's the Story?:

From "Before her Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes was an expert at declining invitations others would leap to accept. With three children at home and three hit television shows on TV, it was easy to say that she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. Afraid of cocktail party faux pas like chucking a chicken bone across a room; petrified of live television appearances where Shonda Rhimes could trip and fall and bleed out right there in front of a live studio audience; terrified of the difficult conversations that came so easily to her characters on-screen. In the before, Shonda’s introvert life revolved around burying herself in work, snuggling her children, and comforting herself with food.

And then, on Thanksgiving 2013, Shonda’s sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything.

The comment sat like a grenade, until it detonated. Then Shonda, the youngest of six children from a supremely competitive family, knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her."

My Two Cents:

"The Year of Yes" is a memoir by Shonda Rimes, one of the most popular television series creators out there. I have loved so many of her shows like Scandal and Grey's Anatomy but what I didn't know about Shonda Rimes is that she is a major introvert and has always been afraid to say yes to things that might put her out of her comfort zone. This book is about the year that she decided to put all of that aside and say yes to everything, even the things she was incredibly afraid of.

In my own life I know that I say yes to too many things but I also know that I try to avoid the things that are going to make me feel like I'm putting myself too out there. I think it's a feeling that a lot of people can find understanding with. This book recounts how Shonda Rimes was able to turn things around by saying yes to more even if it meant stepping out of her comfort zone. She finds out that by being afraid, she was holding herself back. It's not rocket science but I think it is incredibly helpful to see how others have changed their lives to give you the power to want to change your own. It's a great lesson for us all!

I really like the way that this book was written. Rimes speaks to readers as friends and confidantes and really makes you feel like she's letting you in on a secret. I can only hope that I am able to heed some of her advice!


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick

Title: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
Author: Joby Warrick
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: September 29, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "When he succeeded his father in 1999, King Abdullah of Jordan released a batch of political prisoners in the hopes of smoothing his transition to power. Little did he know that among those released was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man who would go on to become a terrorist mastermind too dangerous even for al-Qaeda and give rise to an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East.

     Zarqawi began by directing hotel bombings and assassinations in Jordan from a base in northern Iraq, but it was the American invasion of that country in 2003 that catapulted him to the head of a vast insurgency. By identifying him as the link between Saddam and bin Laden, the CIA inadvertently created a monster. Like-minded radicals saw him as a hero resisting the infidel occupiers and rallied to his cause. Their wave of brutal beheadings and suicide bombings continued for years until Jordanian intelligence provided the Americans with the crucial intelligence needed to eliminate Zarqawi in a 2006 airstrike.

     But his movement endured, first called al-Qaeda in Iraq, then renamed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, seeking refuge in unstable, ungoverned pockets on the Iraq-Syria border. And as the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, ISIS seized its chance to pursue Zarqawi's dream of a sweeping, ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate. 

     Drawing on unique access to CIA and Jordanian sources, Joby Warrick weaves together heart-pounding, moment-by-moment operational details with overarching historical perspectives to reveal the long trajectory of today's most dangerous Islamic extremist threat."

My Two Cents: 

"Black Flags" is a fantastic book that explores the origins of ISIS/ ISIL/ da'esh (choose your fave) and why and how the group has become such a force for evil throughout the world. If you paid any attention to this past election cycle in the United States, you couldn't go but a minute for without hearing something about ISIS. The terrorist group is one of the number one threats (if not the number one threat) causing disruption throughout the entire world. This book explores how ISIS came to be and especially focuses on Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, one of the masterminds of the organization.

This is such an important read in order to understand how this group came to be and why it is so difficult to combat them. I thought that the author did a really good job of explaining the situation to people who may not think about current events so much as well is giving new information and insight to those who follow current events very closely. Especially in the political climate of today, books like this are so important to thoroughly read in order to understand what is going on and what we are facing in the broader scope of the world. This book has a ton of detail and I thought the author did a good job of making information accessible to everyone. This is definitely an important read and a well-done one at that!

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