Posted in Reviews

Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Expected Release: September 15, 2020
And I don’t usually read space stories.

And this one was everything I’d hoped and more!!!

Recommended: yessss
for big book aficionados, for a story that takes its time in unfolding, for a plot that weaves in and out and around until you’re entirely surrounded in it, for adult Paolini goodness that shows how much he’s grown as an author

Summary:
During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

Thoughts:
The elephant in the room is actually the book itself, because it’s about as big as an elephant. It’s about 820 pages of story, with another 50 or so pages of addenda at the end. Yes, if you decide to commit to this book, you need to really be ready to commit to this book.

And the obvious followup question is if it’s worth it. To that, I would say definitely yes, but there will probably be times when reading where it doesn’t feel it. This was a strange experience where every time I read the book, I loved it and couldn’t wait for more. But in between sessions, I almost grimaced at the thought of picking it back up again because I had been reading it for so long already! I think this is ultimately a personal issue, which I navigated by reading a few shorter books of other genres during the month-ish time that I tackled TSIASOS. If you’re the same, have a plan going in.

Continue reading “Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini”
Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

Poems from space: odes to TO SLEEP IN A SEA OF STARS

if you’re wondering
where Eragon’s author went:
floating in the stars

yes, I mean, it’s true
everyone has a story
but Kira’s is best

aboard the Wallfish
you learn to love a stranger
become family

complex math, research
thorough realism of space
dude did some good work

so good it made me
cry, dream, hope, savor, tense up —
wouldn’t change a thing.

Continue reading “Poems from space: odes to TO SLEEP IN A SEA OF STARS”
Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars v. Battlestar Galactica

I’m currently reading To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini (advanced copy, praise the stars! Release date on September 15, 2020). I’m also currently watching Battlestar Galactica for the first time. And since they are both, at their simplest, space stories about fighting/fleeing other life forms, there’s a lot that’s similar between the two.

And I keep getting them mixed up.

This isn’t really a bad thing! It just gets confusing when I try to remember where I left off when I resume either of them. I’ll read some Sea of Stars and then watch some B.G. that night and before beginning an episode think, Okay, so last episode was where they were in an unknown system searching a planet for something, and then the bad guys showed up…. wait…. was that in the book or the show???

Luckily the show has a recap before each episode. 😂

Also, that example sentence above is 100% real and 100% accurate for both the book and the show, at the moment! So while moments like that can get kind of muddled, it’s also really fun to see the similarities between them on a larger scale! Below are some that I’ve noticed, with no spoilers for the book, I promise everything I reference is known early on or even in the blurb or general enough to be obvious. Even their covers look similar!

  • both are in the middle of wars with other life forms — and losing, badly
  • both have to make constant FTL jumps to try and evade their pursuers, often with tricky recalculating tactics
  • flash tracing is a concern in both (basically when they make a fast than light jump and their pursuers make on in the opposite direction then watch through a telescope once the light from the event reaches them to see where the first group were pointed when they jumped. science!)
  • both have pretty crazy alien life, that is way more tech advanced than humans (but like, when aren’t aliens way more advanced)
  • and, in general, both are facing a lot of issues and having a pretty tough time of things

And, the most obvious similarity: both are FANTASTIC! Sometimes it can take some doing for me to get really interested in space stories, but each of these has done a stunning job. They’re complex and exciting and intellectual and so, so good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go spend some time with…. one of them, I’ll have to decide! 😁

Posted in Book Talk

My favorite non-fiction – part 2

Hello again! As promised, here’s part 2 of my favorite nonfiction reads. The first batch was so fun, and I love reflecting on these unique reads. Nonfiction reading seems to be far less common in my usual reading circles. Any chance I get to share them is lovely. 😊


I originally read the first volume of this, so when I heard there was a second coming out I was absolutely delighted. I have a special hatred of moths, so this was honestly kind of a struggle for me to embrace, name-wise. I first heard the stories on The Moth hour on NPR. Man, are they fantastic. A whole range of stories and emotions, and I love their focus on maintaining it as a well-told story. The books lose the character of spoken word, but some of the stories told in this one were destroyed or lost as audio, so the fact that we can still get them in written form is a treasure. These collections are perfect for whatever kind of day you’re having: laughter, tears of joy, empathy, gratitude, inspiration, pride… you’ll get a bit of everything in this. PS – here’s one of my favorite stories, featuring Blue Man Group!

Ah, man. If I hadn’t become a teacher and then accidentally fallen into a tech career, I would definitely have been a chemist or something else lab-related. God, I love chemistry and stuff. And learning about stuff. The cool reactions and precision also appeal to me, like “if you add 2mL it’ll turn into rainbow colors but if you do 2.1mL it’ll BURN THROUGH YOUR HAND.” I’m not much of one for danger, but damn does that get me. Point being I can live vicariously in my Other Life through books like this. Plus they are just fascinating. Everything is incredible if you think about it enough.

The extent of my religious knowledge stems from trailing along with friends when I was growing up to churches, synagogues, temples, and whatever Mormons call theirs (I think it’s still just a church?). My biblical knowledge is approximately nil. So this sounded like a pretty fascinating story, and a way I could learn little tidbits and debates about the Bible without, you know… reading it (though I’ve tried multiple times). It was hilarious and enlightening and honest and cemented him as one of my favorite non-fic writers. I’m currently about to read what I see as the female counterpart, too!

This might be familiar to some people, as it definitely started from the online comic xkcd.com which I admit I only sometimes understand. This book, however, is as close to a spirit-animal-book as I might ever get. I’m always the one asking the apparently bizarre questions to my friends, who then just laugh and add it to my quirks. I genuinely want to know the answers though, and this book is filled with them. Scientifically accurate and completely fascinating. 😍

This one comes down to cleverness and humor and admiration. Boiling yourself down to 6 words is difficult at best, but to do it in a smart and entertaining way doubles that effort. These people, all young, did such a remarkable job. As I often get with my nonfic loves, it contains all the feels. Based on that famous Hemingway trope of the dare, they make you laugh and cry and relate and overall leave you very impressed and ready to boil your own elements down to 6 words. My attempt: Mostly optimistic, but still working hard.


Any familiar titles?

So that’s my list! For now. I certainly plan to continue with these, and hope to find some more gems this year. Honestly there are still so many I could include, but I wanted to highlight some from my range within nonfic.

Let me know what your favorite nonfiction read is in a comment! I’m always looking for more, and it’s generally harder to get recommendations on this genre than, say, young adult fantasy. I’m pretty open to any genre, but especially love stories that make you feel things and investigations into specific events, people, items, etc.

PS again – here’s another Moth story I absolutely love. It never fails to crack me up!

Posted in TL;DR

TL;DR – Coronavirus Vaccine Updates

So to start off, a vaccine doesn’t exist for Covid19 — yet. But, unsurprisingly, many people are working on it. I’ve gone through many articles and press releases and news videos to get the details on some of the key players working on making a vaccine. Below are the highlights and links to the full articles I ultimately referenced.

TL;DR – It will likely be at least 18 months before a vaccine is ready, but current progress is extremely fast for a disease completely new.

*The disclaimer for every company is that their attempts at vaccines also need to be approved by their country’s health and safety boards, so even if it looks like good progress is made, they might ultimately have unsafe side effects or other issues that block them from approval.

Massachusetts, USA

  • There’s no chance participants could get infected because the shots do not contain the coronavirus itself.
  • 45 participants get 2 doses, one month between each dose
  • The first human subjects were injected with the first dose today (Monday March 16, 2020)
  • Human testing is running parallel with animal testing which is unusual process
  • A vaccine would not be available for widespread use for 12 to 18 months
  • “Going from not even knowing that this virus was out there … to have any vaccine” in testing in about two months is unprecedented
  • During testing, they’ll check for any side effects and draw blood samples to test if the vaccine is revving up the immune system

Quebec, Canada

  • They have produced a virus-like particle of the novel coronavirus, a first step towards producing a vaccine
  • “A virus-like particle looks like the outside of a virus but doesn’t have any of the genetic material on the inside,”
  • This works by getting your body to recognize the type of foreign virus so when a real one enters your body, your body can quickly develop antibodies to fight it
  • Human trials could begin as soon as July or August
  • A mass produced vaccine could be available to the wider public by November 2021
  • “We have a [seasonal flu vaccine] that is currently under review with Health Canada, and the [technology] we are using for this COVID vaccine is exactly the same, which has proven to be efficacious,” Clark said

Tuebingen, Germany

  • hopes to have an experimental vaccine ready by June or July
  • draw on its low-dose vaccine technology
  • More than one dose may be required to immunize a person
  • Using messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules that instruct human cells to produce therapeutic proteins that trigger an immune response against cancer or infectious diseases
  • Looks like Trump tried to get them to make a vaccine only for USA’s use (article, one of many); they said no, emphatically, as any decent people would

Beijiing, China

  • Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Beijing Advaccine Biotechnology Co. are working together to create a vaccine
  • The partnership is hoping to attract additional grant funding and further collaborations with larger vaccine companies in China to increase the speed of future testing
  • They will leverage Advaccine’s expertise to run a Phase 1 trial in China in parallel with Inovio’s clinical development efforts in the U.S
  • Advaccine brings expertise and experience with regulatory authorities and clinical trial management. This collaboration allows the US-based Inovio to enter China and deliver our vaccine into the areas where they need it most as soon as possible.

I’d been considering a kind of “I read it so you don’t have to” series where I get to learn about interesting and various things that are lesser known or very technically written, then talk about the highlights in plain language. I didn’t plan on doing it with coronavirus, but it seems like a fitting opening.

(PS – if you’re not sure, TL;DR stands for “too long; didn’t read” and is usually in reference to lengthy or complicated reading. Writers give the one sentence summary for those people)

Posted in Book Talk

Reading is a huge favor for future-you

Let’s not make assumptions…

If you have never heard the good news before now, then let me have the joy of letting you know! I will make an assumption that if you’re reading this, you probably read a good deal. Well, your extensive time spent reading is one fantastic way to do future-you a favor. Reading and writing are proven ways to help strengthen your brain, which in turn compensates for deterioration later in life from dementia, Alzheimer’s, or simple aging.

While that alone is probably enough to convince you to keep the habit up (or to start developing it if it’s not quite a habit yet), more fascinating is exactly how reading and writing manage to encourage brain health.

Brain work makes the brain work

The idea of how mental stimulation can help your brain is called the cognitive reserve hypothesis (which definitely sounds like an episode title of the Big Bang Theory). Basically, you strengthen the connections between cells with your brain-busting activities. Later in life when the cells themselves are deteriorating, the strong connections between let them rely on each other more to get the work done.

Even when their brains actually had signs of deterioration or other brain damage, those who had a lifelong habit of reading retained more mental function in the last years of their life.

mental stimulation seemed to help protect memory and thinking skills, accounting for about 14 percent of the difference in decline

ALZinfo.org, Keep Reading to Keep Alzheimer’s at Bay

In case it’s not clear, fourteen percent is HUGE in a study like this!

If you happen to be starting this habit late, don’t worry! The same study showed that those who didn’t start until later in life still had a 32% reduction in the rate of brain decline (again, that’s huge!).

If you don’t want to read, you could always become a taxi driver

Maybe reading isn’t your favorite thing, or maybe you just want to mix it up every now and then. No fear, because any activity that requires you to focus or think really hard about something will do you good. Here’s an example list from past activities participants in the study performed that were shown to have helped:

  • studying for medical exams
  • apprenticing as a London taxi driver
  • deciphering mirrored words or Morse codes
  • learning novel color names
  • performing brainteasers

Now to be honest, I’m not sure what “learning novel color names” means, but it sounds fun. On the other hand, I can totally see how working as a taxi driver in London would require focus and constant mental gymnastics. Just… don’t combine reading with taxi driving.

This is real too, this guy was pulled over for reading while driving. Sparked a new motto: “Stay Alive: Don’t Novel and Drive”

Sources

Keep Reading to Keep Alzheimer’s at Bay” by ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by William J. Netzer, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Robert S. Wilson PhD, Patricia A. Boyle PhD, Lei Yu, PhD, et al: “Life-span Cognitive Activity, Neuropathologic Burden, and Cognitive Aging.” Neurology, Vol. 81. 2013.

Prashanthi Vemuri, PhD, Elizabeth C. Mormino, PhD: “Cognitive Stimulating Activities to Keep Dementia at Bay.” Neurology, Vol 81. 2013

Posted in Reviews

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Recommended: Yes!
For anyone who will die or knows someone who will eventually die, for people curious about everything and anything, for my favorite mix of science and humor

Summary:
In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Doughty blends her mortician’s knowledge of the body and the intriguing history behind common misconceptions about corpses to offer factual, hilarious, and candid answers to thirty-five distinctive questions posed by her youngest fans. In her inimitable voice, Doughty details lore and science of what happens to, and inside, our bodies after we die. Why do corpses groan? What causes bodies to turn colors during decomposition? Can you donate blood from an embalming post-mortem? Readers will learn the best soil for mummifying your body, whether you can preserve your best friend’s skull as a keepsake, and what happens when you die on a plane. Beautifully illustrated by Dianné Ruz, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? shows us that death is science and art, and only by asking questions can we begin to embrace it.

Thoughts:
You know what, I just made this 5 stars instead of 4 because, as far as I know, nothing so approachable and clear has been put out there before. At least not in such a well-known and effective way! (FYI I totally gave this my vote for Goodreads’ Choice this year!)

Funny. Honest. Accessible. Smart.
For me, a huge part of enjoying this was how funny Caitlin made it. She took death from being a terrifying and heartbreaking ordeal, to – let’s say – giving it some life, and making it less scary by making it more understandable.

Continue reading “Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty”