Posted in Reviews

Review: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Recommended: YESSS!!!
for what happens to your body when you die, for the secrets of the mortuary business, for options about what to do after you die


Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. With an original voice that combines fearless curiosity and mordant wit, Caitlin tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters, gallows humor, and vivid characters (both living and very dead). Describing how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes), and cared for bodies of all shapes and sizes, Caitlin becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the deceased. Her eye-opening memoir shows how our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead). In the spirit of her popular Web series, “Ask a Mortician,” Caitlin’s engaging narrative style makes this otherwise scary topic both approachable and profound.


I fucking loved this book. It answered a lot of the questions I never knew where to find answers to.

Example #1: is cremation a more natural or environmentally friendly option over casket burial? Answer: no not really.

I don’t know, there were a lot more, but I loved learning more about what’s done to a body after death, at least in California, USA. There’s a little warning at the start of the book about how it deal with dead bodies (duh) and has some stuff that’s not for squeamish folks. I don’t think of myself as squeamish, but I also don’t like gore and violence. This book was fine for me though, and at no point did it feel like too much.

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Posted in Reviews

ARC Review: The Year Without a Summer by Arlene Mark

The Year Without a Summer by Arlene Mark
Expected publication: August 9, 2022!

Recommended: yes!
Middle school classrooms (and even young high school) would be EXCELLENT, for a look at accessible youth activism, for a lot of fascinating learning about the bad AND the good of natural disasters, for two other “serious” storylines for the MCs that handle really difficult situations, for a book that has really mature students which was a breath of fresh air (having been one of those and not the partiers, it was nice to see a book acknowledge I existed as more than a lame side character foil of boringness)


Explosive volcanic eruptions are cool, really, cool. They inject ash into the stratosphere and deflect the sun’s rays. When eighth grader Jamie Fulton learns that snow fell in June in his hometown because of an eruption on the other side of the world, he’s psyched! He could have snowboarded if he’d lived back in 1815 during the year without a summer.

Clara Montalvo, who recently arrived at Jamie’s school after surviving Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, has a different take all this. She is astounded–and disturbed–by Jamie’s frenzied enthusiasm for what she considers an obvious disaster. The teens’ battling arguments cause science class disruption and create academic trouble: Jamie’s headed for a failing grade in science, and may not even graduate from eighth grade; Clara’s scholarship hopes are dashed.

And school isn’t the only place where Jamie and Clara are facing hardship: as they quarrel whether natural disasters can be beneficial, their home lives are also unraveling. Uncertainty about Jamie’s wounded brother returning from Afghanistan and Clara’s unreachable father back in Puerto Rico forces the two vulnerable teens to share their worries and sadness. As their focus shifts from natural disasters to personal calamities to man-made climate changes, the teens take surprising steps that astonish them. Ultimately, through hard work and growing empathy for each other, as well as for their classmates’ distress over the climate change affecting their lives, Jamie and Clara empower themselves and the people they touch.


If you don’t already know about the year without a summer where the entire world’s climate was drastically changed after a volcanic eruption, you’re in for a treat because this dives into a lot of it in a really accessible way. I had coincidentally just learned and read about it a bit before starting this book, so it was fun to see what new and familiar details there were about it. There were scientific descriptions of what happened, but at a fairly high level rather than the detail I’d read in the adult nonfiction book on the topic (makes sense).

My teacher side was going NUTS at how excellent this book would be for students. I intended to put this at the end of the review, but I’m just too excited to mention it. It’s a wonderful book for many reasons that I’ll get into, but seriously: get this book in schools. Science class, history class, social studies, activism clubs, English class…. EVERYWHERE! And what makes it truly special is having characters and story and emotion amidst all the “info” and teaching / learning moments.

Continue reading “ARC Review: The Year Without a Summer by Arlene Mark”
Posted in Reviews

Review: Around the World in 80 Plants by Jonathan Drori

Around the World in 80 Plants by Jonathan Drori
Verdict: Plants are really fucking cool.
Also, this book is so good that I bought myself a copy to have halfway through reading my copy from the library. Can’t wait to dip back in and savor it all over again. ^.^

Recommended: yes!
for curious people, for gardeners, for people who like science, animals, traveling, and/or learning, for a fascinating set of plant vignettes that are easy to dip into and savor


An inspirational and beautifully illustrated book that tells the stories of 80 plants from around the globe.

In his follow-up to the bestselling Around the World in 80 Trees, Jonathan Drori takes another trip across the globe, bringing to life the science of plants by revealing how their worlds are intricately entwined with our own history, culture and folklore. From the seemingly familiar tomato and dandelion to the eerie mandrake and Spanish “moss” of Louisiana, each of these stories is full of surprises. Some have a troubling past, while others have ignited human creativity or enabled whole civilizations to flourish. With a colorful cast of characters all brought to life by illustrator Lucille Clerc, this is a botanical journey of beauty and brilliance.


Fun fact about me: I generally dislike touching plants. It’s a weird little aversion, and maybe it’s from that time I pet a cactus as a child and learned what “regret” meant, but regardless of the reason, it’s a thing for me. Buuuuut I also really love nature and plants and learning and science. This is a fantastic little book, and what I most want to emphasize is that I truly think anyone can read and enjoy this!!! For a very factual nonfiction book on a very sciency topic, that is quite impressive!

So what makes it so accessible? It comes down to a few things: short chapters, cultural and societal stories about each plant, and gorgeous illustrations.

Continue reading “Review: Around the World in 80 Plants by Jonathan Drori”
Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: Noor, 11/9/21!

Hey y’all! In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is
Expected Release: November 9, 2021

Why wait on this one?

  • AO is mostly a robot after her weird AF birth and a further accident that basically meant she had to go robot or die. I am so pumped about a futuristic cybernetically-enhanced-human story. The fact that the blurb starts with her parents hoping they miscarried so she wouldn’t be born because “she was wrong” even as an embryo… what on earth is the deal with this girl? I’m absolutely riveted and can’t wait to find out.
  • I imagine with metal limbs you probably get pretty strong and basically impervious to most pain. Which could easily lend itself to criminal dealings because hey, it’s probably super simple compared to the perils of weakling fleshy bodies. I don’t know if AO is evil, or even tempted, but it sure seems like the rest of the world is convinced she is. And as for her being on the run with a societal labeled madman? Holy crap am I thrilled and burning with curiosity over what could have possibly happened to frame them these ways!
  • The setting sounds like it will have so much life it will become a character of its own. Deserts seem to draw me in as they’re simultaneously barren and bursting.
  • Nnedi Okorafor is also the author of Binti which I somehow have still not read, but am similarly interested in and curious about. Given that I’ve been attracted to multiple books by this author, I think it’s safe to assume I generally like their ideas and will probably be pretty into this.


Anwuli Okwudili prefers to be called AO. To her, these initials have always stood for Artificial Organism. AO has never really felt…natural, and that’s putting it lightly. Her parents spent most of the days before she was born praying for her peaceful passing because even in-utero she was wrong. But she lived. Then came the car accident years later that disabled her even further. Yet instead of viewing her strange body the way the world views it, as freakish, unnatural, even the work of the devil, AO embraces all that she is: A woman with a ton of major and necessary body augmentations. And then one day she goes to her local market and everything goes wrong.

Once on the run, she meets a Fulani herdsman named DNA and the race against time across the deserts of Northern Nigeria begins. In a world where all things are streamed, everyone is watching the reckoning of the murderess and the terrorist and the saga of the wicked woman and mad man unfold. This fast-paced, relentless journey of tribe, destiny, body, and the wonderland of technology revels in the fact that the future sometimes isn’t so predictable. Expect the unaccepted.

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

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 . . .

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 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, 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”


Keep Reading to Keep Alzheimer’s at Bay” by, 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