Thinking about living in a city? Read this first!

Ever wish someone would give you a real account of a city before you move there. Having lived all over the US over the last 16 years, I know everyone SHOULD! People often only think about the positives when considering living in a city or obvious negatives, like safety or price… no one tells you how buying groceries every week is going to be a giant pain in your ass or how you’d rather stab yourself in the eye with a spoon than haul your laundry across town on public transit.

Before we get a lot of hate mail, we love living here, but this list is some of the things people don’t consider prior to converting to city life. 

livinginboston

We were swayed when we decided on Boston as the next place we call home. Dr Hops and I are both scientists, and between biotech, universities, pharma, and hospitals, there are lots of science opportunities here… Which is why we moved. We checked all the obvious things, like safety of the different neighborhoods, general price differences, average commute times [lies!] and settled on where we live now.

YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE 

Certain areas might as well be in Narnia. All the guides I read and the information my company gave me touted the unique vibe every area in this small city had. I doubted it because lets be honest, Boston’s not that big but this is TOTALLY TRUE. You know why? It’s almost impossible to get to some areas of the city depending on where you’re coming from (unless you want to spend 60+ minutes going 3-4 miles). A friend lives across the city and it takes her an HOUR to get to my house. Another friend lives in a different neighborhood and there is NO EASY WAY TO GET THERE.

That’s not true, you say! There are always buses. HA! Yes, there are buses as well as an underground and overground tram system here in Boston. The thing no one tells you is that none of the trains or buses are really on time. So if you have more than one connection you’re pretty much screwed and can EASILY add on 20 minutes to whatever lies Google has told you. To make it to the friend above’s house, we have two exchanges by bus and train and the waits associated with each gets us close enough to walk, or we have to go all the way to the common and get on a T that goes near her.

bostontraffic

You then say, “but once you’re on the train you’ll definitely get there.” …. Haha.. Sorry… Give me a minute… Ahh, that was great.. NOPE! The trains here can “become an express” .. while you’re on them. I have NEVER been on a train headed to North Station and actually made it there. I think this is more my personal bad luck with trains, than a definitive rule, but it’s still annoying. Every time the train “becomes an express” or goes out of service at Park St and I either have to wait for another train, or walk.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like living here. Boston’s awesome, but I wish someone would have told me some of these things so I could consider them when someone else is moving our crap (i.e. my company and not us and Brewdog on a weekend).

YOU MIGHT STARVE, SO THINK AHEAD

This is something you seriously need to consider. A coworker is moving because they have a market not that far from his house but it’s PAST his house so when he needs to pick up one or two things after a long day in lab he has to walk 10-15 min past his house, shop, wait in line forever, and walk 10-15 minutes home. This adds over an hour on to an already long day. You know how this ends? You NEVER end up doing it.

If you do actually make it to the store, you have to prioritize heavy items, because if you’re coming from work, you’re probably stuck carrying anything you purchase back to your apartment. This means more trips to the store, and if you didn’t consider the additional time as in the example above, it’s a few more hours a week than you would have budgeted for this simple task. Some people I know use a delivery service simply because of the amount of time this would take up. They have all the heavy items that aren’t dependent on freshness delivered and then buy fresh fruits and veggies themselves. Those items are light/ easy to carry, which makes the scenario above easier to deal with.

TIMING OF TRAINS & BUSES

Sometimes I have very early morning experiments, meaning I need to get to lab prior to 6AM or even 5AM in some cases. On these days I either bike (more about that later), or if it’s the later of the two times, I take the train.. or uber if it’s too early for the train but horrible weather.

MBTA
MBTA examples thanks to Wiki. Note one train is above ground and driving with traffic. 

Keep in mind if your schedule is variable, that public transit might not run as early as you need to get to work, or as frequently as you need to commute between two locations (like school and work). Also, note that local sports events and fundraisers can drastically change commuting times. For us it’s Red Sox games and the Boston Marathon. Most of my building takes a vacation day on Marathon Monday because it’s horrible getting to downtown. A friend tried it last year, not wanting to waste the vacation day, and it took her 3 hours to get home.

HOW DRIVING IS SOMETHING OUT OF A DYSTOPIAN NOVEL

Now I know what you’re thinking, “just drive to get groceries.” That is confounded by the most confusing intersections I’ve ever seen in a city, and a lack of parking. This past winter a labmate of my husband decided to drive to lab on the weekend for a quick experiment. Public transportation would have taken her about 40-45 minutes, but once she got there she realized there was no where to park. Anywhere. It was winter an the snow hadn’t been cleared, so the spots that would have normally been free are now full of snow. So she drove all the way across town and back to her apartment, parked her car, and took the T back to lab.

This isn’t that Boston specific, normally if you have a city that’s very pedestrian friendly, it’s a nightmare for drivers.

The additional fees for parking your car is also something we hadn’t really anticipated. Some places offer a free spot (I think this is a myth as no one I know has this, but everyone says they knew someone once that did), but for most places that offer a single spot per apartment, you pay an additional fee per month. In a city like Boston, that fee can be >$300/month.

I have off street parking, but if you rely on resident parking you have to keep up with the cleaning schedule for the neighborhood. I have a friend who has a lot of trouble with this and gets her car towed all the time because of parking on the wrong side of the road, or since she never uses her car through the week, she simply forgets which day they are supposed to come through to clean the street.

BIKING

winterbikingboston
Image from Fox 15 news via google search. 

Biking in most of Boston isn’t actually that bad. There are dedicated bike paths around the city, but the problem is most people use this as additional space while driving.The winter weather that takes up a large portion of the year also compounds this. The biggest challenge for me, so far, is crossing busy intersections with 5+ streets meeting. I typically walk my bike through the crosswalks around these areas because I’ve seen too many people get hit (no one knows who’s turn it is, or think they can take the “slight right” on red without looking).

DOG FRIENDLY

This means different things to different people, but for me, it’s having the services that a dog needs (vet, grooming, etc.) readily available in an area that has housing that allows pets. For the most part, Boston is very dog friendly. Your pet, if well behaved on a leash, and not peak hours, can ride the train and the bus with you. Most parks allow on-leash dogs, and they have a special program that makes many of the parks around the area “off leash dog parks” during certain hours of the day (if you pay a small fee).

The hardest part of “dog friendly” is getting Brewdog to appointments (in all weather). As I mentioned, public transit isn’t super reliable for getting to or from a location at a specified time, so I normally had a lot of buffer time. I can walk her to her appointment, but that limits the number of places she can go drastically. I could drive her, but most vet offices I’ve seen don’t have dedicated lots, so if her appointment is during peak hours in a neighborhood with “resident only” parking it makes it much more complicated. This was a major hassle when pet sitting a friend’s cat, who also had to go to the vet.

This isn’t that big of a deal in warmer months and was obviously something we considered prior to moving in our current apartment, but she needed to get in emergently this past winter and couldn’t walk that far in the bitter cold, so we had to carry her. We had assumed it wouldn’t be that hard to park in winter months, but mounds of snow all over the city definitely make commuting anywhere by car even harder than normal.

Because our commute can be variable, we end up having a walker come and take care of Brewdog in the middle of the day. It gets her a little more exercise and allows us not to worry if the T is running late (again). The only downfall is that it’s pretty expensive to keep up 5 walks a week and a last minute walk because of a delay at work or because of transit is even more expensive than the normal rate.

(I had a horrible experience with my first walking service in Boston, which I might blog about another day)

FINAL VIEW ON CITY LIVING

Overall, I’m very happy with our move. Boston has been great! I do wish I knew a few of the things above, or had thought them out a little better. We really do like it here though. There are always activities around the city, and pretty much everything outdoors is dog friendly. There is something for everyone, and the people here are very friendly. I’ve never felt unsafe walking alone or at night.

 

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

One Sentence Review: “Having an accent means you belong somewhere.” 

atreegrowsinbrooklyn

Pages: 528  Genre: Historical Fiction / Coming of Age / Classic 
Rating: 5 of 5 dolls named Mary
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.23 of 5 stars
Form Read: ebook   Purchased or Borrowed: Borrowed from the library 

Synopsis from Goodreads: The beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness — in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience.

BACKGROUND

This book is one of the editions printed by the US Government during World War II as a pocketbook for soldiers to carry with them. It went through multiple printings during the course of the war, and prior to the author’s death, she still received letters from veterans describing what the book meant to them and how it helped them in a time of need. The importance of this book to the war effort is outlined in “When Books Went To War: the stories that helped us win WWII.”

The main theme of the book is one of self and family betterment. It’s improvement over generations, a little at a time. It’s also a book on poverty, growing up, and the little things we take for granted. It’s addiction and how the disease pulls you under.

“A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the cruel upclimb.” 

WRITING STYLE & CONTENT

The book is well written and told from the perspective of a young girl growing up poor in Brooklyn. I’d believe the author had first hand experience with poverty, judging from how well she writes it. Coming from one of the poorest parts of the country, I hate the way people often portray the poor but Smith does an excellent job showing how as a child you’re ignorant of the fact of being a “have not” until you meet people who are “haves.”

Smith also does an excellent job showing the way communities like that band together but also how they shame members of their group because the idea of “looking down on” is something they rarely get to do, so if someone breaks the strict social rules for that group they are punished.

OVERALL FEEL

This book is one of those you read multiple times during your life, and each time you’ll have a different reading experience. The characters are well developed and as you gain more life experience you’ll relate to each of them in a slightly different way. I saw a lot of my younger self in the main character Francie. A hunger for knowledge and to make it out of where you’re from, but the desire never to lose those roots or feel ashamed of them.

“… the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.” 

The impact of addiction on an individual and the family as a whole is also a major plot point throughout the book. The main character’s father is an alcoholic and you see how it changes him and how his family deals with his disease.

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains–a cup of strong coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone–just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”

Though I originally borrowed this book, I plan on purchasing the ebook so I can read it again in a few years, and see how I have changed reflected in the book.

Find this book on: Goodreads / Amazon / B&N 

Bookstores and Breweries of Portsmouth NH

BestBookstoresofPortsmouthNH

In my attempt to forget April ever happened, the husband and I decided to take a day trip to the nearby town of Portsmouth New Hampshire, as a way to start May off on the right foot. “The right foot” for us, pretty much involves new books and beer because as my favorite Lannister put it, “It’s what I do. I drink and I know things.”

Park in the garage in the center of town for easy access to pretty much the entire town. It was $15 for the entire day, and was so conveniently located that we could shop and then drop stuff off at the car when walking to the next location. Get there early though, it was full by 1PM.

SHEAFE STREET BOOKS
29 Sheafe Street, Portsmouth NH

sheafestreetbooks_outside_portsmouthNH
Taken from their Facebook page as I was so caught up in browsing I forgot to take one!

This was by far my favorite stop while in Portsmouth. The owner was extremely nice and had a little of everything. Pretty much every available surface in the small store is covered with piles of books–most shelves had two rows per shelf. Don’t let that discourage you though! The owner is very knowledgeable and I asked for a few random specific titles and he walked to the shelf, moved a group of books and pulled it out first try. This on it’s own wouldn’t be impressive, but he did this at least 4 more times in my quest for hard to find paperbacks. Not only that, but for one of the harder to find scifi titles, he even knew the EDITIONS he had in stock!

sheafestreetbooks_portsmouthNH
Sheafe Street Books, Portsmouth NH

There were a few small chairs inside, as you can see from the second photo. There is also a small “bargain” shelf outside the front steps. Hard to find editions collectible are between $20-30, and most books fall in the $4-8 range.

This isn’t a store where you’ll have a huge haul of $1 finds, but the experience chatting with the owner, and the wide selection crammed into the small space makes it a place you’ll want to come back to.

BOOK AND BAR
40 Pleasant St, Portsmouth NH

bookandbarportsmouthnh

This was my second favorite literary location and probably would be my favorite place to just hang out and read or meet friends for board games. Several people had card games going, others were writing and some were passing the time with a drink like we were. We actually went here twice, the first time to check out the books and the second time to have a drink and kill some time before our dinner reservation.

bookandbar2

They have a good selection of used books but you really would go here for the atmosphere. Everyone there was in a good mood and tried to make room for the ever growing crowd. The beer selection was really good and you’re sure to find SOMETHING you like on tap or in bottles/cans. They have a rotating tap and the cheapest I’ve EVER seen Downeast Cider–only $3.75 per can! For those that don’t like beer or cider, they also have a short wine selection and a couple of mixed drinks to choose from.

booksandbeerportsmouthnh
My addition to the typed messages posted near the bar.

The food looked great, though we didn’t have any. Dr Hops did have tea and I had a homemade hot chocolate– both were great. They have a pretty large selection of teas, all sourced from two NH tea shops.

No free wifi on the weekends, I’m assuming because they were pretty packed when we came back late in the afternoon on Saturday. Live music from New England and New York based bands.  In the corner where the photo is taken there is a cluster of soft upholstered chairs and sofas, around a coffee table that just SCREAMS for a game of Agricola.

RIVERRUN BOOSTORE
142 Fleet St, Portsmouth NH

riverrunbookstoreportsmouthnh
Photo from the Riverrun website

This was the only location that had both new and used books. It’s roughly the size of Book and Bar, but is the only venue that had signed copies of books from local authors. They also have a pretty extensive meet and greet list, so it looks like they have readings and signings pretty frequently.

The “Staff Picks” wall was also interesting and highlighted a variety of genres.

Only one woman was working when I stopped by and she didn’t seem to actually know that much about the store or the books it contained. There were only a few people in the store and I wasn’t greeted. She did attempt to answer a question from another customer while I was browsing and couldn’t. She wasn’t rude, it was more “flustered” and the man she was attempting to help and he just left while she was still talking “at” him.

I was a little surprised, because this bookstore had the highest rating out of the three that I visited. My go to section is science fiction and my husband asked where it was located, and the woman replied, “on the wall.” … which was pretty obvious because all of the open wall space was lined with shelves… At least she eliminated that it wasn’t on one of the tables scattered around the room. I chalk this up to a poor experience with a customer prior to my coming in the store.

They have bargain bins under the front table, where you can pick up a book for a couple of dollars. Which I rummaged through a bit but was so turned off by the way I was treated while in the store, I really just quickly scanned the shelves and bins and then decided my money was better spent elsewhere.

I’ll give them another shot the next time I’m in town (and will update this post accordingly), because everyone has off days and who knows what happened with previous customers, but it won’t be first on my list of places to visit.

 

EARTH EAGLE BREWINGS
165 High Street, Portsmouth NH

eartheaglebrewings

If you took my advice and parked in the garage, this is only about a 3 minute walk from your car, so it makes putting the beer you’ll buy SO much easier to put away. The staff was extremely friendly, and while we didn’t order food, all the people around us did and it looked great!

The place is pretty small so the earlier you get there the easier it will be to get a table. We ended up in a booth and they opened up the large windows that line the back of the room making it an indoor/outdoor experience. The walls are lined with turkey themed art.

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The flight Dr Hops selected, which you can tell how much he liked it as one is already missing

No brew tour, unfortunately, but still a great experience. Dr Hops picked up a 64 oz growler for somewhere around $25, and he’s already lamenting that it’s gone. Dr Hops substituted “Gold Digger” for “Funky Monk” as he’s not a huge fan of Kolsch style beer outside of a few we had in Cologne, Germany. We ended up taking the Funky Monk home with us to share with friends and everyone loved it!

If you want something a little different, or just don’t like beer, they also offer a wide selection of gruits. For the record, they totally missed a naming opportunity on that one, “I am gruit” would have been an awesome name!

We both wished we had a little extra time to spend here and will definitely stop by again on our next trip to Portsmouth.

PORTSMOUTH BREWING
56 Market St, Portsmouth NH

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A quick photo of the beer list from our trip. It evidently changes frequently.

This was our last book and beer themed stop prior to dinner reservations and we ended up cutting it short. There was a two hour wait for the brewery tour, which we ended up skipping out on because of the poor experience we had in the restaurant. The next time we go we’re going to aim for an earlier time of day as when we went by earlier in the day it was a different experience.

When we walked in it was pretty busy and we were told there would be a 20 minute wait, which was expected considering the time of day. We gave them a cell number so they could text when it was our turn, and took a stroll through the surrounding shops. The first major problem was the service. They seemed incredibly confused and we had two different people attempt to take our order. We got a small appetizer as well as drinks but it took FOREVER to get both. By that time we were both out of water and after waiting so long for the first drink, we decided to cap it at one and get on our way. Because of where we live, Dr Hops has had a large number of the beers offered, but I highly recommend the North Country Cider. I had the “Sugar Shack” (it was great!) which is described as follows:

Sugar Shack: A semi-dry cider flavored with extra dark amber maple syrup, fresh-pressed ginger, and a touch of black walnut. We describe it as a “party in you’re mouth”. The perfect way to celebrate the arrival of spring. New Hampshire and Maine grown apples. 5% ABV (Spring Seasonal)

On the positive side, the restaurant was very family friendly… Which was also a bad thing. We were in a back room and every table around us had multiple small children… none of whom were happy about being there. This isn’t the restaurant’s fault, but it just made the already painfully slow service even harder to endure.

OVERALL

It was a great day trip, and is about an hour drive from Boston. We’ll definitely make another trip before the end of the summer. If you have recommendations on additional things to do or shops I’ve missed please let me know!

Bookish Questions: Idle Time & What It Says About Us

BookishQuestionsIdleTime

Let me start with a distinction between “Idle” and “Free” time. In my mind, free time is time when you’re free to do anything you like for leisure, while idle time is those moments between activities, such as waiting in line, commuting to and from work, waiting for the bus. It’s basically the time you have between activities you either have to do or have chosen to do.

If I think through my day, I spend some idle time talking with my husband over a cup of coffee every morning, post waking and prior to getting ready for the day ahead.

What I do during my commute to and from work depends on how I’m getting there. Most days I prefer to walk, and while many of the people walking with me prefer to have headphones in, I always listen to the world around me. Same thing if I bike, but that’s more for safety reasons than an actual decision that I like one thing over another.

If I take the bus or train I always have my kindle with me. I tend to leave pretty early in the morning and can snag a seat without too much difficulty, in which case I always read. Others around me tend to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, while a smaller faction read physical books or ebooks, then there is a smaller group still that does none of the above and watches traffic as we speed toward our destination.

Dr Hops commutes just under an hour to his lab twice a day, and is a huge advocate of Podcasts, and I always get a rundown of the things he heard that day when we sit down for dinner. One of his favorite quotes is below and is also how he sees things. He loves that each podcast is a different topic that he would never have known about had it not been featured. He loves knowing a little about everything, and it colors his choice of idle time activities.

It’s what I do–I drink and I know things.
–T. Lannister (Game of Thrones)

I have a friend who puts together playlists the night before so they are constantly trying out new music. I have yet to hear of a band and them not already have them on one of these playlists ready to go.

If I have a later morning because of errands or dog related appointments, the train and bus are normally too crowded to sit, and I almost always have a coffee with me, so I’m stuck holding on for dear life as the MBTA shuttles me through Boston traffic. For a while I listened to audiobooks, but I don’t like being confined to only finishing a story during a particular time, and I always end up reading the book, leaving me with nothing to do on the commute once again.

Sometimes I people watch and wonder where my fellow commuters are heading. If I see someone else reading a book, I always try to see the title.

What do you do during idle time, waiting in lines or on your morning commute?  

What do you think our choice of activities during those little stolen minutes says about us?

How much do you think our idle and free time activities overlap? 

Why I’d rather pretend April didn’t happen

This has been a very rough month for me. As most of you know, I’m an analytical chemist and work with small molecules related to metabolism. I’ve been having problems with my mass spec this month and it’s required the company come in to replace some parts, meaning I lost quite a bit of time on an already tight schedule.

This combined with a massive turnover in management and our complete portfolio so far as potential targets means I’m starting a ton of projects from scratch with little or no time to actually do so.

In summary : STRESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Basically everything in my life has taken a hit because of the crazy hours I’m putting in at the moment. Reading crawled to an almost standstill, no new blog posts, laundry has been done at 4:30AM because it’s the only time I’ve had free and I’ve pretty much stopped running.

The only thing that has remained unaffected is pretty much my Border Collie’s schedule… She’s still getting her walks and kibble is served on time, so she’s having a pretty good month.

On the plus side, I’ve been given a few days off because of all the overtime the last several weeks, and Dr Hops and I are planning a little trip tomorrow.

Here’s to May, which has to be better than April!

A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

One sentence review: “The dead tell the story of the most boring apocalypse ever.” 

briefhistoryofthedeadPages: 252  Genre: Post-Apocalyptic 
Rating: 3 of 5 Crushed Coke Cans
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.66 of 5 stars
Form Read: Physical Book   Purchased: Used Book Store

Amazon synopsis: From Kevin Brockmeier, one of this generation’s most inventive young writers, comes a striking new novel about death, life, and the mysterious place in between. The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City’s only newspaper, are wondering what exactly is going on. Others, like Coleman Kinzler, believe it is the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, her supplies are running low, her radio finds only static, and the power is failing. With little choice, Laura sets out across the ice to look for help, but time is running out. Kevin Brockmeier alternates these two storylines to create a lyrical and haunting story about love, loss and the power of memory.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT AND THE AFTER-LIFE, A REVIEW 

Wow. I never knew the end of the world could be a complete and utter bore before. The initial concept is great. The idea that those you knew give you a second chance in a kind of urban purgatory. I’d be pissed if I lived a good life and then realized I am stuck for anywhere from 40-80 years paying bills and continuing to work. But don’t fret, you can finally open that restaurant you always wanted to and spend 14 hours a day working there post-retirement!

People don’t age, so that adds another layer of awkward. As does the gratuitous product placement. The flow of the story is sometimes sacrificed for a quick reference to how refreshing a Coke would be, or a suspenseful moment in the afterlife put aside to comment on the number of crushed Coke cans on the sidewalk or rolling past the individuals stuck in purgatory.

The concept is good, but the execution lost it’s way about halfway through and reminded me of listening to a good story told by a 90+ year old man who derails frequently and focuses on inconsequential extraneous detail instead of the story you’re attempting to hear.

Find the book: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble 

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen

One sentence review: “What happens when you make a bad decision, and stick with it no matter what.” 

lightfirefliescoverPages: 338 Genre: Fiction / Mystery  / Psychological / Coming of Age
Rating: 3 of 5 Sun Spots
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.03 of 5 stars
Form Read: kindle ebook   Purchased: Kindle First of March (free)

Amazon synopsis: A haunting and hopeful tale of discovering light in even the darkest of places. For his whole life, the boy has lived underground, in a basement with his parents, grandmother, sister, and brother. Before he was born, his family was disfigured by a fire. His sister wears a white mask to cover her burns.

He spends his hours with his cactus, reading his book on insects, or touching the one ray of sunlight that filters in through a crack in the ceiling. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before his own birth, about why they’re shut away.

A few days ago, some fireflies arrived in the basement. His grandma said, There’s no creature more amazing than one that can make its own light. That light makes the boy want to escape, to know the outside world. Problem is, all the doors are locked. And he doesn’t know how to get out…

REVIEW 

This wasn’t a book I’d normally pick up, but because it was free and had such positive ratings on Goodreads, I decided to give it a try. It’s fast paced mostly because you can’t wait to find out what would be bad enough to drive an entire family to living underground. Did the rage virus finally break free? Did WW3 destroy civilization? Unfortunately it’s nothing so world shattering that drove these people into a Morlock like existence.

The story unfolds through the eyes of a 10 year old boy, who has lived his entire life underground. He’s fascinated by the small spot of light that streams into their “home” at specific times of the day. This perspective allowed us, as adult readers, to know things he doesn’t yet understand but it also provides frustration as we keep circling back to the same topics over and over.

Everything wraps up in a tidy completely unbelievable bow in the end, which was also very frustrating because the reality of their situation and you know, having social security information and other needed documents that aren’t provided when you’re born in a windowless basement, completely sours the book for me.

Find the book: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble 

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2): Review

One sentence review: The triwizard tournament, now with 75% more Londons! 

This is one of the more anticipated fantasy books of this year, as it is the sequel to the highly popular “Darker Shades of Magic” by V.E. Schwab. The first book of the series made my top reads of 2015, due mainly to the inventive “multiple London” world she created.

gatheringshadowsPages: 512  Genre: Fantasy / Magic / Historical Fiction 
Rating: 4 of 5 Red Star Coins
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.52 of 5 stars
Form Read: kindle ebook   Purchased: Yes

Synopsis from Amazon: Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games-an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries-a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again-and so to keep magic’s balance, another London must fall…in V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows.

REVIEW

This book takes place only a few months after the major changes that end the first book in the series. We get to see more of the world of Red London and also get to hear how the different regions of Red London interact with one another. This was my favorite part of “Darker Shade” and I was very glad she expanded so much on this point in this book.

We spend a lot more time with Lila, who is unfortunately one of my least favorite characters, but you do get a little more insight into how she became the way she is, which gives her a little more of a pass for her more annoying character traits.

The relationship between Kell and the royal family is also something that is explored more thoroughly, as is the perception of the people of living with someone who could be either viewed as gifted or cursed for having near unlimited magical ability. The different kinds of magical gifts and the frequency they occur is expanded on, which was anther of the more interesting points in this book.

The main focus in the synopsis is the magic tournament, and while this is a constant background event, it really isn’t fleshed out in the actual text. Other than a couple of key moments, you just hear the results of the main characters and don’t really see a detailed view of how different gifts are actually used in a combat situation.

Gathering Shadows definitely had middle book problems, as this is going to be a trilogy, and the cliffhanger at the end was a little infuriating but also expected. I was very excited that this book is more than 100 pages longer than the previous book, but was disappointed in how those pages were spent. I expect a lot of setup for the next book, and love the world building enough that I’ll still pick that one up the moment it is released.

Would I recommend: yes, but with the understanding it’s a middle book.

Find the book: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble 

A Review of “Headstrong: 52 women who changed science-and the world”

A book which covers the importance of the women who pioneered the way for others, such as myself and other female scientists working in predominately male fields, which made the disappointment in accuracy and immature writing style even more poignant. Inclusion into the book was predicated on the fact you’re no longer living, which I get, since scientists who are still living might still achieve other accolades.

headstrong52womenPages: 288  Genre: Nonfiction / History /  Biography   
My Rating: 2 of 5  Broken Beakers
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.01 of 5 stars
Form Read: kindle ebook   Purchased or Borrowed: Library Copy

Synopsis from Amazon: In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?      

Headstrong
 delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

THE WOMEN

As a women in science, it’s still hard working in a predominately male dominated field but at least no one contested my enrollment in college, or denied me a higher degree because of my sex. Most, but not all, of the 52 women discussed in this book had supportive husbands who often also worked in science and realized their brilliance.

“As a research worker, the unforgotten moments of my life are those rare ones, which come after years of plodding work, when the veil over nature’s secret seems suddenly to lift and when what was dark and chaotic appears in a clear and beautiful light and pattern”          –Gerty Cori from “This I Believe”

READING LEVEL & WRITING STYLE

This is a strange mix of middle grade reading level with the occasional big word thrown in for drama’s sake. It makes each of the 4-8 page biographies sound glossed over with a random but sometimes irrelevant fact thrown in for good measure. The author’s writing style itself was somewhere between a text message and middle school book report, with unneeded colloquial references and general slang that just gave the feel of being unprofessional and didn’t add anything to the actual story or the point that was attempting to be made.

FACT CHECK

The format of this book leaves very little room for embellishment for any of the 52 women’s stories, but after reading one particular story I’m familiar with, I realized a lot of the facts could have been glossed over in a “I AM WOMAN” kind of a way obscuring their actual role in the events reported. The entire section concerning Helen Taussing and her role in “blue baby syndrome” was glossed over and made to be much more important than it actually was. Much of this has to do with the fact that Vivien Thomas, the African American “janitor” who pioneered the actual surgery, was omitted from having any major role in the discovery (other than the fact she talked to him, which he claims didn’t happen).

Omitting the importance of others in a scientific discovery because of race or gender is the whole premise of this book, so the author doing the EXACT SAME THING, both makes me angry and leaves me questioning the accuracy of the biographies.

MY THOUGHTS AS A WOMAN SCIENTIST 

I like that this book exposes readers to women scientists from a variety of backgrounds and gives insight into their lives outside of the lab and relationships with others as well. I’m disappointed in the accuracy, but it would be a good general introduction to several different forms of science for young readers. If interested in a particular woman’s life, I’d recommend not taking anything in this book as fact, and reading a few other sources.

It’s sad, but I’ve worked in three primarily male dominated scientific fields in three different states, and this is still a problem. All of my bosses are men. All of my bosses bosses are men.

Having a family and working in a demanding field makes this even harder. Women ridicule because you if you decide not to have children, and men don’t take you seriously because one day you might, and that makes you somehow a less reliable investment. If you do decide to have a family AND a career, it’s a constant struggle for balance.

One of my coworkers is a female scientist and attempts to accomplish as much as a male coworker with a child the same age. The male coworker’s wife took a less demanding job with flexible hours to give him the ability to focus on his career and advancement, but my female coworker doesn’t have this. She is the primary caregiver for her child, she works long hours, and still is responsible for daily life at home. When heads of other departments or sites visit and we have dinners, she can’t go because she has to be home to care for her daughter, but the male coworker doesn’t have this issue. He can meet higher up bosses and be involved in more projects. He doesn’t have to turn down travel because his partner prefers he’s home to cook meals and do laundry. Mentioned in the Harvard Business Review, these extra hours mean advancements, bonuses, and further burden on your spouse.

The women highlighted in this book laid the foundation, but we still have a lot to do both in the workplace and in the home to truly have a balanced life.

 

Bookish Questions: Firsthand Censorship?

BookishQuestionCensorship

Our first step is to define censorship, other than the obvious editing of your own work, I would include prevention of others from reading a particular work for any reason. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom offers the following definitions when attempting to challenge the appropriateness of literature from public consumption:

Expression of Concern. An inquiry that has judgmental overtones.

Oral Complaint. An oral challenge to the presence and/or appropriateness of the material in question.

Written Complaint. A formal, written complaint filed with the institution (library, school, etc.), challenging the presence and/or appropriateness of specific material.

Public Attack. A publicly disseminated statement challenging the value of the material, presented to the media and/or others outside the institutional organization in order to gain public support for further action.

Censorship. A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.

Growing up in a rural southern town, this was completely rampant. My school and public library system both edited what they felt was appropriate content, not just for students, but for the adult public as well.

Anything dealing with “sensitive” topics like gender issues, sexual orientation, race, scientific theory on any topic which would contradict religious doctrine, and religions other than Christianity were all excluded from the shelves. No books from the northern perspective for the Civil War were included. We also had an edited reading list for literature, and books discussing reproductive health and venereal diseases fell under vulgar content, and an abstinence only program was put in it’s place.

withoutlibraries
The only example I vividly remember is that the Harry Potter series was published when I was in 9th grade, and was excluded even after it became wildly popular, because it dealt with witchcraft and “un-Christian values.”

Growing up very poor, I couldn’t purchase the books I wanted for two reasons: they don’t give the books away just because you want them, and most of the local bookstores wouldn’t have stocked them anyway (for the same reasons the public library didn’t carry them).

This wasn’t localized to my little town or when I grew up, my husband was raised about 45 minutes away from Memphis, just across the Arkansas border and remembers that not only did his school ban all dungeon and dragon related books and guides, the local book store chains did as well, so you couldn’t even order it if you actually had the money to do so. To give you perspective, I graduated in 2000, and only a few families in my area had home computers, my husband graduated in 1993, so neither of us had an option to purchase the books online.

bannedbooksbradburyquotePeople act as if banned books and active censorship are a thing of the past and at this point we are simply celebrating how liberated we’ve become but we still have so much work to do. We SHOULD celebrate how far we’ve come but we also need to recognize that many of these issues are STILL A PROBLEM. This year marks the 34th year of the protection of readers rights, and we need to continue the momentum.

See the “Celebrating the Liberation of Literature” interactive banned book timeline HERE

Have you ever not been able to read a book because it wasn’t available? Did you have books you couldn’t read in high school or college because they were deemed inappropriate? Did you read these books anyway? 

Not sure where to go if you’ve answered yes to the questions above? For assistance with challenges to library materials, services, or programs, please contact Kristin Pekoll at the Office for Intellectual Freedom, 800-545-2433, ext. 4221, or via email: kpekoll@ala.org.