Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Packing for Mars" by Mary Roach

I selected this book as it looked like an interesting book on space travel and the possibility of sending humans to Mars.

Summary:  This book is an exploration of all the questions you wanted to ask regarding space travel, but couldn't seem to find a NASA article on the subject. Mary interviews several people connected to the Japanese, American and Russian space programs in order to learn more about the effects of zero gravity, astronaut selection and the engineering of spaceships. Most of the book is historical, in that it uses information from the Gemini, Apollo missions and related research from that time period. 

Roach covers a variety of topics including space food, space toilets, space sex, space clothes, space bathing and much more. She also explores rumors of space scandals that NASA has tried to downplay. This is a book written by someone genuinely excited about space travel, but bored with the press releases and official statements. Roach wants to know all the dirty details about life in a spacecraft and shares her findings in this book.

What I Liked: This book is full of side comments in the footnotes. Roach can't help but add little tidbits here and there, like this excerpt from a discussion on drinking while in a spacesuit: "Consumed intravenously, Tang causes joint pain and jaundice, though fewer cavities."

What I Didn't Like: This book did not really look at the possibility of going to Mars. It should have been titled "Packing for the Moon (or ISS)". I had thought it would look into the science of a Mars colony.

Rating: Highly recommended, but for mature readers only as it includes topics that are generally considered inappropriate for children.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"To Say Nothing Of The Dog" by Connie Willis

This book was lent to me by my aunt-in-law who thought that I might like it.

Summary: This book follows the adventure of Ned Henry, a historian from the year 2057. With the discovery of time travel in the early 21st century, the profession of historian became a lot more interactive. Ned works for Lady Shrapnell, a ridiculously wealthy woman who has devoted enormous amounts of money and resources to rebuild the Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed in 1940 by the Luftwaffe. Lady Shrapnell insists on recreating every detail exactly as it was right before the air raid, including the Bishop's Bird Stump, an artifact adored by her great- great- (not sure how many) grandmother, Tossie.

Ned is sent a lot of missions, quickly becoming disoriented from time lag. He is finally sent on a simple quiet mission to 1888 where he will be able to rest for 2 weeks and come back refreshed. Unfortunately, everything starts unraveling. One thing after another gets worse and worse, and with the help fellow historian Verity, they try to get everything sorted out before the space-time continuum collapses!

This book is heavily inspired by the Book "Three Men in a Boat" Jerome Jerome and by several old detective series like Lord Peter and Harriet, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie. There is also a lot of Victorian era poetry, mainly Tennyson.

What I Liked: This is an irreverent book in which Ned is constantly thinking something sarcastic, or hilariously cynical. The humor is multi-level and has well executed running jokes throughout the novel. Ned also spends a lot of time considering how the space-time continuum is kept stable with so many historians bouncing around. The laws of time travel physics are explored and discussed in a way that I found exciting. Also, the cast of characters is wonderfully eccentric, each uniquely interesting and fitting for their role.

What I Didn't Like: I wish I had read more old Victorian murder mysteries.

Rating: Must Read.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Endurance: Shakleton's Incredible Voyage" by Alfred Lansing

I selected this audiobook because I was not familiar with the details of Shackleton's expedition. I knew he was an antarctic explorer of some kind, but that was all.

Summary: This is the story of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition headed by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Lansing has interviewed crew members and read their diaries to piece together the story from start to finish. The story is told in dramatic fashion to match the drama of the journey. It is as though at every turn nature is trying to wipe these 28 men off the bottom of the map and it is only by hard work and a dribble of luck that they make it back to civilization.

As the story is now 100 years old, I can't be accused of spoiling it, so here's the basic plot. Shackleton is looking to be one of the great First's on the icy continent. Someone was already the first to reach the pole, and so he is planning to be the first to trek across the whole landmass. They are to go to the pole and then leave the continent on the other side. A separate expedition is organized to stash supplies on their exit route from the pole so that they need only bring half the gear with them. They take the ship the Endurance into the antarctic ocean and are trapped in ice. They eventually abandon ship and make camp. Shackleton and a small team then takes a lifeboat back across the ocean in search of help. This book follows the hardships and accomplishments of the men who stayed behind and the men who risked everything to save them.

What I Liked: This story has all the terror and excitement found in a sci-fi or fantasy book, and with the added bonus of being true! It is told in a very clear and direct manner so that you feel like the adventure is unfolding before you. Each chapter I was imagining myself alongside the men and wondering what I would do in their shoes. I got excited when they had good luck and became worried when things grew worse. Lansing is great at making the scene real.

What I Didn't Like: N/A.

Rating: Must Read.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"The Witch With No Name" by Kim Harrison

Image via Goodreads
I started reading the Hollows Series by Kim Harrison when it was new and before the big vampire craze of the mid 2000s.  Man, typing that out sounds so pretentious..."I liked it before it was popular."  But I did.  I found the first book, "Dead Witch Walking" through an Amazon suggestion and picked it up with a Barnes and Noble coupon back when I had unlimited income to buy books.  10 years and 13 books later it's still one of the few series I can't wait to read and shell out the moolah to get my hands on it the day it comes out.  I'm sad to say "The Witch With No Name" is the last book in the series.

These reviews are really hard to write without giving away the ending, and this book in particular has a trickle down effect where the majority of the surprise is in what happens next.  So, I'm being vague on purpose, and I apologize.  If you're curious on what I thought about a particular part, ask in the comments and I'll be happy to add my two cents.  I just don't want to ruin the surprise for anyone.

Summary:  What Rachel Morgan has dreaded from the start has come to pass, and much sooner than she anticipated.  A routine run with her roommates Ivy and Jenks goes horribly wrong when Ivy is hit by car and is left to die her first death in the middle of a public street.  What initially seems to be a horrible accident turns into something unthinkable: Ivy was targeted by Master Vampire and Cincinnati overlord Rynn Cormell to get Rachel's attention.  Rynn wants Rachel to find a way to make good on her promise to find a way to save vampire's souls.  And he's done waiting.

Under a tight deadline with Ivy's very soul at stake, Rachel must call upon her abilities as a witch and day walking demon to do what has never been done before.

What I Liked:  It's bittersweet to come to the end of a series you thoroughly enjoy, but its also nice when the author goes out with a bang, and this is what I feel Harrison did.

The book starts out like old times - Rachel, Ivy and Jenks on a run that somehow goes from routine to life-or-death in an instant.  Rachel is faced with a seemingly impossible task and is forced to rely on her friends, family and her own guts to solve the problem and save the world.  It's a formula that doesn't get old as Harrison cleverly introduces the challenges in fresh ways and relies on charismatic and hilarious secondary characters to move the plot along.

What differentiates this book from the others and what I think makes this particular installment so good is the fact that Rachel as a character has truly grown through the series.  And now the reader can see it.  "Dead Witch Walking" Rachel could not have survived this book emotionally or magically; she would have imploded in the first few chapters.  It was very satisfying to see Rachel handle herself in a way that was adult (mostly) and self actualized (mostly).

I also liked the way the plot rolled along from one action scene to the next.  The story was fast paced and Rachel's biggest challenge to date.

What I Didn't Like:  The story felt like it took too long to tell, but as it's the last in the series, I'll give this a pass.  From time to time I felt like the emotions in the book were a little over done, but again, I feel like the author was writing as if this was her last change to get it all out, so I'll give this another pass.  I also would have liked to see a lot less of the Goddess and a lot more of the Demons.  But that's probably just me.

Rating:  Fans of other books in the series won't be disappointed in Rachel's farewell tale.

Also Read by This Author:  I've read them all.  New readers should start with "Dead Witch Walking"

Reviewed By:  Tami