Sunday, July 30, 2017

Lower Ed by Tressie McMillan Cottom

  • THE BOOK
    • Lower Ed: How For-Profit Colleges Deepen Inequality in America by Tressie McMillan Cottom
    • Published January 26, 2016
    • First book by author.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The author, who worked for a time as a counselor at two for-profit colleges, looks at how these schools have become successful often at the expense of their students.
    • Examples of for-profit colleges are University of Phoenix, ITT Technical Institute, DeVry, Kaplan, Capella University, and many, many others.
      • These are not necessarily schools mentioned in the book but are listed here to give you an idea of what types of institutions the author means by "for-profit".
    • The author covers the ways schools help students to enroll for programs and also explains WHY students enroll, especially when the costs are actually comparable to a traditional 4-year state school in many cases.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • The book is a bit dry with many facts and only a few case studies but is well written.
    • Jobs need workers with higher degrees than just a high school diploma. And now for-profit universities can grant Master's and PhD's! Who knew?
    • The problem with for-profit schools is that they are, well, for-profit. Investors come first, not necessarily students.
      • A small example might be a potential student who signs up for a certificate to become a masseuse, a field that has enough practitioners already so job prospects will be slim. But people get more excited over learning how to give massages and they aren't told about other areas of healthcare hurting for people to fill jobs.
    • Recommended for anyone who has an interest in the topic or for anyone considering attending a for-profit school.
    • ★ ★ ★

Monday, July 24, 2017

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar


  • THE BOOK
    • Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar
    • Published May 16, 2017
    • First collaboration between the authors.
      • Stephen King is known for a bunch of novels including Carrie and The Stand while Richard Chizmar is the founder of Cemetery Dance Publications which focuses on horror and suspense.

  • THE PREMISE
    • A man named Richard Farris meets with a plump 12-year-old girl named Gwendy Peterson in Castle Rock, Maine in 1974.
    • He gives her a box with buttons and levers. One lever distributes a single piece of candy per day which will give her energy and make her less hungry; the other occasionally sends out a perfect rare coin. The 6 buttons each represent a continent but Farris won't tell Gwendy what happens if she chooses to press one.
    • Time goes on and Gwendy grows up thin, athletically gifted, beautiful and smart. She has saved a bunch of the rare coins to pay for college. (Hmm, another example of thin as better than plump trope. FYI, some people can still be athletic, smart and beautiful while plump.)
    • But her childhood tormentor/bully is still after her.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • This book is a novella, not a novel, so it is short, less than 200 pages long.
    • I have read most of King's work and I was looking forward to another adventure in good old Castle Rock but I'm sorry to say that I didn't like this much.
      • It seemed a case of "sound and fury, signifying nothing".
        • Richard Farris has the same initials as Randall Flagg and other King antagonists who represent some sort of evil force.
        • And yet, while the box does indeed seem to cause harm when a button is pushed, why would an evil person give it to someone like Gwendy who has the strength of character to (almost) never use it?
    • There are anachronisms, one of which stuck out pretty strongly to me. Gwendy is my age if she was 12 in 1974. Therefore when a coin dealer offers her some state collectible quarters that I actually collected with my son in the 1990s and 2000s it seemed a pretty silly oversight.
    • The button box moves on to the next person and the story just sort of ends. 
    • I am glad it only took less than a day to read. Not sure I would read another collaboration of this kind. I guess I prefer my Stephen King books undiluted.
    • Recommended for Stephen King completists.
    • ★ ★

Friday, July 21, 2017

Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan

  • THE BOOK
    • Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan
    • Published April 25, 2017
    • Other works by author include books for kids (example: 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You're 12!) and crafts (example: Hippie Crafts: Creating a Hip New Look Using Groovy '60s Crafts)
    • I received a free copy from Library Thing in exchange for a review.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Evangeline Riley, 16-years-old, lives in Bayou Perdu, Louisiana, located in Plaquemines Parish near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
    • It's August 2005 and Hurricane Katrina is on its way and Evangeline and her family evacuate to Georgia where an aunt lives.
      • Bayou Perdu is mostly destroyed and there is nothing to go back to but both Evangeline and her father want to return. Her mother wants to stay in Georgia.
    • Evangeline has no idea what became of some of her friends (cell phones existed, of course, but were not widespread yet). She enrolls in the local high school and makes new friends, including an intriguing guy named Tru, a fellow refugee.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I have a personal pet peeve about girls named Evangeline that seem to exist in every story that takes place in Louisiana.I grew up in Southern Louisiana and I never met anyone by that name! Yet it is definitely a more common name in the state than elsewhere.
    • My childhood home, and the homes of my relatives who still lived in St. Bernard Parish (north of Plaquemines) in 2005, were all destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Katrina.
    • I liked the premise quite a bit but I think the story could have gone deeper. 
      • Evangeline spends a lot of time looking for the status of her two good friends but they aren't a very big part of the story as characters. 
      • I get that this book is for the Young Adult reader and not for a woman in her 50s!
      • Given that, the book is very good. It has a satisfying ending but again, I would have liked to know more about their readjustment. It just seemed fairly superficial with not enough meat. The bones are definitely there, however.
    • Recommended for those who like young adult books and enjoy stories about families trying to get by in trying circumstances.
    • ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman

  • THE BOOK
    • The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Cost of Defeating Disease by Meredith Wadman
    • Published February 7, 2017
    • First work by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • Rubella, also known as German measles, was a scourge before the vaccination was developed in the 1960s.
      • If a pregnant woman was exposed to rubella her fetus would develop sever birth defects.
      • It is called German measles because German doctors first determined it was a separate disease from other types of contagious diseases
    • A man named Leonard Hayflick made a number of discoveries that led to the development of a vaccine by other researchers.
      • He discovered that human cells only divide for a limited amount of times in lab cultures (known as the Hayflick limit). Before this scientists thought the cells were immortal and would grow forever.
      • He developed the cell line called WI-38, created from the cells from an aborted fetus from a woman in Sweden.
    • Before the clean cell line of WI-38 was available scientists used animal tissues, especially from monkeys but also ducks and rabbits among others.
      • These sometimes caused reactions because there are sometimes hidden things in the cells of other animals.
    • So this book follows the entire path of the development of a vaccine that was safe and effective. There are many controversies inherent in such a topic (tissue from an aborted fetus, the current autism/vaccine standoff, etc...) and these are discussed in detail as well.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Some interesting facts I learned concerned the timing of rubella epidemics in the United States in the 1960s.
      • An outbreak occurred from the winter of 1964 through the spring of 1965.
        • Outbreaks in those days traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast, so one would presume the early outbreak date occurred in the east and the later dates included the west.
          • This matters to me because members of my family were born in February 1964 (in the south central area so closer to the east) and January 1965 (west coast). This means the pregnant moms just missed being in the thick of an epidemic that might have harmed their babies.
    • I had the German measles in July 1969 and when the vaccine became available that year I got that too. 
      • In those days vaccines were given at schools. I assume this means it was free and paid for by the government, whether local or federal? I remember lining up with other kids at the local middle school and we all got our shots one after another. 
        • I cannot imagine this happening today!
    • But back to the book! I like reading books about how diseases function and how cures come to be so I really liked this one.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy reading about the subject too.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Pearls Hogs the Road by Stephan Pastis

  • THE BOOK
    • Pearls Hogs the Road: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury by Stephan Pastis
    • Published April 25, 2017
    • Other works by author include several prior treasuries of the comic strip "Pearls Before Swine" and the Timmy Failure series for children.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Every comic strip from "Pearls Before Swine" for a one-and-a-half year period including commentary by the author for most of the strips.
    • Features the characters of Rat, Pig, Goat and Zebra along with their other friends and neighbors.
    • Includes the week when Bill Watterson, revered for the "Calvin & Hobbes" strip, drew three days worth of "Pearls Before Swine".

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Our family loves this comic strip so we buy all of the treasuries.
    • If you like the strip you'll love the treasury. If not, you won't.
    • Recommended for fans of the strip.
    • ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

  • THE BOOK
    • All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
    • Published February 7, 2017
    • First novel by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • This book features time travel of a sort.
    • Tom lives on Earth in 2016, a place where the Goettreider engine produces unlimited energy (invented in 1965) and the future has developed like all the science fiction stories said it would: jetpacks, flying cars, the whole Jetsons lifestyle.
    • Thanks to his father's time travel experiments, intended to go back to the start of the Goettreider machine in 1965, Tom goes back in time, messes things up and ends up back in 2016. OUR 2016.
    • In his old life his mother had died and he was an only child. In this new universe his mother is still alive and he has a sister.
    • The woman he loved in his time (who didn't love him) is in this world too.
    • Complications ensue as he tries to return to his world.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I noticed that a lot of people are comparing this book to another called Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I read that book last year and there are definitely similarities but I think there are always going to be similarities in time travel stories. They just happened to come out within 6 months of each other which makes it easier for people to compare them directly.
      • That book's protagonist had more of a conspiracy feel to it --- things happen to him thorugh no fault of his own --- whereas this book has Tom, kind of an aimless doofus who changes time accidentally AND on purpose, more humorous in its nature to some degree.
    • Anyway, I liked this story and the characters. Standouts include Lionel Goettreider himself and Tom's mother and sister.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy science fiction stories about time travel.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Court of Fives/Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott


  • THE BOOKS
    • Court of Fives and Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
    • Published August 18, 2015 and August 16, 2016
    • First and second books in the Court of Fives series 
      • The final book, Buried Heart, will be released in July
    • Other works by author include the Crown of Stars series, the Crossroads series, the Spiritwalker series and the Highroad series.

  • THE PREMISE
    • Jessamy's father is a Patron and has a Commoner mistress and five daughters who are thus mixed-race in this world.
    • She secretly competes in the popular game Court of Fives, a course of five sets of obstacles called Trees, Rings, Traps, Rivers and Pillars. Jessamy is a savant on the Fives field.
    • Political machinations ensue and Jessamy's parents are split apart, he to marry the great lord's niece and she and her other 4 daughters to be entombed in a mausoleum. Jessamy is taken to participate in the Court of Fives contests for the same great lord.
    • Her mother and sisters are rescued from their premature burial and eventually disappear. Jessamy tours the land, searching for her family. She has developed a relationship with Kalliarkos and a friendship with a Commoner poet whose name I forget, sorry.
    • Everything seems to be building towards a revolution of the Commoners rising up against the Patrons with Jessamy leading the way in book 3.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I liked the world-building and the bones of the story. A little more politics than I'd like but it doesn't have the usual "heroine torn between two guys" angle (yet) so that's a plus but I fear it's coming in book 3.
    • Her sisters and mother are interesting characters but aren't utilized as much overall until later in book 2.
    • I am looking forward to reading the conclusion next month.
    • Recommended for those who like young adult fantasy fiction, especially if you like female main characters.
    • Both ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

  • THE BOOK
    • The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
    • April 18, 2017
    • First work by author

  • THE PREMISE
    • In the 1910s young women (some as young as 13) began to work as "dial painters", painting luminous paint onto clock-face numbers so they would then glow in the dark. During World War I they also painted things for use in military equipment, allowing soldiers and pilots to see the dials in the dark.
    • The paint was made with radium, a chemical element discovered by Marie & Pierre Curie in 1898. 
    • The girls would take their paintbrushes, put them in their mouths to make a perfect point. Then they would dip the point into the paint. (Watch faces, for example, are fairly small so the numbers painted needed to be very precise.) The book refers to this process as "lip-dip-paint" or "lip-dipping". They did this hundreds of times a day.
    • The girls were told that radium wasn't harmful --- even while the male employees in the labs used lead aprons and gloves when handling the stuff --- and it was in their hair, on their skin and clothes. They literally glowed in the dark.
    • The job was considered a good one because it was an "artist's studio" rather than a factory. It paid 1.5 cents per dial painted. A good dial painted could make about $20 per week, a great salary for a young woman in those days.
      • The girls would sometimes even paint their fingernails with the luminescent paint. Or take it home to paint onto their siblings.
    • Meanwhile, radium was considered a health elixir and was added to all sorts of things. (Read about Eben Byers on Wikipedia to see how that worked out.)
    • Even while they were still working at the studios the girls started having health problems: loose teeth, abscesses, joint pain, exhaustion and many others.
    • So here's the deal: radium is radioactive. It emits alpha, beta and gamma rays. No one cared about alpha rays because they didn't travel far, maybe a few inches. Beta and gamma rays are the ones to protect one's self from, hence lead aprons and tongs when handling it. (Rules are MUCH stricter in modern times.)
      • Because the girls were ingesting it with every touch of the brush to their lips, the radium entered their bodies where it has a half-life of 1600 years. 
      • The human body treats radium just like calcium: it goes right into the bones. Once it's in the bones those alpha rays kept emitting those few inches, causing radiation poisoning, something the radium dial businesses knew but ignored when it came to these women.
      • Their teeth fells out; their jaws disintegrated. They suffered from anemia (bone marrow is where new blood cells are created; radiation destroyed that ability for many). Their leg and arm bones got shorter and easier to break. Their spines collapsed.
        • All of this came with constant excruciating pain. There was no cure
      • Those who weren't affected in this way eventually developed sarcomas, tumors on the bones.
    • The main story of the book follows two groups of women and the fight they had to try to get just compensation for their medical costs. One group was located in Orange, New Jersey and the other in Ottawa, Illinois.
    • Of special note are the stories of Katherine Schaub from Orange and Catherine Wolfe Donohue of Ottawa. Both were the plaintiffs in cases to claim compensation.
      • Catherine found out in a court hearing that her condition was incurable.
    • Typical corporate legalese: In one case they were all, yes, yes, radium poisoning happened but the statute of limitations has run out so too bad while in the next they denied any poisoning had occurred because radium was safe.
    • Their ordeals led to the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
    • Some of the women lived long lives but still suffered the affects of radiation such as constant pain, lameness, and amputations. Most died in their 20s and 30s after more suffering than we can imagine.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • As you can probably tell from my very long premise section, I loved this book. My heart ached for these women, many of whom would have been contemporaries with my own grandmother who was born in 1898. 
    • You keep wishing for an ending like the one in the movie "The Verdict" where the jury wants to give even more money to the victims than they asked for but for various reasons there was only a pot of $10,000 to split among the Illinois women, most of whom were already in huge debt due to their medical bills.
    • Since they were female and the medical troubles started months or years after they worked at the radium studios, they were not taken seriously. When one of the men who worked in the lab got sick people noticed.
    • The story is fascinating but it does take a while to remember the women's names as we learn their stories. The story goes back and forth between New Jersey and Illinois and can be a little confusing but it ends strong with the legal section on Catherine Donohue's claim.
    • Recommended for those who are interested in life about 100 years ago or just find this topic intriguing.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Monday, July 3, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

  • THE BOOK
    • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
    • Published February 14, 2017
    • Author of several collections of short stories including Tenth of December and In Persuasion Nation.
    • This is the author's first full-length novel.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story is based on contemporary reports that Abraham Lincoln visited the cemetery where his eleven-year-old son Willie had been buried after his death on February 20, 1862. Lincoln was reported to have gone back to hold and talk to his son's body.
    • The novel takes place over a single night, February22, 1862, when Lincoln visits his son's body. Willie, meanwhile, still exists in the bardo, a Tibetan word meaning "intermediate state".
      • He is ready to go on but pauses when he sees his father. When his father leaves he decides to stay until Lincoln returns.
    • There are a cast of many others in the graveyard, those who have not gone on, and in most cases do not know they are dead. They tell their own stories while trying to get young Willie to move on to the next place but also fascinated with the reality of Lincoln coming in and touching his son.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I heard about this book and wasn't sure what to think. The premise sounds odd and the format of the book is different than a typical novel.
      • The dialogue is written more like that of a play, which makes sense, as characters in the cemetery come in and out as the story requires.
    • I thought: This could be one of those over-hyped books that end up being pretentious and irritating!
      • I was wrong and I really enjoyed it!
      • That said, I think some readers will think this book IS pretentious and irritating. 
    • The stories of the ghosts (not a term used in the novel) are affecting and you understand their lives, their deaths and their struggles in the afterlife/bardo. The relationship between Lincoln and his son is affecting as well.
    • The story is about grief so it's not for everyone even ignoring the novel's unusual format.
    • There are moments of levity during the story. It's not an ultra-depressing tale but there is a palpable sadness infused throughout.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy stories about Abraham Lincoln, the 1800s and who might appreciate what amounts to a meditation on grief.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★