The Heart Goes Last (2015) – Margaret Atwood

heart goes last

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last

by Margaret Atwood

After a major economic collapse Charmaine and Stan are living in their car and trying to make ends meet. They are living in a lawless society constantly on edge. They find an opportunity to live within a crime-less utopia. The catch is that this utopia is a social experiment. They live one month in a regular community doing regular jobs and then the next month they alternate with another couple and live in a prison. They have made both circumstances as posh and attractive as possible to attract folks to sign up. Each individual has one month in the town called Consilience and one month in prison a called Positron doing a separate job. Stan and Charmaine are so happy to be rid of their past lives. They immediately sign up to this experiment where everything is monitored and you can’t get out.
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Deep Down Dark (2014) – Hector Tobar

Deep Down Dark

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Story of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free

by Hector Tobar

This is a vivid and immediate account of the mining disaster that occured in Chile in 2010. A group of 33 men were trapped underground for 69 days (17 of which was spent inching towards death before they were eventually found). Tobar was seemingly an unseeing eye watching and recording the whole ordeal unfold. It’s very evident that Tobar has done his research to recreate a seemingly minute by minute account. The account of the mining diaster as experience by both the miners and those above ground is very intimate. I found myself immersed in this world. Throughout the book Tobar will expertly set a scene and will insert a memory from one or two of those involved recollecting that specific moment.

This story is very much a cultural account laced with a historical vibe that speaks to the very nature of the region and specific landscape. I enjoyed these tidbits immensely. However, the universal aspects of the story also truly resonate.
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Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America (2015) – Jill Leovy

ghettoside

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

Ghettoside: a True Story of Murder in America

by Jill Leovy

Murder gets attention in a fragmented manner. True, it seemingly pervades our news cycle. However, that speaks more to many other things than murder itself. In her book, journalist Jill Leovy highlights the overlooked murder epidemic of young black men in South Los Angeles. She finds it a problem rooted in historical institutions, a problem with the criminal justice system, and one of the biggest race problems in America. In ways, criminal justice is unfair and overly oppressive towards minorities. As Leovy argues, we see where it doesn’t go far enough. We learn where it helps to create the environment where murder rates among black Americans remain as distant from any other group as ever.

Her book highlights the small stories that exist in the everyday world of black violence in Los Angeles. She focuses on one murder in particular – the murder of a black teen male and the son of a black homicide detective. Yet, she also shares stories of the forgotten black men, an enduring chronicle for those that would otherwise be forgotten. In so doing, she highlights the cultural and institutional issues at play. For those concerned about race issues and about homicide, this is an enlightening portrayal that I would definitely recommend. I found this to be a topical and educational book for the socially aware American in light of recent national attention being drawn specifically to police and race and #blacklivesmatter.

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What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (2014) – Randall Munroe

What If?
What If?

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

by Randall Munroe

This really is a collection absurd and hypothetical questions. Also, the reader does get serious scientific answers, but answers that are far from rigorous and often times anything but serious. Given the nature of some of the questions, Munroe takes his own approach to providing an answer. Questions range from all areas of possible scientific inquiry, math, history, physics, chemistry, meteorology, biology, and so much more. As a former physics grad and NASA employee, there is a lean towards the inclusion of physics related questions and answers. In each answer, he often raises peripheral questions he’d rather answer or take a question to the extreme. Yet overall, its still a fun approach which makes for an enjoyable lighter read. At times I can see how readers may be frustrated with the answers, but in less than 10 pages there’s another interesting absurd question to dive into. Continue reading

Fortune Smiles: Stories (2015) – Adam Johnson

fortune smiles

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

Fortune Smiles: Stories

by Adam Johnson

This collection of short stories are raw and reverberant with tangible realism. They leave an impression on you. As a collection, they all are well written, intense, and at times disturbing. There is no obvious relationship among these 6 short stories, but together they form quite unique perspectives of disparate people struggling with tough circumstances. Personally, some stories worked and other didn’t. Johnson’s writing is top notch. He also does a great job capturing the nuances and complexities in the very real feelings in his characters. However, I find some stories don’t feel complete or satisfying. They each have well defined endings, but just not satisfying when taken as a whole.

Johnson captures the intangible very well. The essence of emotions in his characters and the essence of unique circumstances in various settings/cultures are bottled well. If only Johnson can use that essence to fill in a more structured and complete story. Perhaps, that’s the author’s point, but I would say this collection has piqued my interest to see someone else try to meet my high standards for short stories.

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Working Stiff (2014) – Judy Melinek MD and Thomas J. Mitchell

working stiff

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and Thomas J. Mitchell

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262, Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

by Dr. Judy Melinek and Thomas J. Mitchell

A true story of all the deaths that occur and the work of a person who continued to serve the dead and their families. Told from Dr. Melinek’s perspective, she chronicles her journey from a overworked surgical resident to her discovery of a new calling as a pathologist. She outlines her year as a forensic pathologist in the medical examiner office in New York City the year that 9/11 occurred. She witnessed the event firsthand, “cumulating the human toll” of the World Trade Center attacks. Her unique perspective of that event is in itself worth picking up this book. Continue reading

Act One (1959) – Moss Hart

Act One

Act One by Moss Hart

Act One
Moss Hart

This autobiography is very much a entrepreneurial inspiration, a period piece and a captivating memoir. Published in 1959, Act One tells the story of Hart’s life growing up in poverty in early 20th century New York and his struggle to make it as a playwright. Hart tells how the singular goal and mindset to be involved in the world of theater influenced and shaped his destiny. That fierce dedication was the catalyst that led to such a successful career as a playwright and director. I am at once awed and jealous by the journey described in this memoir which ends with the premiere of his first Broadway hit, Once in a Lifetime, in 1930. Unfortunately there was no Act Two as Moss Hart died soon after the publication of this book.

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Limetown Season 1 Review

Limetown

Season 1 of Limetown was definitely a podcast worth listening to. It’s one that is dense and full of substance. Many compare it to Serial. In the same vein, you have a female reporter who reports on a strange mystery. This time however, the story is all fictional. Lia Haddock, or the voice actress who plays her (Annie-Sage Whitehurst) has this same reporting voice that brings about calm enthusiasm, and reporter-interest innocence that Sarah Koenig does so well. However, it’s the intrique in this story which forces you to listen to this podcast by yourself, alone without distractions in order to pay attention and fully absorb every single detail as you unravel the mystery alongside Lia.

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Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir (2014) – Roz Chast

can't we talk about something more pleasant

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

by Roz Chast

Roz Chast an American cartoonist, writes/draws a memoir on her experience dealing with the aging of her 90+ year old parents. This book uses comic book panels, handwritten narration and a mixture of photos to tell her story. Can’t we Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a personal memoir that portrays the realities of aging, decline and death. Unfortunately, I felt it dealt with only a small snippet of that reality. However, the small snippet it does deals with is very well done. It’s poignant, humorous at times, and a much needed intriguing perspective on a difficult subject.

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Station Eleven (2013) – Emily St. John Mandel

station eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Station Eleven
Emily St. John  Mandel

Arthur Leander is a well known actor who dies on stage during a Shakespeare performance. The night this occurs a horrible pandemic strikes killing most of the population. This reference point sets us on the journey in Station Eleven where readers learn about a selected group of disparate characters based primarily in the Great Lakes Region and their relation to the horrible flu outbreak. The novel jumps back and forth among a variety of characters in both the pre and post pandemic world. We first learn about Jeevan, the paparazzi turned EMT who jumped on stage to attempt CPR on Arthur Leander. We follow Kirsten, the child actress who witnessed the death and later becomes a member of the Traveling Symphony several years later during the post-apocalyptic world. We learn about the Arthur’s first wife Miranda, his second wife and only son turned religious prophesier, and his old friend, Clark. As Station Eleven unfolds we learn more and more about how the characters are all connected in subtle and unconventional ways.

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