Monday, August 29, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Reading for Biology Majors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's Top Ten Tuesday has a back to School motif.  It's wide open but the topic chosen must have something to do with school. In The Broke and the Bookish's exact words:
Back To School Freebie -- anything "back to school" related like 10 favorite books I read in school, books I think should be required reading, Required Reading For All Fantasy Fans, required reading for every college freshman, Books to Pair With Classics or Books To Complement A History Lesson, books that would be on my classroom shelf if I were a teacher
I wanted to come up with a topic that would be unique to my background and interests so settled on making a list of books that Biology majors, particularly of the ecology persuasion but others too, would like. ' Cause I was a bio major and now make my way through the world doing biology like things.  This is not some kind of definitive list that All Biology Majors Must Read.  While I may read more science oriented books in my leisure time than the average person, I don't actually read very much in my chosen field when I'm not at work.  I've never even read some of the classics like On The Origin of Species by Darwin so this is SO not a definitive list.  Just some books I've read that I think Bio majors or folks interested in Biology/Nature might enjoy. Okay, enough caveats!  Let's do this thing.


1) A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

This will always be my first choice forever and ever amen.  An insightful eloquent and prescient series of essays about humans and our relationship to the natural world - what it rightfully is and how it is broken.  Stunningly beautiful, clear and simple.

2) Walden by Henry David Thoreau

A classic and worth reading.  It's short and is also a contemplation of human kind's relationship with the natural world.  And as with Dakota down below it is about really connecting with a place.  

3) The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Dawkins is a controversial figure these days but this classic  book which posits the supremacy of the gene in driving evolution is fascinating and really worth a read.  

4) Gun Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

Diamond is a HUGE name in ecology and evolution and has developed many interesting theories that are part logic, part philosophy, part science.  He's a genius and this quick read is his very cogent argument of how the world's climate and geography among other things (not race), shaped the development of human civilization.

In undergrad I did a paper on the evolution of monogamy.  This book, when I read it many years later, did a great job of exploding all the old ideas I espoused in that paper and illustratied that once again nature is way more complex than we can usually fathom.  AND it's easy to read and amusing by being told in the format of letters to a sex advice column:0).

6) The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

A data based thought experiment that asks the questions "If Human Beings instantaneously disappeared from this earth what would happen?"  It's interesting to think and read about.  

Mary Roach.  Bar none the most interesting and entertaining science writer.  Stiff is my favorite of her books. Her book about the gastrointestinal system, Gulp, is a close second.

8) Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

This is not a science book at all but it should really appeal to ecologists nonetheless.  It is a series of essays that meditate on the importance of place and how we sometimes connect to geography and what that means.

So, I haven't actually read this one which makes it pretty iffy to include (I do own it) but this is SUCH a big issue.  Scientists are, as a rule, REALLY bad at communicating in a way that engages non-scientists.  This is a topic most should read up on early in their career

An important story that brings up all sorts of ethical questions. It is also an example of a personal story behind science.  


Making this list has helped me to think about all those definitive texts I haven't yet read.  There's Darwin of course, Rachel Carson, Annie Dillard, E.O. Wilson, and Stephen Jay Gould.  Then there are a couple of recently released books that I have my eye on - Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald.  What else Bio majors?

P.S. Reading through my description of each book, I realized I made each of them sound insanely dry and boring and THERE NOT!  I promise!  Okay, except maybe Walden.  BUt the rest are great reads, really!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | Is it Autumn Already? Pshaw!


It has all of a sudden started to feel like Autumn here.  It seems early but this is the time when signals of Fall's inevitability start happening, I suppose.  Everything from school starting to the sweet corn fading and the melons starting to appear everywhere are hints that shorts weather may be coming to a close.

My garden has also started giving me clues.  The peppers are finally ripening and I harvested my first Lima Beans! Now to figure out how I want to preserve them!  My Kale and Chard are also looking their most fantastic so I have a couple of recipes lined up for this week to take advantage: Kale and Cauliflower Pasta, and Braised White Beans with Chard. The pasta dish is new but I've fixed the beans several times and they are very tasty.



I picked up Agents of Shield again, finished re-watching season two and just dived into season 3 for the first time.  I'm liking it thus far - Fitz and Simmons are breaking my heart, I want May back on the team but it's fun to see her hanging with her Dad, I, like Coulson, can't get used to Sky now being called Daisy.

It's weird how torn I feel about shows like this that really ramp up the stakes (so pretty much every TV show except sitcoms these days) with each successive season.  I totally get into those increased stakes but I also find myself missing and feeling nostalgic for the simplicity, cohesiveness and gentle camaraderie of the first season.  It's especially weird that I feel that way about this show because the first half of season one was hideously boring and awful, lol.


Finished Last Week:

Nothing. Nada. Zip.  I'm kind of in ANOTHER slump.  2016 has been such an up and down reading year for me!

Currently Reading:

  • Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)  by Libba Bray:  I had an actual Love-Hate relationship with the first book in this series but there was enough love to make me curious about where the series is headed.  I am not not enjoying this book but I'm not making very fast progress.  I just can't express how little I care about Evie and her relationship entanglements with Sam and Jericho. 
  • The Castle of Wizardry (The Belgariad #4) by David Eddings:  I am re-reading this series on audio - it was one of my favorites as a wee(ish) thing.
  • Rattle His Bones (Daisy Dalrymple #8) by Carola Dunn: Getting back to this series after a several year hiatus.  It's a mystery series set in 1920s London, very light and fluffy.  

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!

I did't add much to the TBR this week so I'm going to use this space to 'fess up to the shopping spree I just went on at Audible.  They are having a sale of all their most popular past Daily Deals - Lots of good stuff in this sale!!  So for roughly $25 plus 2 credits I had been sitting on that I spent on a couple of regular priced books, I got 12 new audiobooks!  Check it out:
  • Orphans of the Sky by Robert Heinlein, Narrated by Erich Michael Summerer
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Narrated by Sherman Alexie
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum, Narrated by Anne Hathaway
  • The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, Narrated by Samuel Gillies (Not on sale)
  • The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein, Narrated by Tom Weiner
  • The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries by The Great Courses  - Neil DeGrasse Tyson
  • Wait for Signs (Longmire) by Craig Johnson, Narrated by George Guidall
  • Duplicate Death (Inspector Hemingway) by Georgette Heyer, Narrated by Ulli Birve (Not on sale)
  • Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini
  • The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo, Narrated by R.C. Bray
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Narrated by Jay Snyder, Brandon Rubin, Fred Berman, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans, Tristan Morris
  • A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, Narrated by Angele Masters
There were a BUNCH more I was tempted by but I had to cut myself off or it would've gotten way ugly!  Did any other Audible subscribers take advantage of this sale?  What did you load up on?



Thursday, August 25, 2016

REVIEW | Whispers Underground and Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Underground and Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
Publication Year: 2012/2014
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Peter Grant/Rivers of London #3 and 4
Format: Audio 
Narrator: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

WHY?: This series is super duper awesome and just keeps getting better.

SYNOPSES:  First of all while each book has its own plot it is a series that pretty heavily builds on itself so if you haven't read books 1 and 2 It's probably a good idea to do so before diving into these gems.  Whispers Underground - An American student artist mysteriously dies in a London Underground station.  Peter, the newly recruited Leslie and Nightingale team up with the subway police and a young FBI agent to catch a very bizarre killer.  Broken Homes - A couple of grisly murders which on the surface seem unconnected, have Peter, Leslie and Nightingale suspecting the involvement of The Faceless Man.  

WARNING: SPOILERS AHOY!  Definitely for books 1 and 2 and I may partially spoil some things for book 4.  I'll try not to get too specific, but if you like to go into a book completely cold you'll want to beware.  Just know that I adore this series and both these books. Highly recommend!


In one way I am mad at myself for not putting down my thoughts about Whispers Underground right after reading it so that I could have given each of these books their due attention. However, it does actually makes sense to talk about the two books together because they represent a very interesting character arc for Leslie, Peter's partner.  She returns, in book three, to join the spook squad as Peter's partner even though her face, which was horribly maimed in book one, is still so disfigured she chooses to wear a mask in public.  

And that's the thing.  It is the characters and relationships that make me love this series so hard. To be honest, I frequently find the plots a little hard to follow but it is incredible just how much that doesn't matter to me.  In Broken Homes there is some very specific descriptions of how some shifty architect had some possibly nefarious plans when he designed what is now a council estate.  I didn't understand the details nor how it really connected to the murders they're investigating but it doesn't really matter.  I understood that there is something hinky with the building and that it necessitates Peter and Leslie to move in undercover to figure out what's going on.  I don't know if my confusion is because I listen to the books which sometimes makes following a complicated plot point harder, or if I'm just too dense to figure it out but I can't emphasize enough, how little it matters to my enjoyment of the books.  That should tell you just how awesome they are!  I was still completely sucked into both books and found it hard to stop listening. Aaronovitch keeps things moving and the overall plot of the books and the series is solid and engaging even when I'm sometimes a little fuzzy on the details.

As I alluded to, part of the reason why I don't get too bothered by any confusions about plot details is that I'm too busy loving on the characters and their relationships.  Peter Grant has to be one of my favorite characters of recent years.  I love the mix he has of street-wise Londoner and science/data nerd.  He is also, absolutely hilarious which makes it a complete delight that, as the reader, we live inside his head.  He'd definitely go on any list of book crushes.

I also really appreciate how Aaronovitch handles his relationships.  Peter and Leslie's relationship is particularly lovely.  They were partners and good friends, with a little bit of sexual tension thrown in but then Leslie was almost killed and her beautiful face was utterly destroyed. Getting Leslie back in Whispers Underground is fantastic  - she and Peter's camaraderie and how they work together is so great.  It's clear that Peter really cares about her  - that he might even love her and he avoids getting involved with anyone else, even the enticing Beverly Brook, which becomes an issue in Broken Homes.  He struggles with his natural revulsion to Leslie's ruined face and she is also disgusted by herself and is not ready to let Peter in. It is the fact that Aaronovitch takes his time building this complicated but super tight relationship between them that makes the bomb he drops at the end of Broken Homes so totally heartbreaking and shocking.  I didn't see it coming at all.

I love the secondary characters very much too.  I especially liked spending more time with the other law enforcement characters in Whispers Underground - Stephanopolous, Seawoll, the subway policeman whose name I can't remember - they are all great characters that add color.  I'm also fascinated by Molly, the otherworldly housekeeper at The Folly.   My one complaint about the characters/relationships is Nightingale, who I really like but don't think we get enough of.  He remains rather mysterious and there seem to be a lot of unplumbed depths there.

Another really fantastic part of this series is how incredibly evocative the setting is.  London is practically another character.  Aaronovitch imbues it with so much life and it is fun to explore it through Peter's affectionate gaze.  

Finally, I have to once again gush about the narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.  He gets Peter's unique voice and character spot on and is the absolute perfect narrator for this series.

FINAL VERDICT:  This is a delightfully funny and unique urban fantasy series with particularly strong characters.  I adore it and think it continues to get better and better.  4.45 stars out of 5.

Other Opinions are Available: | Fantasy Book Review

Monday, August 22, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | The Biggest Delinquents on My TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's TTT topic is a psychologically helpful one.  It's making me face those books that I've let languish on my TBR for far too long - embrace the shame and forgive;0).  Here's the specific topic:

Ten Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging That You STILL Haven't Read Yet (this is going to be sad considering how many of those I have unread six years later...)
I started blogging in December 2012.  I have 55 books on my Goodreads To-Read list.  Below are the ten most interesting or shameful or something.

1) Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates

This book is on my 100 Books to read list (though the project is mostly defunct) AND Joyce Carol Oates is one of a handful of major authors I've identified that I haven't read that I'd like to.  Many reasons to read this book about a dysfunctional family.

2) Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

I love Lee Smith and have read a number of her books except this one...her most famous one.  This is also on my (defunct) 100 books I must read list.  

3) Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

This and the next book were both recommendations of Simon Savidge at Savidge Reads.  He was kind of the first blog and books Podcast I listened too and even though he and I's taste don't overlap a ton there are a few places where we do.  This is one place where I think we do. 

4) Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

And this is the other place (See #3 above).  

5) Any Human Heart by William Boyd

This is Michael Kindness' (from the sadly now defunct Books on the Nightstand Podcast [Lots of defunctness on this list!]) favorite book.  I think he and I's taste overlap quite a bit and I am very intrigued by this birth to death story that has a 4.25 average rating on Goodreads!

6) The Lost Books of The Odyssey by Zachary Mason

I love Greek mythology and was super excited when I heard about this book.  I even own a copy which actually might be the reason I haven't read it yet, lol.  I tend to ignore the books on my shelves in favor of getting new shiny books from the library or bookstore. Bad Stephanie!  Anyway, here's what it is about:
With brilliant prose, terrific imagination, and dazzling literary skill, Mason creates alternative episodes, fragments, and revisions of Homer’s original that taken together open up this classic Greek myth to endless reverberating interpretations.

**APPARENTLY, I went through a phase in 2011 of wanting to read all the non-fiction books that have the longest names.  Or perhaps non-fiction books in this modern era just have longer names as a general rule?  Anyhoo, here's a whole passel of them that I'd still really like to read.  Honestly, I would!**

This is another one I own and I even started it.  I (used to?) love history, am very interested and not very educated about this time period and this book gets rave reviews.  I put it down after a few chapters but do want to get back to it sometime.

I also own this one!  Why haven't I read it yet!  Little House on the Prairie was probably my favorite show as a kid and this book is supposed to be very funny and got great reviews.

I extra special want to read this after reading, and adoring, some fiction by Amy Stewart!

Another one I own, languishing on my Kindle.

Someday, maybe?  How about you?  What are the titles you've been sitting and staring at the longest?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | On a Sunday


I don't have too much to write about the garden.  The tomatoes have been insanely irritating - they're sparse, took forever to ripen, had a lot of blossom end rot (too little water) and then half of them have been split (too much water) as soon as they ripened.  For a vegetable that anyone can grow I sure do suck at it, lol!  I was visiting a friend this weekend who was growing ground cherries and man were they tasty!  I may have to consider experimenting with them next year.

Here are some scenes from this weekend: first, the Rapidan River and second, the falls at Mineopa State Park both near Mankato, MN.

My blogging and internetting dwindled to almost nothing the last couple weeks.  Not really sure entirely why but I've got some work stress and I've been pretty obsessed with the Olympics and then  actually traveled and was social this weekend (shocker!).  It's these lapses in attention that keep me from doing anything to fancy up or improve the blog - I really love blogging and interacting with other bloggers but that doesn't always come with a constant level of commitment.  So. Sorry my blog's lame.  I'm sure it's only me that really cares but still.  I'm not sure this week will be any better honestly.  I just got home a couple hours ago, I'm pretty beat and this week at work promises to be challenging.  That doesn't mean I won't be unexpectedly flooded with inspiration and energy - it's doubtful but weirder things have happened.  Like this...



The Olympics.  Sad it is over:(. I love the drama and the feelings of inadequacy it brings;0).  My new favorite athlete crushes are Simone Biles, Usain Bolt (don't ask why it took me so long to get on this train), and Ashton Eaton.  Bad Asses All.


Finished Last Week:

  • Lost Stars by Claudia Gray: My first Star Wars book and it's sooooo gooooood!  
  • Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie: I'm not usually a reader of contemporary romance or so-called chick-lit but I really loved this book!
  • Beguilement (The Sharing Knife #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold: It was bound to happen some time  - LMB has let me down.  This book was not my cup of tea.
Currently Reading:
  • Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)  by Libba Bray:  I had an actual Love-Hate relationship with the first book in this series but there was enough love to make me curious about where the series is headed.  I am not not enjoying this book but I'm not making very fast progress.  I just can't express how little I care about Evie and her relationship entanglements with Sam and Jericho. 
  • Runemarks by Joanne Harris:  I am actually not going to finish this book though it's not bad.  It reminds me a bit of Cathrynne Valente's Fairyland series, told in a very fairy tale style.  The problem with this is that characters tend to be pretty generic and shallow which means I don't get engaged.  The Fairyland series eventually shifted for me about halfway through book one and this one might have too but I just don't have the patience and attention right now to stick with it and find out.
  • The Castle of Wizardry (The Belgariad #4) by David Eddings:  I am re-reading this series on audio - it was one of my favorites as a wee(ish) thing.

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!
  • Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie:  Because of above.  There's a feisty lady and a hitman.
  • Rhapsody: Child of Blood by Elizabeth Haydon:  I think I heard about this one on the Sword and Laser podcast?  It kind of looks like a generic fantasy but whoever was recommending it, loved it.
  • Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins:  Boarding school ...witches...I'm in.  Sounds like a fun YA.
  • The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware:  A Agatha Christie-esque mystery thriller.  Sounds great. Pretty sure I heard about this one on Book Riot's All the Books podcast.


The last time I posted a Saturday's in the Garden post two weeks ago I was all proud of my blogging prowess.  NOT so much this fortnight - the below is all I've managed...

TUESDAY (Aug15): Top Ten Tuesday | The Best Books with the Worst Settings


Monday, August 15, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Best Books With the Worst Settings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is about place and atmosphere:
Top Ten Books With X Setting (top ten books set near the beach, top ten book set in boarding school, top ten books set in England, etc)
I decided to talk about a few books I've read recently that had settings that are just generally awful.  I mean, they're great, vivid and amazing settings to read about but in reality?  They would su-uck. I know that this is perhaps stretching the intent of this topic but these are the books that spoke to me and who am I to ignore the imaginary voices of books in my head? ;)


1) The Passage by Justin Cronin

A U.S.A. where most of humanity has either been killed or turned into vampiric monsters that attack anything that moves in the dark.  Terrifying and awesome!

2) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

HA!  You thought I was just going to go for post-apocalyptic? A desolate island that can barely support life and where, occasionally, carnivorous horse come out of the sea and devour people.  Charming.  Actually, Stiefvater totally made me want to live there.

3) The Round House by Louise Erdrich

This fantastic book takes place on a a modern-day Indian Reservation in one of the Dakotas.  The reservation, in many ways, is a lovely place of community but it is also a physical reminder of the terrible injustices visited upon the indigenous peoples of North America.  

4) Saga by Brian K. Vaughn 

WOW is all I can say about this Graphic Novel series but the setting is a space where war has overrun all of the planets.  It's amazing how hopeful and fun Vaughn manages to keep this story considering just how dire the setting is.  

5) The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Alaska is amazing and beautiful but it's also super dangerous and harsh especially in winter and especially when trying to homestead in the 1920s like the couple in this awesome novel is doing.  

6) Winter by Marissa Meyer

The moon.  Under an evil dictator.  It's terrible.

7) End of Days (really the whole Penryn and the End of Days series) by Susan Ee

This takes place in California.  California's nice but... not after it has been taken over by murderous, super strong Angels that can fly.

This seems like it is set in an average, small American town until you realize that the town is surrounded by a woodland chock full of malicious fairy folk and the humans in the town are kind of bigoted jerks too. 

9) Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

So in this world, Tara is literally thrown out of the school where she is learning Craft which happens to be floating at a great height above the ground. Then, she can't really feel comfortable when she returns home because most people revile and distrust people who practice Craft.  It's a challenging world to live in.

Fairyland?  Kind of sucks.  Well it is at least kind of terrifying.  


That's a list of my  favorite books I read in the last year which had settings that if I was transported into them, I would pretty much die immediately.  What was the best book you recently read that had the worst setting?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | Eating My Own Weight in Corn, Cukes and Tomatoes


I got the yard cleaned up last Sunday, at least somewhat, and my neighbor foisted all kinds of vegetables on me for which I am NOT complaining.  She gets more sun, she's in her eighties so spends most days puttering in the garden and she grows enough for 20 people.
It's officially August in Iowa.
My garden continues to be weird.  I appear to be headed for a bumper crop of peppers but my tomatoes are really sparse and I've only gotten 4 to ripen so far.  My "experimental" crop this year were Lima Beans (which I love and didn't realize most people hate until I was like 35) and they are producing pods like mad but the pods aren't fattening up.... That will be a serious bummer if they stall at this stage without producing the beans.

The view out of my office window continues to provide a show.  The Monarch was enjoying some Ironweed and the Giant Swallowtail was enjoying the Bee Balm (sorry for the horrible pic - he was being very fluttery).

And some other random photos from being out in the field this week.  We've actually started finding some Monarch caterpillars which is a relief.
Fun Leafhopper

4th Instar Monarch Caterpillar

Ever wondered what being in the middle of an Iowa corn field looks like? Probably not but here you go anyway.



I'm still making my way through Agents of Shield and haven't gotten to any new episodes yet.  I still love May an insane amount.  I am most drawn to female characters who are bad ass and really good at controlling their emotions.  I am NOT good at controlling my emotions so I think it is a trait I envy/admire the most in other women.  I'd forgotten just how much I hate the mostly ruined dynamic between Fitz and Simmons and how changed Fitz's personality is - I love the two of them and hate that everything about them in this season is mostly grim and that most of the blame for that is piled onto Simmons.

The near future will probably be all about the Olympics!


Finished Last Week:

  • Magician's Gambit (Belgariad #3) by David Eddings: See above!  Book 3 reread from a muc beloved series.  
  • Magic Rises (Kate Daniels #6) by Ilona Andrews: I swear this series keeps getting better and better!
Currently Reading:
  • One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein: A gardening book about maximizing food production in a small space.  An ARC from Netgalley (though I think it's an older title).    
  • Lost Stars by Claudia Gray: My first Star Wars book and it's sooooo gooooood!  
  • Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)  by Libba Bray:  I had an actual Love-Hate relationship with the first book in this series but there was enough love to make me curious about where the series is headed.  The bad news?  The first sentence Evie utters contains the dreaded "Posi-tute-ly!" Ugh....

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!



Two Reviews!  Look at me being a real book blog;0).