Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War Review


Summary: Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries―panic, exhaustion, heat, noise―and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat. She visits the fashion design studio of U.S. Army Natick Labs and learns why a zipper is a problem for a sniper. She visits a repurposed movie studio where amputee actors help prepare Marine Corps medics for the shock and gore of combat wounds. At Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti, in east Africa, we learn how diarrhea can be a threat to national security. Roach samples caffeinated meat, sniffs an archival sample of a World War II stink bomb, and stays up all night with the crew tending the missiles on the nuclear submarine USS Tennessee. She answers questions not found in any other book on the military: Why is DARPA interested in ducks? How is a wedding gown like a bomb suit? Why are shrimp more dangerous to sailors than sharks? Take a tour of duty with Roach, and you’ll never see our nation’s defenders in the same way again.


My Review: As with her other titles, Mary Roach tackles human warfare in her typical irreverent, but fascinating fashion. She covers an array of topics, ones that you would not suspect such as hearing loss due to bombs, sweating, diarrhea, stink bombs, and more. She speaks to an array of military personnel and even spends time in Djibouti and in a submarine.

I was highly entertained as usual; Mary’s footnotes are hysterical. I also learned some very interesting things on what the military is concerned about and doing research on. I had no idea that most military in combat situations experience hearing loss in some form or other.  Each chapter covers a different aspect of military welfare and safety. The books isn’t really about warfare or war, but about the various ways scientists, researchers, and even fashion designers work to help the men and women in the military.

I am admittedly, a big fan of this author and have read three of her other titles. This one did not disappoint.


Rating: 5/5

Salt to the Sea Book Review


Summary: World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes

My Review: This is based on the true story of the maritime tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The story is told in alternating chapters between four characters: Joana, Emilie, Florian, and Alfred.

Joana’s entire village in Lithuania is gone and she has no idea if her family has survived. Her background of nursing skills comes in handy very often throughout the novel. She tends to be the mother hen of the group, which also include a woman named Eva, an elderly gentleman they call the Poet, and a young boy they found wandering in the woods. Though wracked by guilt for reasons that are revealed in the story, she keeps a level head throughout most of the story.

Emilia is from Poland and is hiding a few secrets of her own. She is the more sensitive member of the group. She meets Florian when he saves her from a solider and for the rest of the story, she follows him wherever he goes. She shows a surprising inner strength as the story progresses.

Florian also has some secrets. He stubbornly went own his own path instead of listening to his father and he harbors many regrets over it. He is a very reluctant hero through most of the book.

Alfred is a soldier on board the Gustloff. Most of his chapters are told through letters he mentally writes to a girl in his town. His characters gets revealed with each of his chapters and I truly hated him by the end of the novel and hoped for his demise.

Ruta Sepetys did not disappoint with this book. As with Between Shades of Gray, she sheds light on a piece of World War II history not covered before in young adult fiction. I instantly went online to read more about this horrific tragedy after reading the books. It would seem it would be hard to get a grasp on the characters as four different people are telling the story, but I feel this enhanced the book instead. My attention was grabbed within a few pages and I could not put this book down.

Rating: 5/5

Ember in the Ashes Review


Summary: Laia is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

My Review:

This book is told from two points of view. Laia is a Scholar, who, in order to save her brother, joins a resistance group and goes undercover at the empire’s military academy. Elias is a Mask, a student at the academy about to graduate, who hates the academy and everything it stands for.

The two characters struggle with their roles throughout the book, especially when Laia begins to suspect the resistance isn’t all that it seems. She grew up in a loving environment with her grandparents and life as a slave is shocking to her. She befriends a fellow slave and offers to help her escape when she does. Laia is a fully fleshed out character. She is afraid all the time, but keeps at it to save her brother. She has to convince herself to stay the course many times throughout the book and she is a very sympathetic character. I really enjoyed reading her chapters.

Elias was raised by tribespeople and brought to the academy as a child. He’s never really fit in with the other Masks and begins to question their ways and philosophy. When he meets Laia, he does what he can to help her without getting caught himself and therefore killed. His fellow Masks are well defined, most especially Helene and Marcus. He goes through all the steps of the trials, but has no intention of winning or gaining any power.

I wish they didn’t add the love triangles in the story. Laia is drawn to a resistance fighter who seems to truly care for her, but is attracted to Elias. Elias realizes he has some feelings for his longtime friend Helene, but likes Laia for how she looks in a dress. These relationships were not really necessary in my opinion. It didn’t detract from the story, but I didn’t feel they needed to be part of the plot.

The ending is left open for the sequel, A Torch Against the Night.

Rating: 4/5

You are the Placebo Review



Is it possible to heal by thought alone—without drugs or surgery? The truth is that it happens more often than you might expect. The book shares numerous documented cases of those who reversed cancer, heart disease, depression, crippling arthritis, and even the tremors of Parkinson’s disease by believing in a placebo. Similarly, Dr. Joe tells of how others have gotten sick and even died the victims of a hex or voodoo curse—or after being misdiagnosed with a fatal illness. Belief can be so strong that pharmaceutical companies use double- and triple-blind randomized studies to try to exclude the power of the mind over the body when evaluating new drugs.



I have mixed thoughts on this book. It’s a very technically dense book, so it took me two months to get through. The author goes into deep detail explaining the brain and how it works, which was interesting but had me reaching for a dictionary at times with the terminology he uses. The book is over 300 pages and the main premise is: meditate and all will be well. I am all for meditation, but I don’t think he needed to go into such details about other factors.


I like the thought process of this book: how you think & feel about your body makes a difference. All of us feel one way or another about our health and recognizing the negative thoughts can be hard to do as they seem so normal. For example, I have arthritis in my knee. I always call it my “bad” knee. After reading the book, I am going to try to think differently about my knee and see how it changes my attitude on it.


On the other hand, I personally would not stop taking any medications or try to cure myself of a disease by thought alone. I don’t know if it’s the skeptic in me or the part that firmly believes in a combination of western and eastern medicine, but I feel there are things that needed to be treated with surgery and medications. The personal stories and research studies told in the book were fascinating and interesting though. I do plan to try to have a more healing mind process than diagnostic one for my own mental well begin. I also want to learn meditation in the near future, but I am not sure I am open minded enough to think it can cure me of any of my conditions.

Raina Telgemeier Readalikes

As with most libraries, Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels are very popular at my library. The list below is based on what my library has on its shelves.

Allison, John. Bad Machinery: The Case of the Team Spirit.

Bell, Cece.  El Deafo 

Castellucci, Cecil. The Plain Janes.

Chmakova, Svetlana. Awkward.

Cliff, Tony. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish    Lieutenant.

Gownley, Jimmy.  The Dumbest Idea Ever!

Gulledge, Laura Lee.  Page by Paige.

Hale, Shannon. Calamity Jack.

Hicks, Faith Erin. Friends with Boys.

Jamieson, Victoria. Roller Girl.

Kashyap, Keshni. Tina’s Mouth.

Knisley, Lucy. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen.

Pearson, Luke. Hilda and the Midnight Giant.

Roman, Dave. Teen Boat!

Shen, Prudence. Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong.

Stevenson, Noelle. Lumberjanes.  

TenNapel, Doug. Cardboard.

Vaughan, Brian K. Runaways: Pride & Joy.

Yuen, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese.


Girls Like Me by Lola Stvil Review


Girls Like Me by Lola Stvil

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Shay Summers is trying to cope with the death of her father, being overweight, and threats from a girl bully in school.  When she falls in love with Blake, a mysterious boy online, insecure Shay doesn’t want to tell him who she is.  But with the help of her two best friends, as well as an assist by Kermit and Miss Piggy, ultimately Shay and Blake’s love prevails.

My Thoughts:

Told through poems, Shay shares her story. Her father has recently passed away and she doesn’t like her stepmother. She feels that her stepmom is always trying to get her to lose weight and is judging her when she doesn’t eat healthy.

Shay is bullied in school, mainly by Kelly Conway who fit the mean girl stereotype 100%. She does have two best friends, Dash & Boots. The trio give each other support in the trials of getting through high school and with their own personal life issues. I like Shay, but I wanted to see more of Dash and Boots. Their characters and their stories shined in the story.

Shay ends up going online and flirting with an unknown boy from her school. She continually refuses to meet with him because she’s ashamed of her size and when she finds out who he really is, she runs. He realizes who she really is and acknowledges her in school and they start becoming a couple. She is bothered by the talk in the school about them, but he doesn’t care and doesn’t validate her feelings for why she’s so upset. This bothered me. He was never the end of bullying like she was. His advice to simply ignore the whispers and stares isn’t good at all. In my opinion, he should have understood where she was coming from and given her feelings more validation. I think this could have been done if the novel was written in prose and not in verse. It seems a lot is left out in this format, which is a shame because I love novels in verse.

When a website about her is created, she breaks up with him and retreats once more. She attends a popular Halloween party for a specific reason (I can’t say what it is because it spoils part of the plot). She ends up back together with the boy and stands up to the mean girl at last.

Though this was a good book, I wanted to love it and I didn’t. The author tackled her grief very well, but it bothered me that it took a cute boy for Shay to begin to come out of her shell. I wanted her to realize it for herself and with her friends. The romance was cute and I was happy they were together at the end, I just wanted more from him and more from her.


Rating: 3/5

Fairy Tale/Folktale Retellings


I recently went through a spurt of reading some great fairy tale/folk tale retellings. I thought I would share some of the ones I’ve found. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it’s a good start.


Ahdieh, Renee              The Wrath & the Dawn Arabian Nights

The Rose & the Dagger



Meyer, Marissa            Cinder                                      Cinderella

Scarlet                                        Red Riding Hood

Cress                                           Rapunzel

Winter                                     Snow White


Flinn, Alex                    Beastly                                     Beauty & the Beast

Cloaked                                   Various

Towering                                  Rapunzel

A Kiss in Time                         Sleeping Beauty

Mirrored                                  Snow Witch


Levine, Gail Carson      Fairest                                      Snow White


Napoli, Donna Jo         Bound                                      Cinderella


George, Jessica Day     Princes of the Midnight Ball       Twelve Princesses

Princess of Glass


Gaughen, A.C.             Scarlet                                      Red Riding Hood


Kontis, Alethea           Enchanted                                Various


Cornwell, Betsy            Mechanica                                Cinderella


Dokey, Cameron          Belle                                         Beauty & the Beast

Wild Orchid                             Mulan

Before Midnight                        Cinderella

Golden                                     Rapunzel

Beauty Sleep                            Sleeping Beauty


Lo, Malinda                  Ash                                          Cinderella


Shusterman, Neal         Red Rider’s Hood                    Red Riding Hood

Duckling Ugly                           Ugly Duckling


Sheehan, Anna              A Long, Long Sleep                 Sleeping Beauty

Jay, Stacey                   Princess of Thorns                    Sleeping Beauty