Tag Archive | research

Amped, by Daniel H. Wilson (fiction) – amp your brain, lose your humanity?

book cover of Amped by Daniel H Wilson published by DoubledayWelcome to the near-future!
A simple implant negates epilepsy,
another upgrades low IQ,
yet another amplifies physical performance.

We’re not talking 3-D headgear to improve complex visualizations – these are directly attached to relevant brain areas to control problems or enhance capabilities. Shouldn’t disadvantaged children be given help to overcome obstacles to their success, to keep them off the welfare rolls as adults?

And people who don’t use this technology – the pure humans – feel more-threatened every day by it. Should amps really be recognized as citizens? Aren’t they now less than human because of their implants? From lawsuits to concentration camps to outright violence, if you’re Amped, you’re a target – until it’s time to fight back!

The author of Robopocalypse brings us another all-too-possible view of a technology-enhanced future that’s more nightmare than dream-come-true. Published in early June, you’ll find Amped  at your local library or independent bookstore.

Book info: Amped / Daniel H. Wilson. Doubleday, 2012.  [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer]  

My Recommendation: Brain implants to control seizures help millions like Owen; why shouldn’t implants help amplify limited intelligence or upgrade physical strength for those with challenges? Wealthy parents began enhancing their children’s mental skills and physical prowess with amp implantation, then The Uplift Act authorized amp implants for low-income kids to help them overcome long-standing disadvantages.
Soon, the “pure humans” worry that the “amps” have unfair advantages for college admissions, athletic contests, and job applications. Senator Vaughn and his Pure Pride organization file so many lawsuits against amps that their case goes to the Supreme Court.
Suddenly, amps are no longer full United States citizens, are hounded by Pure Pride, corralled into small enclaves under constant attack. All research on human amplification is stopped, and its leading researchers and doctors are arrested – if the authorities can reach them before they commit suicide.
A final message from his father shocks 29-year-old Owen to the core: his amp is not just for medical assistance, but contains information on amazing skills and abilities that he’ll be able to use some day.  All he has to do is cross half the country without being picked up by the FBI and find Dad’s friend Jim in Oklahoma for some answers.
Did Owen really want to find out about the Echo Company of amp-enhanced soldiers who can access levels of superhuman strength with the flick of a mental switch? Can this calm schoolteacher stand by while Pure Priders attack innocent kids who were amped under The Uplift Act so they could concentrate in class? And exactly what skills did his researcher father add to Owen’s amp?

Newspaper articles and news reports punctuate this fast-moving story, showing the rise and flow of public opinion and occasional outright propaganda in a future not-so-distant from today. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

If BooksYALove started today… (reflective) – blogging lessons learned in a year

old catalog drawing of manual typewriter

not my typewriter

Today, the 2012 WordCount Blogathon theme asks us to consider what we’d do differently with our blogs: “If I started blogging today I would….”

Hmmm… I’d compare WordPress and Blogger more closely before deciding which one to use. I started BooksYALove just hours before the 2011 Blogathon began, so I went with Blogger where I already had a personal blog for an online technology update course and it was a snap to add another blog.

From reading other bloggers’ experiences with plugins, going to self-hosted blog platform, etc., it sounds like WordPress has an edge over Blogger once it’s time to take off the blogging-training-wheels. But I have gotten used to Blogger’s interface (even when it changed right in the middle of a blog challenge for me) and really like the theme colors and layout that I selected, so I’m staying with Blogger for now.

I wish I’d had enough time and confidence to register my domain name from day one so that all my outreach, publicity, and business cards had pointed to that web address from the very start. I probably will go self-hosted soon to give me more control over my own writings, since BooksYALove is meant to be a searchable archive of great books for young adult book fans.

Some things that I wouldn’t change: I was immensely fortunate in finding my first choice of blog name available; the “YA” in the middle can mean “young adult” which is the book category that I cover or “ya” like the casual “you” since I’m writing recommendations directly to young adult book readers (rather than to librarians or those who purchase books for others).  And every book has to be one that a significant group of readers will love – I don’t review every YA book that I read – so only the books that would rank 4-5 stars get the nod for BooksYALove.

During my first month of blogging in May 2011, I settled on a blog format that suited my writing style, taking some of my YA recommendations posted on Barb Langridge’s www.abookandahug.com website and adding commentary with relevant subject links. Since I hate reading reviews that give away the ending or significant plot twists, I vowed to never do that to my readers – so, no spoilers, ever!

Longtime followers/subscribers have probably noticed some stylistic changes on BooksYALove in recent weeks, as I adjusted font sizes for better readability, added a new logo and blog background (courtesy of my talented daughter, the graphic designer), and started some easy-click book lists in tabs at the top of the page.

And I’ll continue to participate each May in WordCount Blogathons, where I’ve found community (some of us posted in the Blogathon GoogleGroup for an entire year, not just the month of May!), advice, support, and the spark that set me off on this blogging adventure in the first place. Thanks, Michelle & the whole Blogathon crew!

(clipart of antique typewriter courtesy of Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida)

Getting lost in the story (reflective) – why reading can make us better people

young man sitting on top of bookshelves reading a book

You’ve probably heard readers say things like “Reading that book was like being in that world myself” or

“I was so wrapped up in the story that I lost track of time” or

“That’s the last book in the series?
I want to know more about those characters!”

In the very best sort of books, we lose sight of ourselves, our surroundings, our own troubles, as we immerse ourselves in someone else’s world and struggles and victories. It can be a realistic book or the highest fantasy, a short story or a tome as thick as your leg – if the story and characters feel real to us, then we are transported away from our own existence without moving at all.

A recent research study also showed that reading a compelling story can also improve our own behavior and attitudes, even after our reading is done! “Feeling the emotions, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses of one of the characters as if they were their own,” also known as “experience-taking” was studied by Ohio State University researchers in several reading experiments with college students.

OSU assistant professor Lisa Libby noted the difference between  experience-taking and perspective-taking, which is more like looking through a window at someone else’s situation. “Experience-taking is much more immersive — you’ve replaced yourself with the other,” she said. With the right story, readers don’t feel like they are manipulated into being inside the character’s head. “Experience-taking can be very powerful because people don’t even realize it is happening to them. It is an unconscious process,” Libby said.

As you choose to read books with characters who are different from you, you’re giving yourself more ways become a more empathic person, more understanding of differences, more able to see other viewpoints than your own.

And what about reading books filled with people much like you? Then you have opportunities to “try on” their reactions to situations you may not have faced, to take their experiences and learn from them – without having to live through the troubles, trials, and joys yourself.

Here’s to “getting lost in a good book” and to finding our better selves along the way!

Ohio State University (2012, May 7). ‘Losing yourself’ in a fictional character can affect your real life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 19, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/05/120507131948.htm

Photo of man sitting on bookshelves reading a book: (c) Microsoft Office clipart.

Girls Don’t Fly, by Kristen Chandler (book review) – dreams, family, blue-footed boobies

book cover of Girls Don't Fly by Kristen Chandler published by VikingA chance to study far away instead of babysitting all summer…
Maybe go to the university instead of dental hygienist school….
Prove to ex-boyfriend Erik that she’s better off without him.

Myra imagines herself in the Galapagos Islands with its Darwin’s finches and blue-footed boobies, famous tortoises and amazingly blue sea waters, even as her little brothers break things and mud-wrestle, her big sister drops out of college and moves back home pregnant, both parents work long hours, the family’s carpool schedules look like battle plans – no wonder that Myra feels like she’s holding everything together, even when Erik breaks up with her.

Visit Myra’s study group site at Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake in the author’s slideshow, watch for the next little brother disaster, and cross your fingers that Myra wins that scholarship!

Find Girls Don’t Fly  at your local library or independent bookstore; if you order from the author’s favorite  local indie bookstore, be sure to request an autographed copy!

Book info: Girls Don’t Fly / Kristen Chandler. Viking, 2011. [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Book Talk: Oh, how Myra feels trapped! Her perfect big sister is suddenly pregnant, her three little brothers are a constant noisy mess, and now Erik wants “some space” – this isn’t how spring of senior year should go!

When their AP Biology teacher announces a scholarship to study birds in the Galapagos Islands, Myra decides to go for it, even if it does require early morning Saturday excursions to Great Salt Lake Marina’s bird observation area and a “high level” scientific study proposal write-up and… $1,000 toward travel costs. Maybe she can scrape together that much money in just 3 months working part-time at the ice cream shop, right?

Saturday 6 a.m. really is early, but the University of Utah graduate assistant who’s leading the bird studies is enthusiastic enough to wake everyone up. Pete is excited that two high school kids from his hometown have a shot at this scholarship, so he helps them all with their project proposals as much as the rules allow.

Erik makes yet another mistake at the ice cream shop and expects Myra to cover for him like she did while they were dating. When she doesn’t and the manager insinuates that she’s irresponsible like her big sister, Myra just quits.

Now she’s got to find another job in this little town. Mom and Dad think she’s saving money to go to dental hygienist school; Myra hasn’t exactly told them that the scholarship requires that $1,000 travel fee, and they don’t seem too optimistic about her winning it anyway, especially when future-dentist Erik is also a competitor.

When the marina secretary quits, the Lake ranger offers Myra the job, part-time till school’s out, then full-time in the busy summer. Alright! A chance to earn the money she needs, do some extra bird-watching for the seminars, and Pete is at the marina whenever he’s not in class.

But can Myra really get away from this town where her family is judged because they don’t go to church like everyone else?
Can she come up with a scientific study idea that’s better than Erik’s so she can win the scholarship?
Can she keep thinking of Pete as only the group’s study leader instead of something more?

Everyone knows that Girls Don’t Fly, but Myra is determined to change all that in this story of family, dreams, life, and longing. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Gate of Days (fiction) – time travel, betrayal, mystery

A photo of “Dracula’s dungeon” in an old book,
centuries-old graffiti scratched on the filthy stone walls,

It’s a mysterious Monday, as Sam once again hurtles back through time, trying to land in the right place in the right era so he can rescue his dad from Vlad Tepes in the 15th century. No doubt that their enemy, the Archos man, stranded Dad there by taking the coin that would unlock the time-travel statue… no doubt that he would kill Sam and his cousin Lucy if they interfered in his plans to steal masterpieces and riches throughout the centuries at his leisure.

The Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece, gangsters in Chicago during Capone’s heyday, Pompeii as Vesuvius rumbles to life – will Sam ever be able to control where and when the statues take him in time? Find out in book three, The Circle of Gold – after you read book one, The Book of Time (review), to get all the background first, of course.

Look for the whole Book of Time series at your local library or independent bookstore, as all 3 volumes are now available in hardcover and paperback.

Book info: The Gate of Days / Guillaume Prevost; translated by William Rodarmor. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2008. (Book of Time trilogy #2). [author interview] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Sam knows where his father is imprisoned – Vlad Dracul’s dungeon, in 1462! Now, he must get back through time using the stone statues to save him. But first he has to locate the 7 special coins that will open the complete time loop, without alerting the villain who stranded his father in the past.

Just weeks ago, Sam would have said that his dad was still mourning Mom’s sudden death in a car crash, not chasing a secret through time using the mysterious stone statue in his bookstore’s cellar. And Sam wouldn’t have risked telling his cousin Lucy about time travel’s possibilities if he hadn’t needed her help to keep him anchored to the present while he searched for Dad.

If he can just rescue Dad and get back in time so that his grandparents don’t worry about him being gone…
If he can elude the Archos man who is one step behind him, intent on stopping Sam, permanently if possible…
If he and Lucy can survive the eruption of Vesuvius and Chicago mobsters…
Could Sam possibly open the Gate of Days wide enough to stop Mom’s car from crashing on that terrible day?

The adventures begun in The Book of Time (book 1) reach their startling climax in The Circle of Gold (book 3), with Rodarmor skillfully translating all three thrilling books of the Prevost trilogy. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

On the Grid (nonfiction)

Look around your house, apartment, or dorm on this Fun Friday.
Do you know the exact route that water takes to get to your faucet?
Where does it all go when you flush?
How do phone signals follow your cellphone as you travel?
What are all those lines up on your utility poles?

Scott Huler, the 2011 Piedmont Laureate for Creative Non-Fiction, wondered about all that, too. His curiosity about the many infrastructure systems that keep our towns and cities running became this interesting and easy-reading book.

Travel around Huler’s hometown as you educate yourself about the grids and services that keep our level of civilization…civilized. (and watch what you flush!)

Book info: On the Grid: A Plot of Land, An Average Neighborhood, and the Systems that Make Our World Work / Scott Huler. Rodale Books, 2010 (paperback 2011). [author’s website] [publisher site] [author interview]

Recommendation: What’s under those manhole covers? Why are there so many different wires on the utility poles? How do cities get drinking water to every faucet?

Looking around his home in Raleigh, North Carolina, Scott Huler decided to trace all the service grids that bring safe drinking water and reliable electricity, take away unwanted stormwater and wastes, provide communication and entertainment and transportation.

Investigating one system at a time, Huler discusses land surveying, the water cycle (raincloud to river to raincloud), drinking water delivery and wastewater treatment, roads for vehicles and pedestrians, electricity generation and transmission, landline and cellular telephone services, cable and internet, garbage and recycling, and mass transit.

It takes lots of engineers, planning, technicians, and maintenance to keep these essential infrastructure services going. This raises questions about supply and demand, capacity and upgrades, and how everything gets paid for.

An interesting book that will have readers looking appreciatively at the services and utilities they use every day – and being more careful about what goes into their wastewater and stormwater systems!
(Looked intriguing, so I bought it – I was right!)

You Just Can’t Help It! (nonfiction)

From the “oohh!” to the “ewww!!!” on Fun Friday, we’re taking an off-beat (but very well-researched) look at curious and confusing aspects of human behavior.

If you’ve ever wondered whether birth order really makes a difference in how people behave as adults or how colors affect our moods, you’ll love perusing this lively book from Canadian author Szpirglas, whose previous titles include Gross Universe (more ewww) and They Did What?! (more oohh).

You’ll understand yourself, your friends, and your family better after learning that You Just Can’t Help It, plus some fun animal behavior facts and unusual scientific research studies, too.


Book info: You Just Can’t Help It! Your Guide to the Wild and Wacky World of Human Behavior / Jeff Szpirglas; illustrated by Josh Holinaty. Maple Tree Press, 2011. [author’s info] [publisher’s site]

Recommendation: Ingredients of human tears? Ten million shades of color? Birth order and cattle egrets? Dive into the world of senses, emotions, communication, and human interaction.

Human behavior can be accurately predicted in some areas – body language of liars, organization of army ants, gesturing while talking – while it’s variable in others – most annoying sound or what makes someone laugh.

Find answers to puzzlers like “why can’t you tickle yourself?” and “why do stores play music?” while you learn about your senses. Learn how to detect fake happiness and true fear, as well as the one hand gesture that means the same thing in almost every culture (and it’s not the one you’d expect).

What facial muscle helps your nose avoid stinky stuff? Why do we use “um” and “uh” and “like” when we speak? Why do crowded elevators make us nervous? And what about that whole birth order thing, anyway?

Canadian author Szpirglas helps you understand more about why you, your friends, your pets, and other creatures act the way that they do with this funny and factual book of wacky information and cool experiments. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (non-fiction)

Shhh… another Sneak-In Saturday. This book zoomed and leaped onto award and bestseller lists before I could get it here, but you really must read it.

The idea of “informed medical consent” was rather different sixty years ago, as were medical research techniques.

Henrietta Lacks thought that she was only being treated for cervical cancer.
She had no idea that doctors had taken cell samples for later use.
And the rest is medical history…

Book info: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks / Rebecca Skloot. Random House, 2010 (hardback), 2011 (paperback) [author’s website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: When Henrietta Lacks was treated for cancer in the “colored” ward of the hospital in 1951, doctors took cell samples for research without telling her. In the laboratory, those cells became the first self-sustaining (“immortal”) human cells, enabling countless experiments with medicines and therapies.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital researchers shared those HeLa cells with other scientists, who used them to develop vaccines against polio, catalog the effects of radiation on humans, and make advances toward in vitro fertilization and gene mapping. Eventually, HeLa cells were grown in medical factories, becoming a multimillion dollar industry as researchers worldwide used them.

Yet Henrietta’s family didn’t know that her cells were being used for anything; they could only grieve at her death, as she left behind a large African American family, moved not so long before from their small tobacco farm in Virginia to work in Baltimore for better wages.

More than 20 years after HeLa began growing in the lab, Henrietta’s children learned that some part of their mother was still alive. Poorly educated, they thought perhaps that scientists could bring their mother back to life or that the HeLa cells sent on lunar missions meant that she was now living on the Moon. After those first, confusing interviews in the 1970s, the Lacks family refused to talk to any reporters or researchers.

Finally in the late 1990s, the writer of this book and Henrietta’s youngest daughter began investigating the family’s history and the amazing tale of how HeLa cells enabled so many discoveries in medicine and science.

Did her family ever receive any benefit from Henrietta’s cells? No. Can her descendants afford health insurance today? No. Have the laws changed so that patients have more control over what their cells and tissues are used for? Yes, but…

A fascinating science detective tale threaded with questions of medical ethics and wrapped up in family history, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks reminds us of the human side of scientific advancement – an award-winning story, well-told.

(One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.