Audiobook Reviews – Stuff Matters, and The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl

 Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik (Narrated by Michael Page)

“For, in the end, Brearley did manage to create cutlery from stainless steel, and it’s the transparent protective layer of chromium oxide that makes the spoon tasteless, since your tongue never actually touches the metal and your saliva cannot react with it; it has meant that we are one of the first generations who have not had to taste our cutlery.”

 I actually finished Stuff Matters in early March, so this may be a little…vague. I really need to get back in the habit of reviewing books as soon as I finish them.

Stuff Matters starts with a stabbing. I know, not how you expected a science non-fiction book to start, right? That stabbing leads into a discussion about steel, and throughout the book Miodownik uses personal anecdotes to discuss materials that we see and use every day without ever thinking about how fascinating these materials really are. He discusses glass, chocolate, concrete, graphene, porcelain, and more. His musings on the chemical compositions and history of these materials are clear enough for a regular person to understand – no experience in chemistry or science required. And I don’t know if Michael Page is a popular narrator or not, but I thought he did a good job.


 The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae (Narrated by Issa Rae)

 “Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t want to die alone, but spending quality time with myself 60 to 70 percent of the day is my idea of Mecca.”

I heard somewhere that Mindy Kaling praised this book (“I loved this book. Issa Rae is brilliant, funny and loveably awkward.”), and that immediately put it on my TBR. I used my Audible credit last month to get it, since it’s narrated by Issa Rae herself. (I LOVE it when authors do their own reading for audiobooks, especially for memoirs.) And yay for the funny lady memoirs!

Introverts are so often seen as awkward and uncool, while being black is often portrayed as the ultimate cool. Issa discusses growing up straddling that line, and she’s intensely funny and poignant while doing so. Whether she’s reminiscing about the days of sketchy AOL chat rooms, discussing her weight struggles, telling the story of the time she pretended she knew how to dance, or recounting her sexual escapades as a young adult – Issa is warm, hilarious, and personable. I can’t wait to explore more of her work.

So, two great audiobooks in one month! Next on my to-listen list: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, High Price by Dr. Carl Hart, and On Immunity by Eula Biss.

Have you read any of these? Any non-fiction audiobook suggestions? I really seem to prefer non-fiction, of any kind, when it comes to audiobooks.


The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir

THIS is why I love the internet. Because I hear so many glowing reviews about a new book, and I get really excited for it, and I take the risk and buy it in hardcover, and it totally is as awesome as everyone says it is.

Mark Watney and his crew have been on Mars for six days when a dust storm crops up, forcing an emergency evacuation. But in the chaos, Mark is mistaken for dead and when he comes to, he realizes that he’s been left behind. He’s alone, on Mars. No one knows that he’s alive, and he has no way to tell anyone. Now it’s up to him to figure out how to survive until the next planned Mars mission – four years away. His current mission was only supposed to be 31 days long, so he’ll run out of food, water, and oxygen long before then. Luckily, Mark is a botanist and an engineer, so surely he can think up something… right?

There are three main things about this book that made is so fantastic:

  1. Humor: You KNOW that making me laugh is one of the surest ways to get me to love a book, and this book had it. Mark has that dark, twisted sense of humor that I love. Like… Christopher Moore, or Chandler from Friends, or… someone else. I don’t know, examples are hard. But it was great. Mark is that guy who will make people laugh in any shitty situation, except you know, he’s by himself. You would think that a book has basically ONE character might get a little boring, but his sense of humor kept it really engaging. I didn’t want to put it down.
  2. Tension: There were some serious nail-biting situations in this book. I mean, the whole book has you rooting for Mark to stay alive, but you’re also super nervous and sure that something’s going to go wrong. And it all feels so REAL.
  3. Space nerd-ery: I love space, and physics, and science, and so all of this just tickled my fancy. Mark explains any technical stuff really clearly as he’s thinking through what he has to do, and it’s pretty awesome. And according to Astronaut Chris Hadfield, this book has “fascinating technical accuracy”, so I’m glad to hear that most of the science is sound.

The other thing I love about this book is kind of hard to articulate, but I’ll try. I love that it presented the idea of travelling to Mars as not only possible, but something NASA has done and is planning to do repeatedly. It kind of drives me crazy that people don’t think we have the technology to get there. We do. It’s basically a lack of motivation (and hence, money) that has kept us from trying to get to Mars. I also love that it shows how far ingenuity can get you. Mars is a harsh environment that could kill a person in a lot of simple ways, BUT, astronauts are intelligent and adaptable. And lastly, I love that it shows the passion for space that people, especially astronauts, have. Going to space is incredibly dangerous, and yet there are people who are still willing, who still want, to do it. That’s an awesome thing.

And now, I leave you with some of my favorite quotes:

“Commander Lewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person.

What do you know? I’m in command.”



How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.”


“I unraveled Martinez’s bed and took the string outside, then taped it to the trailer hull along the path I planned to cut. Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped.”

Alright well picking out quotes was a lot harder than I thought, because a lot of the good ones are a bit spoiler-y, so just freaking read it, will you? It’s fantastic.

Sarah Says: 5 stars

P.S. – Andy Weir, if you ever happen to read this, please write more books about space. You’re really good at it.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars Mary Roach

My second Mary Roach book! Not quite sure how I feel about it.

I’ve been looking forward to more Mary Roach since I read Stiff, and I decided to go with Packing for Mars since I have such a fondness for space exploration (especially humans going to Mars).

There were parts of this book that I really liked. For instance, learning that one of the tests that the Japanese have their potential astronauts go through is folding 1000 cranes. Not something that sounds important, but it tests a person’s attention to detail as time goes on – in space, you can’t afford sloppy work just because the work is tedious or been done before. I liked learning about the struggles NASA has had in trying to make eating and going to the bathroom possible for astronauts in zero gravity. I liked learning about bone density, and how astronauts have to try to keep their bones strong during prolonged zero gravity trips. And she referenced a few other books that sounded really cool – I now have Riding Rockets by astronaut Mike Mullane waiting for me at the library thanks to this book.

But there were some parts that actually kind of irked me. At one point Mary goes on to ask a bunch of professionals “why” gravity exists. When physicists said “What does ‘why’ mean?”, she goes on to say that maybe gravity is a mystery to even those who understand it. Just….. no. The question she was asking made no sense. Asking why gravity exists is like asking what the meaning of life is. Gravity is one of the four forces of the universe. Maybe she was purposely trying to get a kick out of them, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being uptight.

Overall, the book fell flat for me. I wasn’t really eager to keep reading. The things she discusses are interesting, and I’m glad that I learned a few things. It was worth the read. But something didn’t QUITE work for me. Maybe I let my biases about space get in the way from completely enjoying it. OH also, I listened to the first 3 chapters on audiobook, and I wouldn’t recommend it. The narrator had a terrible voice, and it was hard to let names and facts sink in – in some cases, print is just better for me.

I’m still looking forward to reading more of her though. I think next I want to try Bonk… sex is pretty ridiculous, and I think it’s a topic that would suite her fondness for the weird, gross, and hysterical pretty well.

Sarah Says: 3 stars

Some Graphic Novel Reviews

In case you’ve forgotten already, last week was the Bout of Books readathon, and I read a LOT of graphic novels. Well, 5 seems like a lot in one week. Anyways, I decided to throw them all in one mega review post, because I didn’t have a whole ton of stuff to say about a lot of these.


Boxers and Saints

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang –  These books have been praised ALL over the internet lately, so I was really excited to get into them. They’re two companion graphic novels revolving around the Boxer Rebellion. Boxers is about Bao, a boy who becomes a leader of the Boxer Rebellion. Saints is about Vibiana, a girl neglected by her family who discovers Christianity and hopes to be like Joan of Arc. I think that the idea of these books – creating companion books about characters on completely opposite sides of a conflict, and making them both sympathetic, is really awesome and I would enjoy seeing it done for other conflicts or wars that have occurred. And while I enjoyed the kind of “there are two sides to every story” lesson, it also seemed like a good argument against religion, which I’m okay with but I’m fairly certain wasn’t the author’s intention. The art was bold and simple, but striking. Overall, I didn’t completely love the characters and I think that’s what tampers my own praise a bit.


Sarah Says: 3 stars to both


Chew Volume 1

Chew: Volume 1 by John Layman and Rob Guillory –  Cheewwww, I can’t wait to read more of youuuuuu. Chew is a graphic novel series about Tony Chu, a man who gets psychic impressions from the things he eats – including people. He’s kind of forced into using his skill to work as an FDA agent, solving crimes and murders along the way. This was SUPER AWESOME. It’s a weird, cool premise for a comic book series, but I totally love it. Chu is a good guy (not a cannibal, by the way… at least, not by choice), and there were some parts that just completely made me laugh out loud. And the ending of this one was a shocker, an “oh shit” kind of revelation, and I cannot wait to grab Chew: Volume 2.


Sarah Says: 4.5 stars


A Matter of Life


A Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown – Jeffrey was raised in a religious household – his dad was a minister. But at some point, he realized that he didn’t believe in God, and wasn’t sure if he ever really had. While Jeffrey’s recollections were a little jumbled for my taste, I did enjoy his exploration of faith, or the lack thereof. And when he drew himself getting more into science and reading about physics (including books by Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman), the geek in me smiled. But overall, I love that he actually explored his faith instead of following, or not following, it blindly. It was easily relatable, for me. Definitely worth the quick read.


Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

Anya's Ghost

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol – Anya is a Russian girl just trying to blend in at an American high school. She feels too chubby, she has a crush on the typical high school jock, and she hardly has any friends. And on top of all that, she falls in a well. When she’s down there, she meets a ghost who follows her back up into the world. At first the lonely ghost is annoying, but soon Anya learns that having a ghost as your best friend comes with a lot of perks. Until, of course, she realizes that the ghost is more than she seems. This was a really quick read, but I enjoyed it a lot. I REALLY liked the art – it was cartoonish, but cool and pretty. Anya is a likable girl, who reminds you just a bit what it’s like to be a teenager. And somehow, the storyline with the ghost caught me by surprise. I’d be interested in checking out more of Vera Brosgol’s work.

Sarah Says: 3.5 stars

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh


Thanks to sj’s post recently, I have been really excited about Hyperbole and a Half coming out. It came out on Tuesday, and Friday night while in the mall I decided to pop into Barnes and Noble to flip through it. I located it, and then started reading the first story, “Warning Signs”. A couple of minutes later I was trying to stifle my laughter and had tears running down my face – I’m pretty sure some of the employees were concerned. I got some weird looks. And I had to buy it. HAD to. Even though I’m broke this week (damn you, week that rent is due), I couldn’t NOT buy this book. It’s too funny, and I really, really love to laugh.

If you don’t know (and don’t feel bad, until sj’s post I didn’t know either), Allie Brosh has a website called Hyperbole and a Half where she posts hilarious recollections and anecdotes with these practically famous illustrations. (She’s the creator of that famous “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!” image you see all over the place.) And now she has a WHOLE BOOK. And it’s a really nice book too – it has those fancy glossy, full-color pages and it’s pretty dense at 369 pages – SO worth your money. It’s part humor, part memoir, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

If you want a taste of what the book might be like, visit the website and read a couple (or a million) of her posts – they’re hysterical. I suggest starting with How A Fish Almost Destroyed My Childhood, Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving, and The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas. There is some overlap between the site and the book, but from what I can tell not much.

I’m keeping this on my coffee table for a while, just to re-read the funniest bits and laugh myself silly.

Sarah Says: 5 stars

You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

You Suck by Christopher Moore


“She knew it should bother her more, being evil and all, but after she put on a little mascara and some lipstick and poured herself another cup of blood-laced coffee, she found that she was okay with it.”

**Just a reminder here guys – You Suck is the sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends, so if you haven’t read it yet, there are some spoilers for the first book. **

Tommy Flood wakes up to find that he’s a vampire, and his girlfriend Jody turned him into one. Without even asking. Sheesh. But being in love, they stick together and just want to settle down and live out their undead years. Unforunately, Jody was supposed to leave town but didn’t, which attracts some unfavorable attention from the cops. They have a 16-year old perky Goth minion, Abby, to try to help run their errands, and they’re being hunted down by Tommy’s grocery store buddies at the urging of a blue hooker named Blue. So you know, that all sucks.

If possible, I love You Suck even more than Bloodsucking Fiends. I don’t remember if that’s how I felt the first time I read these, but it’s definitely true this time around. It’s rare that a sequel is better than the first book. I think it’s partly because Abby Normal is in this book – she’s a hysterically dramatic Goth teenager, and cracks me up a lot throughout the book. Mostly, this book is a lot like the first though – funny, engaging, and a little sweet, despite all the vampires and blood-sucking. It’s mostly a fluff read.

What’s great about Moore though is that he puts some great bits in his stories that actually kind of say a lot, amidst all the goofiness. Like this:

“Until she had been changed and had stalked the city as a vampire, she never realized that virtually every moment she had been there as a woman, she had been a little bit afraid. A man would never understand.

The first time I read this, I was like “YES. THIS.” Because it’s pretty true – without even realizing it or conciously doing it, we women take little precautions because we understand on some instinctive level how much danger there is out there lurking, and how little prepared we are to defend ourselves (for most of us, anyways). And I love that Jody recognizes that and celebrates her new role as a vampire – that she no longer is a victim because now SHE’S the one people should be afraid of. That she can handle herself if any asshole decides to try to screw around with her. Basically, Jody is a badass and I love her. She’s easily one of my favorite Moore characters.

And well… I love that Jody kind of embraces being a vampire, whether it technically makes her evil or not (see quote at the top there). Well, because I think people put too much stock in the “vampires are damned” thing. Maybe it’s because I’m largely an athiest, but that never bothered me much.

Anyyyywho, there’s one more book in Moore’s vampire trilogy, called Bite Me. I don’t rememer enjoying that one as much as the first two, but I’m looking forward to re-reading it soon.

If you’re looking to read something in the spirit of Halloween that’s not too scary or depressing, you should check out this trilogy. I mean, you can read these books in basically a day, so what are you waiting for? It’s so awesome.

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars


Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler

Self-Inflicted Wounds Aisha Tyler

Another comedian lady memoir! And it’s probably one of the better ones.

I was browsing around the library and saw this- Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation and immediately snapped it up, thinking it would be perfect readathon material. And it was! Just to let you know – this book is not about cutting! Because, I mean, the title just kind of makes you think about a depressed person self-mutilating themselves, and I promise that is so not even close to what Aisha Tyler’s hilarious memoir is about. This FUNNY. And INSPIRING. The title is probably the only bad thing about this book.

Ya’ll know who Aisha Tyler is, right? She does the voice for Lana on Archer, she guest-starred on Friends as the hot paleontologist, she hosts Whose Line Is It Anyway? now, among other things.

aisha tyler

Aisha recounts a bunch of horrifying, embarrassing moments in her life that were usually the result of her own bad decision-making, and most of the stories were pretty funny. I laughed out loud several times, and kept interrupting the honeyman while he was trying to get some work done because I wanted to read parts to him. And as with any great humorous memoir, I learned a lot about Aisha Tyler and I have SO much more love for her now! Reading her book actually makes me want to look into the Girl on Guy podcasts that she does. I don’t really understand what the hell a podcast is, but this made me want to figure it out!

So, some specific parts that I enjoyed  –

  • Her story of peeing on herself walking home from school because she was trying to master the “mind of body” kind of ideal.
  • That before the book even really started, she made a Star Trek reference to the Borg. I love what a sci-fi nerd she is!
  • A part of the book when she talked about her fondness for hobos, and defended giving them a buck or two.
  • How much she gushed about food and her love for eating food. Fooooooooood.
  • That she got an Ivy League degree in political science and environmental studies, hated the corporate world, and decided to say fuck it and pursue her love of comedy.
  • That I kept seeing Lana in my head as I read, especially when Aisha cursed.
  • This – “Once you have endured the worst embarrassment you can think of, and you have lived, the next sling or arrow is nothing. You have formed a psychic callus over your soul, and now nothing can touch you. The world is your oyster.” And a ton of other quotable parts.

lana kane

I know it’s cliché to say that a memoir by a famous person is inspiring… but well, this one is. For me it was, anyways. Aisha talks a lot about not holding back, about going for what you want with everything you have, about working hard and pursuing your dreams with passion. MANY famous people give this schpeal, but in between Aisha’s memories of the time she puked on a boy during the first date and the time she broke her elbow snowboarding, it just worked really well. It wasn’t preachy, it was just evident. And it just made me think about how I want to work harder on my reviews and making this blog better. Not that I want a career out of this – I don’t really want a career at all. But it’s something that I love, and I don’t want to be half-assed with it, ya know?

Anyways, if you’re enjoying the recent explosion of funny-lady humorous memoirs out there, I HIGHLY recommend Aisha Tyler’s. I actually want to own this one, which is rare for these kinds of books – a lot of these comedy-memoirs I would read once and give away. I’m bummed to return this one to the library, and I’ll seek out my own copy.

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore book cover

If you haven’t read Christopher Moore before – WHY? You seriously need to get on that.

So this was a re-read for me, because I think it’s a shame that I haven’t reviewed more Moore on this blog. Bloodsucking Fiends is about Jody, a normal office girl in San Francisco until one night she’s attacked. She wakes up alone, as a vampire, with a mysterious fortune in cash. But it’s kind of hard to go on with life when you can’t do anything during the day, and that’s where C. Thomas Flood comes in. Tommy just came to Cali from Indiana to work on his writing career, but his plans get set aside when one night he meets a gorgeous redhead… who just happens to be a vampire.

YUP, this is a vampire novel but it’s funny and so much better than about 90% of all the other vampire novels out there. Jody is such a great character. She’s so NORMAL – she has relationship problems, mother issues, and generally has a good heart. Then she turns into a vampire, and I love that even though crazy shit is happening and she doesn’t really understand why it happened to her, she just kind of goes with the flow. I love seeing her sassy vampire side come out. She reminds me a little bit of Jessica Hamby from True Blood (but Jessica from season 2 and 3, not now Jessica). And Tommy… poor Tommy. He’s just a sweet, innocent kid from the middle of nowhere who is absolutely floored by a big city and a beautiful girl, and I love seeing him struggle to really figure things out in his beta-male way.

“You really are a vampire.” It was a statement this time.

“Yes, Tommy. I am.”

He paused for a second to think, then said, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. Let’s do it with our shoes off.”

And now that I just re-read this, I’m annoyed with myself for already packing away the sequel, You Suck, because I really want to read it now. It’s even better than this one. Oh yeah, this is a trilogy. Did I not mention that? It is. And the first two books are fantastic – the last book is kind of good, but not my favorite but that’s because Jody and Tommy aren’t quite the main characters. Just read it, you’ll see. It’s just so darn FUN. None of that creepy stalker drama like in Twilight or long, drawn-out philosophical dilemmas like in Interview With a Vampire. This is just a good time.

Now, if you woke up as a vampire, what’s the first thing you would do?

Sarah Says: 4 stars

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde


Good morning there, lovers of literature! Guess what? I read the fifth Thursday Next book!

Wikipedia has some interesting things to say about the Thursday Next books – basically that the series consists of seven novels so far, in two series. Apparently the first four books are lumped together, and then this fifth one starts a separate series but still following the storyline of the Thursday Next books (there’s just a 14-year gap in between the events of the fourth and fifth books).

And because I never completely believe Wikipedia I checked out Fforde’s website and he had this to say when he was explaining the title of First Among Sequels:

This was good news to me as I have been trying to use this title for a while, and it seems perfect to have it on this, the first book in the second batch of Thursday books. Indeed. TNs one to four were essentially ‘Thursday Volume one’. First Among Sequels is the first part of the next four-parter, which will continue with One of our Thursdays is Missing in 2009.

So yes. That. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, this review should only be read if you’re already familiar with Thursday Next books 1 through 4. Spoilers be ahead.

Now, it’s fourteen years after the events of the last book, and Thursday is living a happy, boring life of domesticity selling carpets and taking care of her husband Landon and their three children Friday, Tuesday, and Jenny. Haha NOT. She’s not happily selling carpets – she’s still working for SpecOps AND for Jurisfiction, all while trying to keep up with Landon and the kiddos. Things in BookWorld are not going so hot – Readership levels are dropping everyday, the Racy Novels genre is about to go to war with Ecclesiastical and Feminist genres, and Sherlock Holmes has turned up dead. And in the real world, the government is facing a massive stupidity surplus and Thursday has to try to get through to her 16-year old son Friday, who should be stepping up to claim his destiny as a part of the ChronoGuard but would rather sleep all day. And on top of this, she has to face one of her most dangerous enemies yet – herself.

Ahhhhh these books are so delightfully strange! This isn’t my favorite of the Thursday Next series so far, but that’s only because there was SO much going on and honestly I don’t know how Thursday keeps it all straight without going crazy. And speaking of crazy, can you imagine what it must be like in Jasper Fforde’s head? That must be an awesome, scary place. But it’s SO impressive how much he must totally love literature and the written word. His references to SO many classics and characters and plot devices seems never-ending and his attention to the details is astounding.

As always, there were fun quips and bouts of humor, all wrapped up in mystery and action and bookish joys. This is the perfect series for book nerds. I wish I could go to BookWorld… And after some MAJOR events went down at the end of this book, I’m really really looking forward to picking up One of our Thursdays is Missing.

Sarah Says: 4 stars

I Can Barely Take Care of Myself by Jen Kirkman

i can barely take care of myself

“The way most people feel about loving being a parent is exactly how I feel about not being a parent. I love it.” (page 2)

Well said, Jen.

Jen Kirkman is a funny lady. She’s kind of a basket-case, but I like that about her. This book isn’t some weird manifesto for childfree-by-choice ladies – it’s Jen’s exploration of her own life and why she’s so unsuited and has no desire to be a mom. And while she’s trying to figure out her own life – her dream to be a comedian, trying to get her anxiety under control, sorting out her marriage, etcetera – she recounts how she was constantly barraged by people who wanted to know when she was having kids, and when she said she wasn’t, then why not.

I don’t have a ton to say about this book other than it was funny and I completely sympathized with her the whole way. She articulated my own feelings about being annoyed by the constant pressure to procreate way better than I could. For instance:

“For some reason, this prompted him to say, “Aw, come on, Jen Kirkman. You’d be such a good mom!” This statement is at best condescending and at worst patently false and potentially dangerous. It’s like telling a friend who you know has a paralyzing fear of wild animals that she would make a great game warden.” (page 137)

That is so true. I am a responsible, intelligent person and theoretically, I would be a competent parent. But the very fact of me NOT WANTING A KID is enough that I would not, in fact, make a great mom. I would be the mom constantly sending her kid away to the baby-sitters or hiding in the closet just to get 5 minutes of peace away from it.

There were a lot of funny moments in this book, and one section in particular had me laughing hysterically at work, which prompted a weird look from the person I was training (AKA letting him do all the work and then if he had any questions, asking me). It was about Jen’s less-than-ideal experiences as a teenage baby-sitter, in which she mistakenly led one little boy to believe that you could stab people and they wouldn’t die. I read that section aloud to the honeyman later that day and we both cracked up.

If you have EVER had any doubt about whether or not you wanted kids and experienced people rudely making it their business to tell you how much you should have a baby, you’ll probably find something in this book that you like – whether it’s the knowledge that someone else has gone through the same thing, or just a really good laugh. I enjoyed both.


Sarah Says: 3.5 stars