Book reviews TuesdayBookBlog

#TuesdayBookBlog How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe (@xkcd) Quirky, fun, and full of useful (?) knowledge

Hi, all:

I bring you a non-fiction book that falls into the category of “out-there”, “scientific” and “fun”. You might already know the author, but it was a first for me. Probably not the last.

How to. Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe


“How To will make you laugh as you learn…With How To, you can’t help but appreciate the glorious complexity of our universe and the amazing breadth of humanity’s effort to comprehend it. If you want some lightweight edification, you won’t go wrong with How To.” —CNET

“[How To] has science and jokes in it, so 10/10 can recommend.” —Simone Giertz

The world’s most entertaining and useless self-help guide from the brilliant mind behind the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, the bestsellers What If? and Thing Explainer, and What If? 2, coming September 13, 2022

For any task you might want to do, there’s a right way, a wrong way, and a way so monumentally complex, excessive, and inadvisable that no one would ever try it. How To is a guide to the third kind of approach. It’s full of highly impractical advice for everything from landing a plane to digging a hole.

Bestselling author and cartoonist Randall Munroe explains how to predict the weather by analyzing the pixels of your Facebook photos. He teaches you how to tell if you’re a baby boomer or a 90’s kid by measuring the radioactivity of your teeth. He offers tips for taking a selfie with a telescope, crossing a river by boiling it, and powering your house by destroying the fabric of space-time. And if you want to get rid of the book once you’re done with it, he walks you through your options for proper disposal, including dissolving it in the ocean, converting it to a vapor, using tectonic plates to subduct it into the Earth’s mantle, or launching it into the Sun.

By exploring the most complicated ways to do simple tasks, Munroe doesn’t just make things difficult for himself and his readers. As he did so brilliantly in What If?, Munroe invites us to explore the most absurd reaches of the possible. Full of clever infographics and fun illustrations, How To is a delightfully mind-bending way to better understand the science and technology underlying the things we do every day.

Randall Munroe Foto: re:publica/Jan Zappner CC BY 2.0

About the author:

Randall Munroe is the creator of the webcomic xkcd and author of xkcd: Volume 0. Randall was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, and grew up outside Richmond, Virginia. After studying physics at Christopher Newport University, he got a job building robots at NASA Langley Research Center. In 2006 he left NASA to draw comics on the internet full time, and has since been nominated for a Hugo Award three times. The International Astronomical Union recently named an asteroid after him: asteroid 4942 Munroe is big enough to cause mass extinction if it ever hits a planet like Earth.

My review:

I couldn’t resist when I read the description of this book, and it does live up to the expectations, although it is difficult to know what the expectations are because each person’s ideas of what a bad idea (or what a ridiculous idea is) vary enormously.

I am not an expert in Physics, Maths, or any of the subjects much of what is discussed in this book falls under (apart from having strange and bizarre ideas, although I think all of us have those), but I do not think one needs to be an expert to enjoy the book. Although it is true that some of the analyses and the in-depth explanations might go over one’s head, the concepts, the ideas, and the way the author goes about taking any of his ideas to the limit are fascinating. He doesn’t hesitate before contacting true experts (a test pilot and astronaut, Col. Chris Hadfield; a tennis star, Serena Williams, just to name a couple of them) to ask them the most bizarre or outlandish questions. And, credit where credit is due, they are gracious enough to engage with him and patient enough to keep going and answer all of his questions to a point where most of us would have given up.

This is a book for people looking for something different and amusing, especially those of us who look at something, or have an idea pop up into our heads and can’t help but wonder: “what if?” I also kept thinking that authors and artists looking for inspiration and ideas would have a field day with this book. I can imagine science-fiction writers smiling as they read some of the suggestions and possibilities Munroe comes up with and thinking about plenty of uses for them, although I am sure many other people will have their imaginations ignited by some of the wonderfully bizarre ideas contained here as well.

Munroe also includes some of his well-known illustrations, which often emphasise how ludicrous some of the ideas are, making them even funnier. Those looking for more detailed information, also have a section of references (many easy-to-check online articles), an index, and a section of acknowledgments, and the book is peppered with notes, some even funnier than the original explanation. This means that the last 30% of the book or so is back matter, so the actual body of the book is not as long as it might seem. It is also divided up into 28 chapters, subdivided into smaller sections, so this is a book ideal for people with little time to read, who prefer to read bite-size content that doesn’t require sustained attention for long periods of time.

To give you an idea about the kinds of subjects discussed in this book, I will offer you a sample of a few of the chapter titles:

Chapter 1: How to Jump Really High, Chapter 2: How to Throw a Pool Party, Chapter 3: How to Dig a Hole, Chapter 4: How to Play the Piano, Chapter 5: How to Make an Emergency Landing …. Chapter 9: How to Build a Lava Moat… Chapter 16: How to Power Your House (on Earth), Chapter 17: How to Power Your House (on Mars)…

Do not expect to close this book armed with practical advice you can put to good use, although… one never knows!

A note of warning: The book is very USA-centred, and most of the examples given come from the USA, as do the units of measurement. I would have appreciated it if they could have offered the values in SI units as well, as I am more familiar with those. Perhaps in future editions.

If you like books that make you think beyond the usual and that are not afraid to take things to the extreme or to push the limits of the ridiculous, I recommend this one. And I’ll be exploring other titles by the author in the future.

Thanks to the author for this book, and thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, clicking, sharing, etc. Don’t forget to keep smiling!

Book reviews TuesdayBookBlog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE THIN BLUE-YELLOW LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE: A WAR DIARY FROM UKRAINE by Anton Eine (@AntonEine) , Simon Geoghegan (Translator) #RBRT #Ukraine

Hi, all:

I bring you a book that needs no introduction. Not a book I’ll ever forget. Thanks to Rosie and her team for the support.

The Thin Blue-Yellow Line by Anton Eine

The Thin Blue-Yellow Line. Between Love and Hate by Anton Eire (trans.) Simon Geoghegan

A diary chronicling the hopes, pain and fears of ordinary Ukrainians collected during the current war. Frank, emotional and straight from the heart.

This book is about the first 100 days of fascist Russia’s perfidious and unfounded invasion of Ukraine. But it is not an account of the war and its battlefield engagements. It’s about people. About their feelings and emotions, their experiences, fears and pain, their suffering, hope and love.

I started writing this book one sleepless night in Kyiv when I had been kept awake all night by the roar of our aerial defense system and explosions nearby, listening out for approaching rockets and bombs and wondering whether I should take my wife and young son and run for the air-raid shelter. That night, I realized that I had a duty as a writer to act as a voice for those whose stories desperately needed to be told to other people in the world.

I wrote about what I saw and felt. About the stories, my relatives and friends shared with me. It became a chronicle, memoir, diary and confession. I set down our stories so that the whole world might know and understand what we have been through. So that the whole world might share our experiences of this war alongside us – in our trembling buildings, in our freezing cold basements, underground parking lots, bomb shelters and metro stations and in the ruins of our burning cities. So that the world might be given a glimpse into our hearts through the lacerated wounds that have been inflicted on them by this cruel and barbaric war.

Author Anton Eine

About the author:

Anton Eine is modern sci-fi and techno-fantasy author from Kyiv, Ukraine.

He has published ‘I, Jesus, Rock Star’ novel, techno-fantasy cycle “Programagic”, Sci-Fi short stories collection “Human Kind” and superhero series “Maze City Stories”.

After building his successful carrier in marketing, he decided to let his creativity write fantastic fiction books to actualize numerous ideas he had in his mind for years.

Anton is passionate about food (and some drinks of course!), photography, animals (especially wild cats), and rock music. He likes embedding his hobbies into the fantastic canvas of his writings and to share that passion with his readers.

Anton Eine officially can’t stand any limits and boundaries, so his books usually step out of the box of traditional genres, crossing the edges of conventional storytelling and blurring the borders of common thinking.

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This non-fiction book (it might seem incredible and over a year ago we wouldn’t have imagined it could happen, but this is not a fictional dystopian story) is one of the most difficult books to review I’ve come across. The author explains how difficult it was for him to write. He is a writer of science-fiction and techno-fantasy, and he hadn’t planned to write a non-fiction book. In fact, he was supposed to be working on several of his fiction books, including one that he has been working on for many years when events took an unexpected turn. We have all lived through events that seem to have come right out of a horror book in recent times, but for the people of Ukraine, things got even weirder and more dangerous on the 24th of February 2022.

Anton Eine felt he had to write about what was happening, and make sure that people all over the world could get a first-hand account and hear the stories of the people who were living through the nightmare of the war. An author who speaks and writes in Russian, who lives in Kyiv, and who shares his experience of all the gamut of emotions throughout the first 100 days of the war. I’m writing this review when the war has passed the mark of 300 days, and what can one say? If we had a hard time believing it when it started, what can we say almost a year later?

This is a raw book, where the author bares his soul and shares his thoughts and feelings. It is painful, it is ugly at times (if you don’t like name-calling, dehumanising others no matter what they do [although he would counter that the ones doing the dehumanisation are the enemies], and people freely expressing their anger, do not attempt to read this book). The author explains that he decided to write the book as things were happening and capture the impressions and feelings, rather than letting them cool down and being rational about it because that is not what it was about. He didn’t attempt an analysis of the situation, and he does not talk about military campaigns. He feels that kind of books should be written by others. What he wants is to share the stories of many who might never be inclined to share them outside of their own circle of friends and relatives, and also his own.

This is not a straightforward collection of stories. This is the story of the writing of the book as well, of the circumstances of writing it; trying to be in touch with relatives and friends displaced by the war, fighting, volunteering, or missing; worrying for his wife and young son; trying to decide how to explain what is happening to a three-year-old; wondering if they should have left, as they did, or stayed in the city. Of jumping out of bed with the alarms; getting sidetracked by a song, an update, an intercepted message between a Russian soldier and his wife, a show of solidarity, the result of a poll revealing what Russians think about the war, a request for material from his brother, who has joined the Territorial Army, accounts of destruction, cruelty, and massacres…

Eine writes poems, refers to favourite songs, singers and groups, books, and stories. (I must confess I am not a big reader of fantasy or science-fiction and was only familiar with some of the musical references. I don’t think our tastes are too similar, but that is neither here nor there). The book follows a more or less chronological order, although sometimes the author might backtrack to talk about a memory or an episode that he couldn’t include as it happened. Eine mentions the Kübler-Ross model, the one we associate with the five stages of grief, and there are some similarities he acknowledges at times. He cannot believe what is happening at first, especially in XXI Century Europe (although, of course, not that much time has passed since WWII, which he often refers to, and many other wars had taken place since, some in Europe as well), and this quickly becomes anger, an anger that doesn’t go anywhere, although there is some modulation and questioning at times.

I think many of us have learned more about Ukraine since the war started than we ever knew before, but that still is pretty limited in most cases. We get the news here, sometimes live connections with people in situ, but many of the things mentioned in the book haven’t reached us here, at least in Spain where I am. What we hear is more than enough to horrify us, but the stories the author shares make it all more vivid and more difficult to look away from. They highlight the fear, the confusion, the not knowing what to do for the best. Whatever the protagonists of the different stories decided to do (stay, leave the country, join other members of the family, enlist, hide, volunteer to help…), they are always wondering if it was the right thing, if they should have done something else. The ones who were (or have been, so far) lucky, keep thinking about those who weren’t. There are many stories of women running away with their young children, sometimes ill and in dire need of help, having to face terrible ordeals, and luckily, in many cases, eventually finding help and kindness, in their own country or a neighbouring one. Those stories are a drop in the ocean if we think of the number of refugees from the war, and as Eine explains, many people don’t want to talk about it, at least at the moment, and are trying to forget and get on with their lives as much as they possibly can, but they do paint a horrific picture of what it must be like for many people in that situation.

After the stories, and when the book reaches day 100 of the war, the author renders an homage to just a few of the many heroes, men and women, young and old, who have put the lives of others before their own survival, and who have gone above and beyond what most people would expect, as the writer says, not out of patriotism, but out of love for humankind. As the author concludes, “We are all Ukraine”.

The proceeds of the book will go to help Ukrainians in need, and the author also has other suggestions, for those who want to do more, as to how to help.

This is not a book I would recommend freely to everybody, because people know what their limits are when it comes to reading, especially non-fiction, and I cannot even think of trying to list all the warnings (probably anything bad you can think about, you’ll find here). On the other hand, even if you don’t feel up to reading it at the moment, you might know of somebody who wants to read personal accounts or even people who would be happy to buy the book simply as a way to help the people of Ukraine. Do your best. Spread the word.

Thanks to the author for providing us with this account, especially in such difficult circumstances, and I hope he and his family remain safe and his country’s nightmare comes to an end very soon. Even after reading the book, it is still difficult to fully comprehend what it must be like.

Thanks to all of you for reading, and if there is anything you can do to share, please do.

Book reviews

Better Than Balderdash: The Ultimate Collection of Incredible True Stories, Intriguing Trivia, and Absurd Information You Didn’t Know You Needed by Owen Janssen If you love trivia, you definitely need this book! #Bookreview

Hi, all:

I bring you the review of a book that seems perfect for this time of the year, although, to be honest, it is good for any time when you fancy a bit of fun, and bite-size knowledge. I couldn’t resist it!

Better than Balderdash by Owen Janssen

Did you know that you can heat up a cup of coffee by yelling at it? How about the fact that bananas are radioactive? Or that Google hires goats as gardeners? Or that competitive slapping is a sport in Russia?

Our world is chock-full of fascinating facts, unbelievable but true stories, and mind-blowing trivia.

This book is your one-stop guide to all the extraordinary, shocking and enthralling information you didn’t know you needed to learn.

Impress your friends and family with a vast knowledge of topics guaranteed to stimulate interesting conversations!

If you want to learn some of the world’s most intriguing stories to pass the time at work, fuel the fire on your next trivia games night, or are looking for top-notch entertainment for that family road trip, then you need this book.

Inside Better Than Balderdash, you’ll discover:

● Insane facts about world history

● Bizarre stories of inventors and inventions that sound 100% made up

● Unbelievable true stories of survival

● Unusually strange trivia and fun facts about science and nature

● Shocking truths about famous and infamous people in history

… along with many more crazy fun facts and terrific tales from every facet of this wacky world.

Suitable for adults, teens and kids … Better Than Balderdash is guaranteed to be the best book gift for anyone you can think of, including yourself!

Amazon: US

Amazon: UK

Amazon: CA

Amazon: AU

​Amazon: ES

Author Owen Janssen

About the author:

Owen Janssen moved to the United States from Holland, where his father was a professor when he was two years old. His family loved traveling, and he has crisscrossed the whole country (and part of the world) with them. He finally slowed down long enough to get his teaching degree in Minnesota,but it wasn’t long before he and his college sweetheart were off again, traveling the world together.

Owen has a love of random trivia, technology, and educational matters in general. He also has a guilty pleasure of enjoying pop culture and the occasional karaoke night. He and his family still travel during summer vacations; from Disney World to going back to Holland, he still can’t get enough of all the sights he can find.

The couple got married in Minnesota and settled down in Portland, Oregon, where Owen put his teaching degree to good use. He has spent the last 20 years in teaching, also teaching his own children during that time.

My review:

I thank NetGalley, BooksGoSocial, and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

Although I’m not as big a fan of trivia or a collector of weird and wonderful facts as the author, I do enjoy the topic. I watch game quiz programmes on TV most days, I used to watch QI when I lived in the UK, and regularly participate in an online quiz, so I could not resist the description of this book. Oh, and the title and the cover are great as well.

This is a fun book, easy to read, and as the author suggests in the introduction (where the talks about his love of all things trivia and how he has found it quite useful throughout his life), it makes for quite a good conversation starter. And if you have to make any kind of speech, fishing up some interesting facts relevant to the topic would also ensure you have the attention of the audience.

The copy I accessed contains, apart from the introduction, seven chapters, a conclusion, and some information about the author, although there might be extra content in the published book. The seven chapters discuss a variety of topics: world history, inventors and inventions, pop culture, science and nature, technology, famous and infamous people, and animals and insects. And, be forewarned, the conclusion includes some bonus facts, and rightly so, because all readers are bound to be left wanting more.

Personally, I had heard some of them, but not others, and even the ones I was familiar with, I enjoyed being reminded about. They go from the smallest (a bat as small as a bumblebee, for example), to the largest (living being, and no, it’s now what you think); from the sublime (a hornet that can transform solar energy into electricity) to the ridiculous (a Swedish couple’s idea of a name for their child). It is perfect to dip in an out of, check looking for something interesting, or read from cover to cover in a few sittings. It has some small illustrations, although I would have quite liked a few photographs to accompany some of the facts. Of course, this is also a great place to get people interested in doing research into their favourite topics and discovering some new ones.

This is an easy and entertaining book to read, perfect for somebody with little time and always looking for something amusing and informative to wet his or her appetite. I have discovered things I knew nothing about, and I enjoyed the selection. I look forward to more books by the author, and I am convinced he must be a truly popular teacher. There can’t be a moment’s boredom with him at the helm!

Thanks to NetGalley, BooksGoSocial, and the author for this fun book, thanks to all of you for following me here, for reading, for your patience, and feel free to comment, like, share with others interested… And in case I don’t catch you before, remember to keep smiling and to have a lovely Holiday Season.


Two Reviews. Kirstin Pulioff’s ‘The Ivory Tower’ and P.J. LaRue ‘After “I Do!” A Marriage Map’

Hi all:

As you know, apart from a writer, I’m also a reader and when I have time, I read. I’ve been reading many indie books of recent and being a writer I know how important it is for writers to get reviews for their books. I also try and share them here and see if people who might have missed them find the books interesting.

Today I bring you two short and very different reads. One is a distopian YA novella and the other one a non-fiction book about relationships.

The Ivory Tower
The Ivory Tower

Review of Kirstin Pulioff’s ‘The Ivory Tower’

A sharp, shiny and precise jewel of a dystopian novella.

I read The Ivory Tower very quickly some time ago and have finally managed to catch up with a review. This dystopian story is brief but hides a good punch. I’m always in two minds with regards to shorter stories. On the one hand I want to know more, but on the other hand, the best of them are like perfect jewels, nicely shaped, shiny and precise. Sharp with no rounded edges. I suspect some of that precision and the effect might be lost if they were longer.

The Ivory Tower is one of those stories. The reader is given some details but not the full story behind the situation or the reasons why the characters live as they do. And that makes you think and imagine. It also works because when the main character finds herself in a situation that she cannot quite understand, you are in her shoes and as astounded as her by what happens. The sense of menace and threat increases as one reads and the writing helps create an atmospheric and intriguing tale. Although there are no unduly lengthy descriptions, the reader knows where s/he is. And the ending…

If you only have a little time and want a good story (not a feel good story, though) go and grab The Ivory Tower, quick!

After "I Do!" A Marriage Map
After “I Do!” A Marriage Map

After “I Do!” A Marriage Map by P.J. LaRue Common sense advice about relationships, from the heart.

Before I write the review I must confess something. I’m not married and I’m not in a relationship at the moment. I’m not sure if that qualifies me more or disqualifies me completely from writing this review, but I’ve already warned you. If you want to read on, it’s up to you.

Having said all that, I have to confess I loved the book. Like all advice, one can take it or leave it. And Oscar Wilde already told us that the thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. That one should never use it oneself. I don’t agree although understand the sentiment.

P.J. LaRue explains her reasons for writing the book. She is aware of the statistics on the survival of relationships and observes that although her marriage seemed to have many numbers for not working, it has (so far for over thirty years). As people kept asking her and her husband for the recipe, that got her thinking, and as she is a writer, she thought she’d write a book about it.

The author’s advice is common sense, but not for that less valuable. She reflects on what she calls ‘Starter Marriages’ and observes that if there is no true commitment to a relationship from the beginning you might as well not even bother. If you’re going to give up at the first hurdle, don’t get in the race. She also emphasises the importance of communication, true communication, and she highlights the elements she thinks are necessary for such communication to exist: honesty, be open, listen, never trash talk, don’t play games, whisper sweet nothings, choose your words carefully, change requires self-awareness, change takes effort, compromise, tone, body language, golden rule and R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Other than ‘whisper sweet nothings’ I’d say they are very good principles to follow in any communication, but even more important when the communication is with your loved one.

If the advice is sound, as I say, what I found more touching (and it is a touching book) was how the author uses her own relationship as a yardstick and example of both the things to do and the possible pitfalls, the type of problems that relationships experience. She is candid and honest when talking about her personal difficulties and the trials that they have had to go through (and they’re still coming to terms with).

It might be that some of the ideas exposed in the book (yes, I’m talking about her stance on sex in relationships) might sound old-fashioned, and she herself acknowledges that, but just because something is old or has been said before it doesn’t mean it is wrong. You can always decide what parts of the advice you think should apply to you, but if you can be as selfless and insightful as the author is after you read it, I guarantee you will have a much better chance at making your relationship work.

By the way, very recently I’ve joined the BTS-e Magazine team of reviewers (I’ll let you know when my reviews come up and give you a link to the magazine), so I leave you links to it for you to check and explore.

Thanks so much for reading, and you know, if  you’ve found it interesting, like, share, comment and of course CLICK! Ah, and if read any books and enjoy them, remember to review and recommend them to your friends!