Reviews

Book Review: Ticker

Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial HeartTicker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart by Mimi Swartz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The person who comes up with a way to replace a failing heart with an artificial one, then, will save countless lives and change the future of humankind, much as Louis Pasteur or Sigmund Freud did, or Jonas Salk or Marie Curie. And, of course, the doctor or engineer (or, more likely, the team) who figures out how to make one will likely become very, very rich.”

This is what we are presented with in Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart by Mimi Swartz. The book tells the sordid history of a group of surgeons all vying to become the god-like creator of the first artificial heart. Swartz is a stunning and detailed researcher and the book flows well throughout the decades. She starts with the birth of Michael Debakey and Denton Cooley as the “bad boys: of cardiac surgery in Houston. From there, Swartz takes the reader on the stunning and sometimes vaguely unethical battle to be the best, to beat the competition, and to cash in for as much money as humanly possible. My only disappointment is that the book just seemed to end with no conclusion. That could be due to the unfinished tale of the artificial heart but it still could have wrapped up a bit better in my opinion.

I had some knowledge going into the book as my husband’s uncle was on the ground floor of Baylor’s race to be the best in cardiac care but much of the information was new to me. Readers who have grown up in Houston will know the cast of characters and possibly even the history of the cardiac teams that come into play. This book is not for the faint of heart, however. These are real people that have been used as guinea pigs and sometimes, that’s disheartening and upsetting. Know going into it that the early days of heart surgery were akin to the Wild West and not everyone was on the up-and-up.

*I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.*

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Book Review: Limp

Limp: A Funny MemoirLimp: A Funny Memoir by Simon Eli Vella

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The only thing I have in common with Simon Eli Vella is introversion. Despite that fact, Vella is an incredibly relatable person and his memoir is painfully beautiful.

Recounting his awkward childhood, Vella discusses the dangers of letting the voice in your head get the better of you. As an extremely imaginative child myself, I totally understand the constant background chatter. I can also vouch for the fact that the voice is often really, really mean. Vella also teaches the reader how to be really cool in high school, though being cool comes at the price of ethics. Finally, the reader meets adult Vella who still struggles with the voice in his head and well, being an adult.

It’s a story of finding oneself through the darkness that is addiction. This book is not for the faint of heart. It’s more than a little graphic. There is gratuitous…everything. It’s totally worth it however. Vella writes from the heart and he’s good at it.

I was given an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

TV Review: Transparent

Disclaimer: I don’t mean any offense in this article.  If I use improper terminology I sincerely apologize for my errors.

There have been precious few TV shows that I have loved enough to binge watch.  Firefly, Red Dwarf, Avatar…and now Transparent.

This is a beautiful Amazon original series that portrays Maura (Jeffery Tambor) who spent her life as a biological man but always knew she was a woman.  At the age of 68, she comes out to her family as a trans woman.  The rest of the series involves the fallout surrounding this announcement and the effect that it has on Maura’s three adult children: Sarah, Josh, and Ali.

Sarah (Amy Landecker) has always led the life that was expected of her.  Married with two small children, Sarah lives in her large house in the suburbs while her husband works day in and day out to provide.  Her perfect world gets interrupted when she runs into her old college flame while dropping the kids off at school.

Josh (Jay Dupless) is extremely successful in the music industry but outside of work he constantly chasing love.  Unfortunately, due to some events from his childhood, he has no idea what love even looks like.  He’ll jump at anything that might be love but in the end he’s always wrong.  His heart seems to be in the right place but his childhood has left him confused.

Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) is the baby of the clan.  As a child she showed all the potential in the world and had a genius IQ as an adult she’s floundered.  She has no job, no money, and questionable friends.  Ali has a long track record for making bad choices, however, flashbacks reveal that maybe they weren’t all her fault.

The show also stars the likes of Melora Hardin as Tammy, Sarah’s old flame, and Judith Light as the matriarch of the Pfefferman clan.  The cast is outstanding. The cast has wonderful chemistry together and it comes out through witty and sharp dialogue.  There are plenty of quirky one-liners to keep one laughing but the real heart of the show comes through during the reflections on the past the family must face.  Whether screaming at each other or sitting quietly in an office these moments are what kept me coming back for more.

This family is beautifully broken.  Transparent doesn’t just pertain to Maura but to the family as a whole.  They keep secrets like it’s going out of style.  These sins of omission have led to deep cracks in the foundation of the family which is then shaken by the earthquake of Maura’s confession.  Yet, somehow miraculously, they manage to keep it together and are there for one another when the world starts to crumble.

Transparent is the most heartbreaking, human, beautiful dark comedy I have ever had the pleasure of viewing.

Find it on AmazonPrime.

NOTE: This show does contain adult situations.  Be aware that there is a gratuitous amount of sex, nudity, and language.  They also touch on other “taboo” topics such as abortion, end of life decisions, sex toys, and other issues of sexuality.  Some people will be uncomfortable and the under 18 crowd should steer clear.

Game Review: Banished

I’m mixing things up a bit today with a computer game review.  Few people are aware of my crippling video game addiction (mostly because I spent too much time playing therefore I had no social life) so today I’m outing myself and putting this problem to good use.

It's a whooper of a game. Copyright Shining Rock Software

It’s a whooper of a game.
Copyright Shining Rock Software

Banished is the indie game brainchild of one man, Luke Hodorowicz, the founder of Shining Rock Software.  There isn’t a specific back story to the game; all you know is that you were banished (for an unknown reason) to a remote area and it is up to you to plan the city and keep your villagers alive.  It’s like a hybrid of Starcraft, SimCity, and the Civilization series.

I spent about two or three hours playing last night.  The first thing I noticed is how effing difficult this game is.  I started playing on medium difficulty, fair weather, and disasters enabled.  After a quick and painful death about 20 minutes into my adventure I had to switch to easy with mild weather.  I left disasters enabled because I couldn’t 100% cheat.

Banished Winter Scene

I hope you like frostbite and starving to death.
Copyright Shining Rock Software

Strategy is absolutely key in this game.  Villagers need to have enough food and firewood to make it through the winter.  Some clothes would be nice but my villagers quickly realized they can’t always get what they want.  Without depleting my resources too badly I was able to set up a woodcutter, fields, livestock pens, fishing dock, hunting lodge, and a house for people gathering materials (food, herbs, etc) in the woods.  Boom!  Everyone had a job and the town made it through the harsh winter with enough food and firewood.

A typical setup upon starting the game.  Storage barns, homes, fields all clumped together.  Villagers must build the woodcutter shop (see above image if you question the need for firewood). Copyright Shining Rock Software

A typical setup upon starting the game. Storage barns, homes, fields all clumped together. Villagers must build the woodcutter shop (see above image if you question the need for firewood).
Copyright Shining Rock Software

It was about this time I realized the game also mocks you.  I was celebrating my victory over winter by looking for a place to build a marketplace and a trading post when I suddenly got alarms that villagers were dying.  First three villagers, then ten…What the fuck?  My boyfriend would dub this episode “The Spring of Death.”  It all started with the tornado that killed all but five villagers.  They started to rebuild their houses and stockpiles and just when it looked like they might bounce back…they ran out of food and died.

These burned out and destroyed structures mean you did it wrong. Copyright Shining Rock Software

These burned out and destroyed structures mean you did it wrong.
Copyright Shining Rock Software

Back to the New Game menu for me.

I spent a lot of time on the New Game Menu. Copyright Shining Rock Software

I spent a lot of time on the New Game Menu.
Copyright Shining Rock Software

Overall, the range of play is great.  The maps are large and plentiful.  Each map (I’ve only played three but there are many more) has a water supply for fishing docks and trading posts.  Some locations are easier to play than others.  The location where all my villagers were wiped out was particularly difficult because it was surrounded by water and trees with little room for movement immediately.  Hence the total destruction of everyone living within three feet of each other.

There are ample resources available.  Here alone there are mushrooms, logs, stone, and animals for hunting. Copyright Shining Rock Software

There are ample resources available. Here alone there are mushrooms, logs, stone, and animals for hunting.
Copyright Shining Rock Software

Unlike many strategy games players have everything they need right from the start.  All players really need to be concerned with is hunting down raw materials like wood, iron, stone, and coal.  Otherwise all buildings, skills, occupations, livestock, seeds, etc. are immediately available for construction and use.  This may be off-putting for some gamers but I didn’t mind as it just made me think a bit more about strategy: Do I want a schoolhouse to teach children to be more efficient laborers or do I want the church to keep up village moral (unhappy villagers are not useful laborers)?

I started the game with six homes, a storage barn, sheep, and pumpkin seeds.  I also had ample logs, stone, and iron.  Yes, I was playing on easy mode. Copyright Shining Rock Software

I started the game with six homes, a storage barn, sheep, and pumpkin seeds. I also had ample logs, stone, and iron. Yes, I was playing on easy mode.
Copyright Shining Rock Software

There is no story line which is great because I hate to play a plot based game.   Also it doesn’t appear to have a finish line either which is new to me. There is no way to “win”.  The whole purpose of the game is simply to survive and grow your town into a thriving medieval metropolis.  Occasionally things pop up where villagers might steal food and you have to decide how to handle that but there is no central plot based play.

This thriving town is a happy town. Copyright Shining Rock Software

This thriving town is a happy town.
Copyright Shining Rock Software

I loved this game.  Hardcore.  Even when I knew I wasn’t going to be able to survive a particular map I still gave it my all (I got a little involved) for the sake of the villagers.  I think that’s the thrill of the game: knowing that I could lose at any moment made the little victories that much sweeter.  Well worth the frustration and the money.

Buy it here for $20 USD.