On favorite books of the year: #1 The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin

I procrastinated today by thinking about things that I read this year that were really exciting and that I wanted to shout into the void of the Internet about. Thinking about all of the books that I read (or listened to), I realized that there are books that came to mind right away (like N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season which is amazeballs OMG READ IT NOW) and some books that I enjoyed but took a little bit longer to come back to memory. That doesn’t mean that I enjoyed them less… they were maybe just a little less memorable in the long run. (It’s really hard to be more memorable than The Fifth Season because I’m sorry that was geophysical magic drama sadness adventure and it was glorious).

I figured that ICover for the Fifth Season would start to recap my favorite new to me books (some of which were actually published this year and few that were published a while back that I just read).


The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – Goodreads entry

(Also I feel like I should probably have done this in reverse order, but I’m doing in the order of “I remembered this book first so I’ll talk about it first.”)
I wrote a little tiny blurb of a review the moment I finished reading this book here. But three sentences hardly does any justice to this 449 page book. The thing that hooked me about this book was the first sentence of the blurb on the back:

This is the way the world ends. Again.

And then you read a little more and it turns out that the world is coming apart literally and there are maybe volcanoes. And I was so there because as much as I am a little weary of post-apocalyptic stories, this seemed so interesting because this was a world where apparently apocalypses (is that the plural of apocalypse?) happen fairly regularly.

Basic plot (it’s hard to describe it without spoiling too much): we’re on a world that is constantly shifting seismically and it just happens to be called the Stillness because someone had a sense of humor. There are people that can control the tremors called orogenes but people kind of don’t like them for reasons. A woman named Essun’s son is murdered by her husband and her daughter is kidnapped and she has to try and piece her family together while surviving the geological turmoil that threatens to kill everyone. So really this is a book about family. Except with cataclysmic earth-shattering happening the entire time.

I borrowed this book from the library and started reading it on the way to a fencing tournament. It was so difficult to put it down. The story is actually three stories and part of why the story is so powerful is the way that the stories are connected. The characterization and the world-building is so so strong. This is the first book I’ve read from N.K. Jemisin and I am definitely going to read more. The book comes with a glossary in the back, because some terms are going to be unfamiliar, but they all make sense as you read more and more into the book. A whole society is built, but without lengthy sections of exposition. Everything comes out as it is needed and just as you start to wonder what the heck something means, it’s explained in the book.

I think the strongest point of this book was its world-building. The story is set in a different world, I think, but there’s enough of it that is similar to Earth that I was constantly guessing. There’s a history built in the words and it sucks the reader in and makes it real while you’re reading.

Another strong point was the narrative voices. They were distinct and fascinating and I felt like I really got into the narrator’s mind for each section. I was at times really sad and content and distraught and scared and betrayed… this book… is pretty emotional.

I’d have to say that I would be wary of this book if you are easily affected by dark and grim storylines. Because this is very dark. A woman’s child is beaten to death. She has to deal with that. It’s not happy. But there are happy parts. My favorite phrase from the book is “an affection dihedron” and that is a glorious thing.

So. Overall: Read this book if you like stories with seismic challenges, fascinating world and society structures, familial love(?) in dark times, affection dihedrons and action. Avoid this if you hate earthquakes. I gave it a 4/5 on Goodreads but that really should be a 4.5 or 5/5 because it’s been in my head for so long.



Two years later…

I got busy.

  1. I passed my comprehensive exams last spring! After writing a proposal and defending, I became an official, fancy, PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology! In the days PC (post-comps), I have been busily running myself into experimental barriers repeatedly. Aka, cloning projects (in which I try to make genes be expressed more than they are normally) and fighting with really hard to control conditions (levels of iron and trace nutrients in my water screwing with my experiments). Along the way, I’ve gotten to experience disappointment (not getting on any of the fellowships I applied to… maybe I’ll write about that at some point), the thrill of teaching (my first TA assignments and mentoring undergrads in lab and also suddenly becoming one of the more experienced fencers), and more struggles with impostor syndrome and procrastination.
  2. I got involved in lots of things! I’m now on the Executive Board of the fencing club, a representative on the sports club activity council and the microbiology senator to the graduate student senate (which involves being on a committee in charge of putting on a conference, which reminds me that I should probably work on the things I should be working on for that committee) (more on all these things later).
  3. I developed and rediscovered some hobbies! I’ve been knitting like a fiend. Or as much like a fiend as a knitter who’s just starting can knit. I’ve also fallen in love with short speculative fiction. I still love novels, but I barely have time to read (unless it’s a break and then I can binge read) – so short fiction is the way to go! Definitely more about that later.
  4. I have feelings and opinions about so much now. I feel like I’ve become more aware of so many things and I need a more serious place than tumblr to have wordsplosions about them. So here’s to trying to keep this whole blogging thing up.


So… it’s been a while. I’m going to try to post more regularly than once every two years. I’ve also decided that I want to try to start writing about things in more depth than I usually write on my Tumblr. Ages ago, I had a book vlogging youtube channel, but that fell apart due to undergrad (I don’t have a good track record with these things…). My goal is to post at least twice a month on either books or science or something else. And maybe go back to talking about stories.

I’ll need prodding like no other, so I’m going to try to use Habitica…

updates from the past!

edit: this was a draft i never published… i’ll be back soon!


It’s been a long time since I’ve updated. Some quick updates on life as a first year grad student: Westerns. All the time. For those of you that are not familiar with the Western blot, it’s basically a way to measure the amount of protein produced in a cell and how large it is. The method is fairly straightforward: you harvest cells and lyse them, so that the proteins are no longer enclosed in the cell, run them on a gel that separates them by size using gel electrophoresis, transfer the proteins from the gel to the membrane, and eventually use antibodies to look at specific proteins. It’s a simple process, but an all day process. I’ve been trying to get figures to finish a paper that the lab I’m rotating in is putting out and it’s been a rather dreary three weeks…

I’ve also been working on a proposal for an NSF fellowship. The government closed for a few weeks… and I was sort of hoping the deadline would be postponed, but alas ’twas not to be. I am very excited about the research I am proposing, but I am less excited about my personal statement.

I’ve also been teaching myself how to knit. Apparently, trying to make a hufflepuff scarf with stockinette stitch is a bad idea, because it curls like crazy. But at least now I know how to knit!

Weekends at Work

Science. It doesn’t take a break and neither should you.

But that isn’t really true, is it? With all good things, there comes a time where you need to step back, take a breath, smell the roses and then dive back in. I haven’t posted in a while. (I haven’t forgotten you!) I’ve been busy with schoolwork (or, well, mostly reading papers takes up the most time, as well as studying for the occasional quiz) and fencing (which has been my go-to take a break activity these past few weeks). I haven’t had as much time to read as I could wish. Last weekend, I adventured to Madison, WI and saw the new buildings at Epic, which was pretty cool.

So. Lab. I’ve been enjoying my work with the ECF sigma factors a lot. My last few days have been all about Western blots. Needless to say, I went from having done one blot in the last year… to having done at least five in the last week. Right now, I’m in lab prepping samples for next week. I love the collaborative/collegiate atmosphere of being in lab, but I also treasure the times I can just be alone at my bench and listen to music while working. 

Classes have been exciting. I enjoy learning more of the fundamentals of genetics. I do get my ego deflated a lot when others score perfectly on exams and I’m still missing one or two questions. Sigh. But compared to how I did at Mudd, I really shouldn’t complain. Grr.

I’m starting to work on my application to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship… this is difficult writing, so naturally I’d rather write a blog post. The difficulty lies in the broader impacts aspect of the essays and proposals. I’m glad I’ve been forced into thinking about this in the past, thanks to my undergrad college’s mission statement:

Harvey Mudd College seeks to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians well versed in all of these areas and in the humanities and the social sciences so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society.

– http://www.hmc.edu/about1/mission.html

Nevertheless, translating that into a personal statement of my involvement in society is harder than it seems. ARgh!

And finally, the fun things. Fencing has been awesome. I’m quite terrible at this point, but hopefully I’ll improve. I started crocheting again last night and I want to learn how to knit. Mostly, there’s a fencing tournament about 8 hours away, and I feel like knitting might be a good way to wile the time away. Either knitting or working on that application. As for my other known interest, perfumes, I’ve been busy sniffing! I’ll post a few reviews of the samples I’ve been sent in a little bit!

Now back to reading. 

First rainy day in Iowa City!

I am so excited. And also annoyed because I have to get to lab in the rain. 

I love rain, though, and I’m willing to forgive that slight unfortunate circumstance. Overcast days, faint drizzle, utter lack of the daystar that burns… it’s all good. Plus, I feel much more atmospheric when I curl up on the couch with a hot drink and a blanket and a book (or homework, as the case will be today).

This is excellent.

Everything smells so good!

One of the things that I’ve found myself interested in over the past year or so has been the art of scent – perfumery. I’ve always had an interest in the way that things smell. I often catch whiffs of people’s deodorant or soap or something that smells good and make a mental note in my mind that that person smells good. This makes me sound more creepy than I actually am. Note: if you use Irish Spring, I will probably think you smell good.

I have enjoyed the smells of different things: rain, books, vanilla, cookies, the scent of a newly opened house, trees, lavender. I did my undergrad thesis on chemosensation in C. eleganswhich basically involved the response of the worm to how different bacteria smelled to them. In O. Chem lab, we extracted limonene from orange peel. These are the things I’ve done with scent.

I have a few different perfumes, too. I mostly have oils from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab – I like these because they’re pretty subtle (or you can make them so), natural, and smell like interesting things. I have (or had) a bunch of Bath and Body Works lotions/body sprays/etc. Recently (and the actual cause of this post), I acquired a set of randomly sampled perfumes from Surrender to Chance.

I don’t know much about how smells work. I also don’t know much about perfumes. I know that there are different layers to each scent. I feel like I’ll be reading about this and about the chemistry behind scents in the next few months…



Today was just one of those days when my brain didn’t work. It was one of those days when things would come out of my mouth in garbled strings and loops of syllables. I felt utterly not on point. It was terrible. I forgot to start cultures of competent cells, so I didn’t get to finish my transformation. I explained a graph during journal club really terribly. Nothing worked coming out of my brain and into the outer world. I mean, I got a chromosomal DNA extraction to work, I think. But aside from that… ugh.

I did get to watch a presentation on super resolution microscopy. It was pretty cool. Mostly I was there for the pretty microscopy pictures. My current project doesn’t really need microscopy, but I worked in a lab that studied cell division and used microscopy to look at the localization of cell division proteins. Microscopes are freaking expensive (sigh, money and research).

So now I am going to sit here, read more about DNA replication, possibly read some of Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, eat some of my giant dish of lasagna (seriously, it is hard to make one serving of lasagna), change the water in my vase of flowers that I got while talking to a really interesting florist (who talked microbes with me!), and go to sleep early because I am tired.

I need to get back into running… but all of my running clothes have been sweatified and need to be washed…

Also, I’m considering going to the fencing club practices! I fenced for a semester (about) at Mudd and it was fun… maybe this will be a good time to get back into it!


Books, Blue, and the Boy

Today I acquired a coffee maker. It makes five cups of coffee and I can program it to make coffee when I wake up. I wanted to find one of those pour over coffee filters, but I couldn’t… I’m not a huge coffee drinker (I prefer tea, because I can taste the different flavors better), but sometimes I just really crave some coffee flavored life… Luckily, I found out that making the coffee maker make 2 cups of coffee is actually the equivalent of one cup of coffee for me. So it all works out in the end. (I’m testing the automatic feature tomorrow morning… with any luck, I’ll wake up to the smell of coffee and not my apartment burning down).

I am now more than one week into grad school. The results of last week (and this weekend, because bacteria don’t recognize weekends): mutants! I managed to make three deletion (well, deletion in that we inserted kan resistance genes where the actual genes were supposed to be) mutants in B. subtilis. Also, I am getting better at saying subtilis the right way and not “sub-till-is.”

My dearly beloved person that I adore (also known as the boy) visited for the Labor Day weekend, so I got to enjoy dragging (not really, he went willingly) him to the bookstore, where we got matching copies of Dune (by Frank Herbert) and the Magicians (by Lev Grossman). We also somehow avoided going to the Iowa vs. Northern Illinois game… but were a little overwhelmed by the amount of black and gold downtown… This is very much a Big 10 town and I am terrified of how my little non-sporty self is going to cope (… maybe it’s time to wikipedia the rules of football…). My favorite geeky moment was probably finding a random conference room at Bowen and working out what relative percentages of blue caused by beta galactosidase cleaving X-gal to expect on my plates. Since the boy is a computer scientist (whose interests in biology tend toward the computational, conceptual, and/or neuroscientific areas), I got to practice explaining my work, which naturally helped a bit in me understanding what I am doing. The hardest part of being a rotation student is that I don’t quite feel like I’m doing science or contributing much intellectually. I feel like a pair of hands. Which is good in that I learn a great deal of techniques. But I also feel like I need to be doing more thinking than I actually am.

And so here I am. I just drank a cup of somewhat strong delicious chocolate raspberry coffee. I am reading about DNA replication, which is turning out to be one of my favorite things to study in detail. I am slightly overwhelmed by my journal club class – we’re focusing on regulation of enzymatic activity and bonding interactions and things like AraC… and enzymes and bonding are not my strongest suits. So it’s terrifying.

I feel a little bit of the “what if I’m not actually smart enough to be here” coming on, but I’m working hard to dispel self-doubts that are actually harmful. A little fear is a good motivator… but confidence is the best. (or something like that). and I may be procrastinating right now…so i should get back to reading…


ps. Currently reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman and it is fantastic! I have laughed so much while reading this book. While I don’t agree 100% with everything she says, it is a really fascinating read and she brings up relatable points! 

Experimenting with grains

I decided to be creative with breakfast. Also the bulk foods sections at the store are going to be my downfall.

This is a porridge with bulgur wheat, a tiny bit of old fashioned oats, soy milk, some brown sugar and vanilla, a few chia seeds, and a handful of blueberry flax granola. And honey.

Om nom nom!