Sunday, May 21, 2017

POLL: Support For Marriage Equality Nearly 2:1 (64%-34%)

As someone who was in the trenches fighting for marriage equality for close to twenty years, it is exciting to report that public opinion has now swung dramatically in favor of supporting same-sex marriages.

According to Gallup, 64% of Americans support marriage equality, with opposition at 34%. Even Republicans have plurality support for the position that the law should support marriages between same-sex couples.

To put it succinctly, Gallup says:
Though the Supreme Court has settled the legality of same-sex marriage, a third of Americans are opposed to it. 
But support for gay marriage has gradually increased over the past two decades, reaching majority support with new groups, as it did with senior citizens in 2016 and Protestants this year. Republicans' support for gay marriage is also at a new high and could trend toward majority support in the near future.
It is worth noting that nearly two years after Obergefell legalize same-sex marriage that a full third of respondents think it should be illegal.

However it is pretty awesome to see the trend; hopefully it will remain monotonically increasing from now on!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

The synopsis of Dark Matter is:
From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.
I found this description quite accurate because the book really is about "the paths not taken" and it really is a thought-provoking, action-packed sci-fi thriller.

The premise of Dark Matter is preposterous: somehow a guy named Jason Dessen has created a device which allows access to the multiverse, i.e. the collection of all possible realities which are spawned by the various choices made and alternate events that occur every second.

The Jason Dessen we (the reader) meet is a physics professor at a small-time college in Chicago who lives with his loving wife Daniela and their 14-year-old son Charlie. At one point Jason had researched the possibility of building a device that could access the multiverse but when budding artist Dani announced she was pregnant they got married, Charlie was born and Jason abandoned his project to access the multiverse.

It's that point in time 15 years ago which two competing universes are generated by the two choices that Jason made that is the key moment which animates Dark Matter

Jason2 (the one who invented the multiverse device) regrets his decision so he goes back and kidnaps Jason1 (Charlie's dad) and swaps places with him.

It takes an annoyingly long time for Jason1 to realize that he's in an alternate universe. (It's never a good sign when the reader/audience understands more about the character's predicament than the character does.)

However the book is quite engaging despite the bizarre nature of the situation. It poses key questions: what makes a person unique? How should one deal with regret and decisions made that changed the trajectory of one's life? And (this is very central) if you lost access to the life you knew how far would you go to get that life back?

It's clear that Dark Matter will be a modern motion picture soon (I could see Chris Pratt or Matt Damon as Jason, or hey why not switch it up and try Michael Pena, Riz Ahmed or Steven Yeun for colorblind casting?!) but I honestly don't have high hopes for a film adaptation. The book is compelling but also not without its flaws and it would be a rare movie indeed that exceeds its source material.

Title: Dark Matter.
Blake Crouch.
Paperback: 354 pages.
Date Published: July 26, 2016.
Date Read: January 17, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Nadal 15-0 On 2017 Clay; Federer Withdraws From Roland Garros; Halep Defends Madrid Title

Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay, is having another extraordinary clay court season this year. He won his 52nd career clay court title and 30th ATP Masters shield by extending his undefeated streak on clay by beating Dominic Thiem of Austria 7-6(8) 6-4 to win the Madrid Mutua Open. Nadal has now won his 5th title in Madrid and his 10th(!) title in Barcelona and Monte Carlo. Interestingly, Nadal notched up a win against Novak Djokovic on his way to the final, stopping a losing streak against the former World #1 and setting their head to head at 24W-26L.

2017 Australian Open champion Roger Federer has finally confirmed what many of us suspected awhile ago after he won the Sunshine Double in March: The 18-time major champion would skip the entire clay court season to focus on the summer grass and hard court seasons. In a statement released on his website on Monday May 15th, he said "I need to recognize that scheduling will be the key to my longevity moving forward. Thus, my team and I concluded today that playing just one event on clay was not in the best interest of my tennis and physical preparation for the remainder of the season."

The hottest player on tour in 2017 is Kristina "Kiki" Mladenovic, who has reached 4 tournament finals this year (winning only 1). Simona Halep was pushed to a 3rd set against Kiki in final of the Madrid Open, eventually winning the deciding set 6-2, which was the Romanian's first defense of an important title. Halep's win means that she returns to the Top 5 in the rankings, while Mladenovic will rise to World #14.

Angelique Kerber has regained the #1 ranking by earning enough points in Madrid to surpass the total by Serena Williams. Since Serena is not playing any tournaments for the rest of the year it seems unlikely that she will be #1 ranked again in 2017, although it is possible that if Kerber does not defend the ranking points she earned in 2016 (US Open title and Wimbledon final) that the German's total may fall below Kerber's. However, it's possible that other players such as Karolina Pliskova (who currently leads the Race to Singapore), Halep or Dominika Cibulkova could reach #1 this year.

Monday, May 15, 2017

EYE CANDY: Aldis Hodge

Aldis Hodge is a 30-year-old Black actor of West Indian descent who plays Noah, one of the key roles on the WGN cable television drama, Underground, a dramatization of the Underground Railroad which also stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Christopher Meloni.

I just recently started watching Season 1 and thought that y'all would be interested in seeing one of the main reasons to watch the show! (That last shot is taken from the show.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

SATURDAY POLITICS: Party Affiliation Influences Perceptions of Bias

The topic of how different groups of people view the prevalence and salience of discrimination against various groups is a subject that I have often blogged about here. Five Thirty Eight looks at the polling data from PRRI that I had previously discussed and makes an argument about how in the Trump era notions of "civil rights" and "discrimination" and what the government should do about these issues is going to be very different than what it was in the Obama and Bush administrations.
What we can say already, however, is that in its first 100 days, Trump’s administration has in some ways redefined who the U.S. government views as facing discrimination or marginalization. 
The administration is not proposing less intervention from the federal government, which is the typical Republican approach, but rather it is seeking to wield federal power, just as Obama did. But whereas Obama’s policies focused on protecting African-AmericansLatinos, Muslims, people who are gay or transgender, and other groups that most Americans view as marginalized, Trump and his team are focusing on defending different groups: Christians, police officers, victims of crimes by undocumented immigrants, and people who fear Latino immigrants are taking their jobs or redefining U.S. culture, among others. 
This approach is akin to civil rights for the Trump coalition, a shift in focus away from groups that Democrats (and the data) view as facing more discrimination and toward groups Republicans believe are more often marginalized.
This idea is part of today's discussion of Saturday Politics.

2017 MADRID: Djokovic-Nadal L in Semifinals, To Face Thiem-Cuevas Winner

For a record fiftieth time, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will face off against each other in an ATP tour tennis match. This time it is in the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Ope, the Madrid Masters. Although this tournament is in the capital of Nadal's home country, he has under performed here, with only 4 titles here (compared to 10 on the clay courts of Barcelona and Monte Carlo) and an insane 9 titles at the clay-court major, Roland Garros in Paris.

Interestingly, Nadal now leads the tour in 2017 with match wins (32) and although Djokovic is higher ranked (World #2) and the defending champion here in Madrid, he has been having a very rough year, and recently fired his longtime coaching staff.

As a result of winning their last 7 meetings, Djokovic now leads his head to head with Nadal 26-23, one  of the very few people on tour who can say that. If Djokovic were to beat Nadal on clay, it will probably resuscitate his entire year. It is a widely anticipated match, but I give the edge to the Spanish King of Clay right now. But it will be a very tough battle.

MadProfessah's pick: Nadal in 3 sets.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles

This is the 6th book in the Penn Cage series and the 3rd book in Greg Iles' Natchez Burning trilogy. Although I loved this series overall I was somewhat disappointed by the concluding entry in the series.

The books are incredibly complex, almost gothic tales of intrigue and suspense, set in the southern city of Natchez, Mississippi in "present day" and in the 1960s. The primary character is Penn Cage, a former criminal prosecutor turned best-selling author who is the son of Dr. Tom Cage, a white doctor who has lived in Natchez all his life and is respected by the white and black citizens of the town alike.

The book (and entire Natchez Burning trilogy) is animated by the secrets Penn's dad is keeping (and has kept) in the context of the explosive (and violent) racial politics of his hometown.

In Mississippi Blood  the primary plot is about the trial of Dr. Cage for the murder of Viola Turner, the beautiful black woman who was Tom's nurse in the 1960s and who was assaulted and raped and eventually exiled from her hometown by an extremely racist group called the Double Eagles (they separated from the Ku Klux Klan because that group wasn't hardcore enough on racial issues!) Viola was dying of cancer and the two had an assisted suicide pact.

My primary issues I had with this book was that the story just became a bit too operatic and unbelievable over time, with plot developments and shocking revelations occurring in the context of an extremely dramatic trial. To be honest, this was probably a weakness of the earlier books as well, but I looked past it because I was so invested in what was happening to the characters in those earlier books. (And all 6 books in the Penn Cage  series are action-packed, emotionally resonant thrillers also.) Because Mississippi Blood  is almost certainly the final book in the Penn Cage series, several bridges have been burned (and primary characters dispatched  in the earlier entries in the trilogy) so that somehow my connection to and interest in these remaining characters seemed less intense.

Overall, Mississippi Blood is a very suspenseful, action-packed, mystery-thriller with thought-provoking and complex racial politics woven throughout and an extremely compelling read.

Title: Mississippi Blood.
Greg Iles.
Paperback: 704 pages.
 William Morrow.
Date Published: March 21, 2017.
Date Read: May 10, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A (3.83/4.0).


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: British Atheists Test Irish Blasphemy Law

British atheists Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry are testing Ireland's blasphemy law . Dawkins posted the following letter to the editor which has an excerpt from his best-selling book, The God Delusion:
Sir, – As a gesture of solidarity with Stephen Fry, I quote a sentence from my book, The God Delusion: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Every one of these adjectives is amply documented, with full biblical citations, in Dan Barker’s book, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction.
I shall be giving a public lecture in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, on June 12th, and I shall therefore be available for arrest on a charge of blasphemy. – Yours, etc, 
New College,
It will be interesting to see what  happens (if anything) to Fry or Dawkins as they challenge the idea that blasphemy laws should exist in a 21st century democracy.

Apparently the fine under the Irish blasphemy law is €25,000 (roughly $27,000). The text of the statute, according to the Independent, makes it illegal to use words that are:
"grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred to any religion,  thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion."

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Nadal Nearly Nude; Djokovic Attempts Reset; Sharapova Haters Savor Victories

14-time major champion Rafael Nadal is undefeated on clay in 2017 and has won his 10th title at the ATP Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona tournament. He is on track to win his 10th title at Roland Garros in Paris this year. To celebrate(?), he is posing nearly nude wearing Tommy Hilfiger underwear. You're welcome!

While Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are resurgent this season the former World #1 Novak Djokovic (who is still at #2 in the rankings) has taken the radical step of firing his entire coaching team, including longtime coach Marian Vajda whom has been with him for over a decade (June 2006). Since winning his 12th major and achieving the career slam (and Nole Slam) at the 2016 French Open, Djokovic has been oddly off-kilter, despite making the 2016 US Open final (where he lost to Stan Wawrinka) and by the end of the year he eventually lost the World #1 ranking to Andy Murray.

Since 5-time major champion Maria Sharapova returned after serving a 15-month suspension from the game, she has played well so far but ultimately come up short in the latter stages of crucial matches to two players who were sharply critical of her: Kiki Mladenovic (3-6 7-5 6-4 Stuttgart semifinal) and Genie Bouchard (Madrid 2nd Round 7-5 2-6 6-4). Both Bouchard and Mladenovic called Sharapova a cheater, and in addition to doing their talking off the court, they followed it up with even larger statements on the court, defeating Sharapova in important tournaments.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

This is Brian Staveley's first standalone novel in the same universe that his amazing Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy (The Emperor's Blades, The Providence of Fire and The Last Mortal Bond) were set in. Maybe we should start calling the universe these books are set in the Annurian Empire universe because the Unhewn Throne doesn't play much of a role in the new book. Skullsworn instead provides us with an extremely detailed backstory for one of the highlights of the Trilogy, Pyrre Lakatur, the Priestess of Annanshael (God of Death), who is simply a delight as a middle-aged, completely unflappable but often deadly female assassin in  The Last Mortal Bond and The Providence of Fire.

Skullsworn is set in the time decades before the events of The Unhewn Throne trilogy when 20-something Pyrre is still seeking to pass her Trial to become a full Priestess, and we follow her journey with two Priests of Annanshael (named Ela and Korral) and learn how the character of the person we met in the earlier books was shaped by these other priests. It also allows the reader to realize that the unflappabilty and unusual attitude towards death is not sui generis to Pyrre, but appears to be a feature of skullsworn priests.

However, this being a book written by Staveley, there is a lot of political intrigue involved in the plot, as the story takes Pyrre back to her hometown, the captured city of Dombang which has been under Annurian occupation for centuries. In addition to political intrigue, Staveley also seeks to confront the reader with thorny philosophical questions, such as "what is the nature of love?" and "why would anyone worship the god of death?" Oh and there's a lot of action and a fair bit of adult language and sexual situations.

One of the key features of the Unhewn Throne trilogy is the panoply of gods that is featured in those books and in Skullsworn religion and worship becomes an even more central aspect of life. So much so, that Skullsworn began to remind me quite strongly of the DIVINE CITIES books (City of Stairs, City of Blades and City of Miracles) by Robert Jackson Bennett. Bennett's trilogy is primarily animated by intellectual dilemmas such as the nature of faith, the horrors of colonization and the memory of cultural genocide. This is not a bad thing, but it makes Skullsworn a more serious book than the rip-roaring tales of adventure and fun with which Staveley first began his oeuvre.

Overall, my primary complaint about Skullsworn  is that it was approximately half the length of any of the books in the trilogy. But then again, if the main complaint after reading a book is that "I wanted to read more!" than that's not really a complaint, it's a compliment.

Title: Skullsworn.
Brian Staveley.
Paperback: 320 pages.
 Tor Books.
Date Published: April 25, 2017.
Date Read: May 1, 2017.


OVERALL GRADE: A (4.08/4.0).


Monday, May 01, 2017

EYE CANDY: Jovan Campbell

Jovan Campbell is a 28-year-old model from Trinidad who lives in New York City, according to the good folks at Pop Glitz. He has almost 30,000 followers on Instagram (@ironaddictjovan).  West Indians represent!

This is his first time on Eye Candy but it certainly will not be the last. You may have noticed that Eye Candy is no longer a weekly feature of the blog. I am going to try and switch to an every-other-week frequency as I aim for an every-other-day frequency of posting to the blog. Thanks, everyone!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The View Outside My Window : Where Is MadProfessah?

I'm in The Bronx for a day-long Math conference at Hostos Community College.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein

Saturn Run is most definitely hard sci-fi. But it is also a fun, silly and exciting thrill ride. Sometimes it goes a bit overboard in both directions (with the level of scientific detail in the hard sci-fi sections and the breeziness of the comedic situations).

An alien ship is discovered out by Saturn and China and the USA are in a new space race to get to the ringed planet. The main character is Sandy Darlington, the apparently addle-headed scion of a billionaire who discovers the anomaly which leads to the alien ship and for reasons of mostly plot development is added to the crew of the American ship going out to Saturn. Other major characters are Naomi Fang-Christo, captain of the American ship, Rebecca Johansson, the chief engineer who designs a crazy mechanism to propel the ship, Cassandra Fiorella, a journalist documenting the journey, John Clover, a pot-smoking anthropologist specializing in first contact with aliens and Crow, the political operative (i.e. spy) who represents the wishes of the US government. The President, Amanda Santeros plays a pretty significant role in the book. (One interesting feature of the book is that it has a VERY large number of powerful women characters, from the POTUS, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff(!) to the captain of both the US and Chinese ships.)

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but the American and Chinese ships do make it to Saturn and there is considerable intrigue on returning to Earth with the knowledge they gain from interacting with the alien ship there.

Overall, the book is a fun, action-packed, oftentimes silly but scientifically believable thriller based around space flight to Saturn in the NOT too-distant future.

Somewhere between 3.5 to 4 stars.

Title: Saturn Run.
John Sandford and Ctein.
Paperback: 486 pages.
 G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Date Published: October 6, 2015.
Date Read: April 22, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: **** (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Nadal Wins 10th Monte Carlo; Serena Back At #1; Sharapova Returns To Tour; Tiafoe Up to #72

The King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, won his record 10th title at the ATP Monte Carlo Masters by defeating fellow lefty Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Nadal became the first man in the Open era to win the same tournament 10 times. Later this season he has the chance to win the French Open and the Barcelona Open 10 times. With his win, Nadal takes the overall lead of 50 clay court titles in his career, the most ever. His total number of ATP tour titles  won to date is 70. He has now moved up to World #5 on the ATP rankings.

Despite announcing her pregnancy last week and the fact that she has not hit a tennis ball since winning the Australian Open with no possibility that she will play for the rest of 2017, Serena Williams returned to the #1 slot this week as the points for winning in Stuttgart last week fall off of Angelique Kerber's record so she falls down to #2.

5-time major champion Maria Sharapova is returning to the WTA Tour this week, receiving a wild card directly into the main draw of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix Tournament in Stuttgart. Many players feel like wild cards should be reserved for players who are returning to the tour after injury or some other reason, and not an 18-month drug ban. The real question will be what will happen when the two summer majors come around? Right now it looks like Sharapova will be given a wild card into the qualifying draw, which I think is a reasonable compromise.

Frances Tiafoe has long been touted as the future of American men's tennis. The 19-year-old African-American is now firmly in the Top 100, up to #72 in the rankings, and this week he won a third title on the Challengers tour, winning the Sarasota Open.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

SATURDAY POLITICS: Presidential First-Quarter Approval Rating Comparisons; #CA34 Runoff Between Gomez and Ahn; Gorsuch's 1st Killer Vote

The Huffington Post reports that Donald Trump is the first post-World War president to have less than majority support from the American populace after the first quarter of his first term.

President Donald Trump received substantially worse ratings for his initial months in office than any other president elected to his first term since World War II, according to Gallup.
Even those presidents who went on to be unpopular generally enjoyed high ratings during their first months in office after their electoral victory. But Trump’s average rating since Inauguration Day is just 41 percent, Gallup finds, making him the only such president in its polling history to fall short of majority approval during his first quarter.
President Bill Clinton, the next-lowest ranked, had an average approval rating of 55 percent for that time period, while Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush enjoyed first-quarter ratings of 63 percent and 58 percent, respectively. 
It should be noted that Trump's approval rating among Republicans (as depicted in the graphic at the top of this post) is 87%, which is well aligned with the political support other presidents have received from people in their same party.

Previously I analyzed the race to replace Xavier Becerra as the United States representative for the 34th Congressional District of California. I also voted in the April 4 election by absentee ballot. The top two finishers were Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez and former Los Angeles City Planning Commissioner Robert Lee Ahn. One of these two will be elected as a Congressmember on June 6, 2017. Ahn, 41, raised the most money but Gomez, 42, received the most votes.

Neil Gorsuch is now the newest member of the United States Supreme Court. His very first vote was on Monday night, in the case of McGehee v. Hutchinson, which was in a death penalty case out of Arkansas. In a 5-4 decision, Gorsuch's was the deciding vote which led to the execution of Ledell Lee. This was the first execution in the state of Arkansas in a dozen years. The state had intended to execute 8 men in 11 days but that plan is in doubt now, but they have "successfully" killed at least one man.

Friday, April 21, 2017

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Serena Anounces She's 20 Weeks Pregnant, Will Not Play Again In 2017

Serena Williams stunned the tennis and sporting worlds by revealing on Instagram a few days ago (on Maria Sharapova's 30th birthday, no less)  that she is 20 weeks pregnant. The implications of this announcement are huge.

First, it means that when Serena won her 23rd major title at the 2017 Australian Open approximately 12 weeks ago, she was two months pregnant at the time!! (I wonder if Venus knew? I doubt it! I wonder is Serena knew? Probably!) This should put to rest any doubts as to whether Serena is the greatest female tennis player of all time.

Secondly, Serena's spokesperson also made it very clear that Serena will not be competing at any other tournaments in 2017, which clears the field for other players to win some trophies, namely, Victoria Azarenka, who just gave birth in December, and Sharapova, who is returning to competitive tennis next week after a 2-year gap due to a drug violation ban.

Thirdly, it means that Serena is revealing that she has been having unprotected sex (and is presumably not using birth control) with her fiance Alexis Ohanian. Will she have the child and be an unwed mother or will they push forward the date of the wedding? (No date had previously been announced.) If Serena is 20 weeks pregnant now, she should give birth before the end of the summer. Maybe a June wedding? She'll be pretty huge, by then!

Beynce and Serena pregnant at the same time is too much motherhood to take! #mindblown

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Montana House Candidate Believes In Creationsm

There has been a lot of talk in political circles over the special election in Georgia's 6th congressional district, but not much about another special election that is upcoming for Montana's at-large congressional seat which was vacated when Ryan Zinke became Secretary of the Interior.

The most prominent Republican candidate in the special election to replace Zinke is Greg Gianforte, who is a tech millionaire who has used money from his family foundation to support the belief that the earth is 6,000 years old, Huffington Post reports.

Just in time for today's Godless Wednesday, The Friendly Atheist has published an excerpt of an interview with a reporter where Gianforte "doubles down" on his creationist views:
MAUK: Your position on evolution has come up in past campaigns because of your support, primarily, of the Glendive museum. Do you personally believe in evolution?
GIANFORTE: I personally believe, as many Montanans do, that God created the Earth.
MAUK: But do you believe, personally, in evolution?
GIANFORTE: I believe that God created the Earth. I wasn’t there, I don’t know how long it took. I don’t know how he did it exactly. But I look around me at the grandeur in this state and I believe that God created the Earth.
MAUK: And so evolution is not something that you believe in?
GIANFORTE: Um, I think I’ve answered your question.
I believe everyone running for public office should be asked, "Do you believe the Earth is less than 4 billion years old?" and if they give some weasly answer like "I wasn't there" or "I don't know" or "I am not a scientist" they should be asked "What other undisputed scientific facts do you not know or personally believe in? Do you believe the Earth is round? Do you believe the Earth revolves around the Sun? Do you believe in the germ theory of disease? Do you believe in antibiotic resistance?"

FYI, the March for Science is happening this Saturday April 22 in Washington, DC  and around the country and the world.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TENNIS TUESDAY: Coric Wins 1st Title; Federer Iffy On Paris; Sharapova Returns; Schiavone!

After completing his 3rd sunshine double as part of a 19-1 blistering start to 2017 which has included his 18th major title in Australia and 91st tour title overall. Federer is now ranked World #4 but, conscious that he needs to nurture his body at age 35, he is skipping all the clay court warmups and may even skip the clay court major in Paris as well. He told CNN Sport that "I don't think I will skip it, but I will have to see in, say, four or five weeks how I feel when I get on the clay, how my mood is." Since he also missed the 2016 French Open, he has no points to lose, but doing well there would be a golden opportunity to pick up ranking points if he really wants to challenge for the year end #1.

5-time major champion Maria Sharapova will return to the WTA Tour for the first time in nearly two years when her 18-month ban for using the banned substance meldonium for over a decade runs out on April 26th. Somewhat oddly, Sharapova was given a wild card into the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, which will be underway at that time, so she will be able to resume playing on the tour immediately, despite having literally no ranking points. She has since received wild card entries into Madrid

20-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia, one of the photogenic up-and-coming #NextGen stars of the ATP won his first tour title this week in dramatic fashion, saving 5 match points  in the second set against veteran Phillipp Kohlschreiber in Marrakech. Coric was also down a break 2-4 in the deciding set, but won the match 5-7 7-6(5) 7-5.

"Nothing is Impossible" said the t-shirts when Francesca Schiavone won her French Open title (d. Sam Stosur) in 2010 at the age of 29. The veteran is playing her last year in the tour and has been in danger of not qualifying to play her favourite tournament. However, thanks to an amazing performance in Colombia, the 36-year-old is now almost in the Top 100 (ranked #104)and should be able to get into the Roland Garros main draw. I wonder what Francesca will say if Sharapova gets a wild card into the French??

Friday, April 14, 2017

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Colson Whitehead Wins The Pulitzer For Fiction

Colson Whitehead, the author of The Underground Railroad, has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for this award-winning work about slavery. The commendation from the Pulitzer jury says Mr. Whitehead's win was:
For a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.

Whitehead, 47, had previously won the MacArthur "genius" grant (in 2002) as well as a Guggenheim fellowship.  The Underground Railroad also won this year's National Book award.

There has been an announcement that Barry Jenkins, the Oscar-winning director of this year's Best Picture, Moonlight, will adapt the book into a limited series for Amazon.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

This was my first audiobook. My husband and I listened to it on our anniversary vacation in Hawaii (Kauai and Kona).

The narrator is Bahni Turpin and she is quite impressive. She provided individual voices for each of the characters and her vocal inflections communicate the nuances of the story and made the book a delightful experience. I would probably "read" another audiobook by her from an author I was ambivalent about just because she was the narrator! (Yes, she is that good.)

I'm not sure I'm a fan of the audiobook experience overall. I feel like I did not have as continuously engaged an experience with the audiobook as I would have had if I had read the book in either "dead tree" or electronic form. But it was fun to share the experience with my hubby. There were some scenes and plot points that my husband asked me about that I missed but as a whole the book was the source of many thoughtful and interesting conversations, which is one of the key reasons to read, in my humble opinion.

All that being said, The Underground Railroad  is very effective at depicting the horrors of slavery and illustrating the toxic effects of white supremacy and legal racial subordination on both Black and White people. There's an especially affecting scene when the ramifications of harboring a fugitive slave in a upside-down version of North Carolina become chillingly clear.

Another thing that comes across is how difficult life was back then without the modern technological advances we are now used to (in 2017); I'm not talking about fancy inventions like iPhones and electric cars and the Internet, but basic necessities of modern life we almost always take for granted like antibiotics and anesthesia and electricity. 

The Underground Railroad also points out all the different ways that people's humanity is degraded by the various horrible jobs (slave catcher, slave boss, overseer et cetera) that they are forced to undertake in order to survive. This is true of the black people and the white people in the book.

Although its calling card is the fact that the "metaphorical" Underground Railroad we have heard of in history books is a real thing in the book, to me this was a minor point, and even a bit silly. The primary selling point of The Underground Railroad is its depiction of slavery (even in a fictionalized, heightened form).

The Underground Railroad is also a compelling (and action-packed) story about what happens to a number of slaves named Cora and Cesar.

Title: The Underground Railroad.
Colson Whitehead.
Paperback: 320 pages.
Date Published: August 2, 2016.
Date Read: January 17, 2017.

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


Monday, April 10, 2017

EYE CANDY: Chaera Brown

Chaera Brown is a model from Alexandria, Virginia. He is active on Instagram (@only1chaera) and Facebook. He is today's Eye Candy model.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

My Favorite Books Read In 2016 (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery and Thriller)

In 2016 I read 60 books; as usual almost all of these were novels, primarily in the genres of mystery/thriller and fantasy/science fiction. Interestingly, the books that I read the in 2016 were  pretty evenly split between the genres of science fiction (19), fantasy (17), and mystery (19) with a few books falling into both categories or neither. (In 2014 mystery/thriller predominated my reading list while in 2015 more than half the books I read that year were science fiction. In 2016, surprisingly no particular genre dominated.

I was introduced to some new authors in 2016 (Adrian McKinty, Michael J. Sullivan, Deborah Crombie, Ramez Naam, Elizabeth George and Adrian Tchaikovsky) whom I look forward to reading more of their books in the future. In 2016 I read my first book by Stephen King  as an adult and was pleasantly surprised by how good the alternative-history/time-travel book 11/22/63 is. I will definitely try to read more of his non-horror work which falls into my favorite genres in the future.

Happily in 2016 lots of authors whose work has previously been some of my favorite reads released books that I read (Ben Winters, Tana French, Peter Hamilton, Daniel Abraham, Ian Rankin, Brian Staveley, Michael Connelly, Patrick Tomlinson, Peter Robinson and Alastair Reynolds). There's a notable absence from this list: for the first time in 6 years I did not read a book from The Expanse by James S.A. Corey. The sixth book, Babylon's Ashes, was released in December 2016 but I didn't read it until my Hawaii vacation in January 2017. Another favorite author, Brent Weeks published The Black Mirror (Lightbringer, #4) in 2016 but I am sav(or)ing this to be read later in 2017.

I'm always looking for more good books and authors to add to my "To Be Read (TBR)" pile! Feel free to make suggestions of books or authors you think I would like in the comments after seeing what books have resonated with me previously.

Below are my favorite reads for 2016 in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery and Thriller.

Favorite Science Fiction Novel Read In 2016: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Reading Children of Time was one of the most exciting reading  experiences I had in 2016. Part of the emotional impact that the book had on me is that it was so unexpected. Although I had heard of the author's work before, I thought that Tchaikovsky was known for his epic fantasy works. I list space opera as my favorite genre, and usually it ends up being my favorite sub-genre in science fiction (and quite often it is a book by either Peter Hamilton or James S.A. Corey  in 2015 and 2014) but this year Children of Time just stole my heart and blew my mind.  It is an unusual story that combines two classic elements of science fiction: the depiction of the social dynamics of an arkship which presumably contains all that remains of humanity and the development of an alien civilization with quite unique cultural characteristics and social structure. What both of these plots have in common is that the book goes over multiple generations of each, so the passage of time is an important ingredient of the salience of the story's impact. Although I would love to spend more time with the characters and the setting of Children of Time it was also nice to read a completely self-contained story that does not depend on any sequels to advance or complete the story.

Runner-Up in Favorite Science Fiction Novel Read In 2016: Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters.

I have previously discussed how since I love science fiction/fantasy and mystery/thriller that I am always looking for books that combine these two genres. In fact last year, my two favorite mysteries were also science fiction books. The first of these was the Last Policeman trilogy written by Ben Winters. This year Winters is on my list of favorites in the science fiction category even though Underground Airlines is also a police procedural and mystery-thriller. What makes it science fiction is that it is written in an alternate time line where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated soon after his election in 1861 and the enactment of five "compromise" constitutional amendments result in slavery being maintained until the 21st century in a few stubborn states in the Union (Carolinas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama). The setting is so compelling that it was easily the book that I thought about the most long after I finished it. What the premise does is allow the reader to clearly see the horrifying possibility that slavery could have been maintained for another century and a half in our world and how similar to our actual world that warped universe is. This is mordant social commentary with an exciting  plot wrapped around it.

Honorable Mention (Science Fiction):  A Night Without Stars (The Chronicle of the Fallers, #2) by Peter Hamilton.
My favorite science fiction author is Peter Hamilton so it should not be a surprise that his sequel to The Abyss Beyond Dreams, the concluding novel in another exciting duology written in the Commonwealth Universe would be on my list of favorite books read in 2016. A Night Without Stars was not as good as the first book in the series but even midrange Hamilton is a lot better than the vast majority of science fiction out there. Again, although Hamilton is known for his space opera and military science fiction a key aspect of the story in The Chronicle of the Fallers is a detailed depiction of a social revolution against a totalitarian regime where some people have telepathic and telekinetic powers and there are deadly shape-shifting aliens attempting to subsume human civilization. Lots of fun!

Favorite Fantasy Novel Read Novel In 2016: The Last Mortal Bond (The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, #3) by Brian Staveley

In 2015 my favorite read in the category of fantasy was the first book in Brian Staveley's The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, The Emperor's New Blades so I am quite pleased that the concluding work in the same series, The Last Mortal Bond, ended up being my favorite read in the same category in 2016. And this was a tough category to repeat in because I read quite a few fantasy books this year. However Staveley is the real deal and I totally expect him to join the (rather short) list of my favorite fantasy authors: Brent Weeks, Peter Brett, Daniel Abraham and Michael Sullivan. The reason why Staveley is on this list at the top spit is that The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne is simply the best. The story generally revolves around three main characters: Kaden, Adare and Valyn, who are the surviving children of an assassinated emperor. However, as the story develops we see that it is really an existential battle between humanity and god-like, immortal beings. There are giant flying birds, armies of thousands fighting against each other and devotees of various gods and goddesses all fighting for power and control over the Empire. Oh and of course there is some love and betrayal as well, for good measure. And all of it is told at a thrilling pace with humor and wit which is incredibly engaging.

Runner-Up Favorite Fantasy Read in 2016:  Heir of Novron (The Riyria Chronicles, #3) by Michael J. Sullivan 

Speaking of wit and humor immediately brings us to the work of Michael J. Sullivan, who I first read in 2016. He started as a self-published author and although there's nothing wrong with that, I believe that was one of the reasons why I never picked up any of his books. But eventually, the tens of thousands of ratings on Goodreads (with an average well above 4.0 on a 5-point scale) were convincing enough to me that I decided to try the first book, Theft of Swords, in one of his series, The Riyria Chronicles. I was amazed at how funny and thrilling the books are, even if they do have wizards and princesses and swords. They simply are great books, built around two amazing characters Hadrian Blackwater and  Royce Melborn. What is so impressive about what Sullivan does is that even as he is repeating all the classical fantasy tropes he is simultaneously reinventing and disrupting them. (For example, in Heir of Novron there's a quest by a motley collection of travelers who have multiple reasons to betray each other, there's an orphaned waif who becomes the leader of the Empire, and of course there are several sets of star-crossed lovers.)  But the core of the books is the relationship between two (straight) guys who are very different but manage to forge a bond that has them surviving some quite harrowing (and sometimes hilarious) situations. Honestly, it was hard to know which of the books in the Riyria Chronicles to put on this list, but because Heir of Novron also has the added benefit of providing a pay off to thousands of pages of text I selected it to represent the runner-up best fantasy book I read in 2016. Don't make the mistake I made, read the Riyria books by Michael J. Sullivan as soon as you can--you won't regret it!

Honorable Mention (Fantasy): The Spider's War (The Dagger and the Coin, #5) by Daniel Abrahams
Earlier entries in Daniel Abraham's fantastic series about fanaticism, banking and war, The Dagger and the Coin, have made it into my list of Favorite Fantasy books of the year. (Book 4, The Widow's House, was the runner-up in this category in 2014.)  Of course Abrahams is one-half of the duo who writes The Expanse series as James S.A. Corey so it is incredible that while they were churning out a book a year in that series, Abraham has been churning out a book a year in this series as well. Both of those schedules slipped this year, but The Spider's War was released early enough that I was able to complete it in 2016. Although it is not as consistently a high-quality read as some of the earlier entries in the series, it still manages to stick the landing quite well and resolve all the myriad plot points and various story threads that have developed over the course of five books, and for doing a good job at a hard task, The Spider's War deserves an Honorable Mention.

Favorite Mystery Novel Read In 2016: The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6) by Tana French

After a somewhat disappointing fifth entry into her Dublin Murder Squad Series with The Secret Place, Tana French restored her place as my favorite mystery author with The Trespasser. There are books that you look forward to and are willing to wait for at the library, and there are books that you immediately order on Amazon once you know they are available (and there are even books that you pre-order on Amazon once you hear a rumor that they may be coming out soon.) Needless to say, The Trespasser showed up on my doorstep on its day of release and although I denied myself the pleasure of starting to read it right away, it was totally worth the wait. For the first time, French deviates from using her unique method of selecting the detectives who will be protagonists in her latest book from secondary characters from previous entries in the series. The detectives that appeared in The Secret Place, Stephen Moran and Antoinette Conway, also appear in The Trespasser. What makes French's mysteries so good is that the questions raised are not only about who did the crime and why did they do it, but they often involve questions about the people trying to solve the crime as well. Conway is the only female member of the Dublin Murder Squad and Moran is the most junior member, and the fact that they are paired together as partners reflect the marginality of both on the squad.  One of the key mysteries in The Trespasser is not only will Conway and Moran find out who killed Aislinn Murray, but also will Conway and Moran continue to be working together as police detectives and will both of them actually be on the police force by the end? The result is that The Trespasser rivals her Broken Harbour as the best of Ms. French's superlative mysteries.

Runner-Up Favorite Mystery Novel Read in 2016: Rain Dogs (Sean Duffy, #5) by Adrian McKinty

One of the key discoveries I made in 2016 were the Inspector Sean Duffy  books by Adrian McKinty. These are a series of police procedurals set in the suburbs of Belfast, Northern Ireland at the height of the "Troubles" in the mid-1980s. I'm already a sucker for police procedurals, having consumed several books of this type written by Ian Rankin (DI John Rebus in Edinburgh), Peter Robinson (DCI Alan Banks in Yorkshire), Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch in Los Angeles), Jo Nesbø (Harry Hole in Oslo, Norway), Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q series in Copenhagen), Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad) and Henning Mankell (Kurt Wallander in Ystad, Sweden). McKinty's Sean Duffy series is familiar because it is a police procedural but the setting of an all-consuming, civil war between two religious factions. Of course, Duffy is a nice Catholic boy who is a Royal Ulster Constabulary officer in Carrickfergus, a predominantly Protestant section of Northern Ireland (which also just happens to be the name of the real town that McKinty grew up in.) The Duffy books are complicated by the fact that not only is Duffy trying to solve murders in a time and place when people are getting blown up and killed horribly by faithful adherents from both sides, is that he also somehow gets involved in cases that attract the attention of M.I.5 (the British domestic counter-intelligence agency equivalent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation). The Duffy books are bit more than your everyday police-procedural murder-mystery; they have significant elements of spy thriller components, all embedded in oft-amusing commentary on the 1980s and 1990s. In particular, Rain Dogs is particularly good. I devoured all five of the available entries in the Duffy series in about a month, with each one even more enjoyable (and compelling) than the one before.

Honorable Mention (Mystery):  Even Dogs in the Wild (Inspector John Rebus, #20) by Ian Rankin and In The Dark Places (Chief Inspector Alan Banks, #22) by Peter Robinson.
I realized when I wrote this post that I have never acknowledged the mysteries of Ian Rankin or Peter Robinson as one my year-end favorites, but between the two of them I have read nearly four dozen of their books. They are somewhat similar, in that they are both police procedurals built around male detectives in Great Britain. Rankin's John Rebus is located in Edinburgh and its environs while Robinson's Alan Banks is located in Northern England (Yorkshire). The two have complicated relationships with both their underlings and superior officers. After reading so many of these stories, they are familiar, comforting and highly recommended. (Please note, each of the series gets better as they go along. If you start from Book 1, hang in there because they get really good later on. For Rebus, I would say it is the award-winning Resurresction Men and for Banks is In A Dry Season.)

Favorite Thriller Novel Read In 2016: Apex (Nexus, #3) by Ramez Naam.

I had heard of Ramez Naam's Nexus trilogy for years (at least as long as I had heard of Marcus Sakey's Brilliamce saga). The two are somewhat similar, since they are both techno-thrillers in a sense. Both depict the development of technology which tends to upend the natural balance of our world and then depicts the aftermath by following its effect on the main characters. In the Nexus trilogyNaam's killer idea is the development of a drug called Nexus which allows one to code the human brain like an operating system, and also eventually connect to (and possibly control) these Nexus-enhanced brains remotely through a network. Naam's work is even more political than Sakey's because he raises a lot of nuanced issues about the nature of technology and the questions that the creator of a paradigm-shifting technology faces. For me, Naam's work resonates even more than Sakey's because his main character is a graduate student who has this amazing idea and dreams of academic success. Naam depicts the protocols, beliefs and cultural touchstones of the academic scientific world in a way that I immediately identified. However, additionally, the Nexus books are also action-packed, as another question that they raise is the time-honored dilemma of when (or if) the ends justify the means of achieving one's aims. The books are set about 25 years in the future, so technically they are science fiction as well as techno-thrillers which could be another reason I liked them so much. I read all three books in the trilogy, Nexus, Crux and Apex in about a week and they were an extremely fun ride, they most exhilarating reads I had in 2016.

Runner-Up Favorite Thriller Read in 2016: Beyond Reach (Grant County, #6)  by Karin Slaughter

I discovered Karin Slaughter last year, and Blindsighted the first book in her Grant County series made an immediate impression on me, grabbing an Honorable Mention for Favorite Thriller Read in 2015. I basically devoured the rest of the six books in the Grant County series in 2016 and am currently working my way through her 9-book Will Trent series in 2017. Slaughter is a crime thriller writer who also combines romantic tension between her main characters. The Grant County series is built around a trio of characters: Sara Linton, Jeffrey Tolliver and Lena Adams. Adams and Tolliver are police officers and Linton is Tolliver's ex-wife and the coroner in a very small South Georgia town. Through intricate plotting and clever deployment of point-of-view chapters, Slaughter weaves a compelling tale where the lives and loves of these main characters are intertwined with each other in increasingly complex ways. This is done while they solve always-heinous crimes (which almost always involve extremely sexualized and brutal violence against women) that often result in one or more of our main characters being placed into extreme peril (thus the thriller aspect). Beyond Reach is the most devastating of the books in this regard, with an ending which is absolutely devastating to the reader.

Honorable Mention (Thriller): World in Fire (Brilliance, #3) by Marcus Sakey.
The Brilliance series by Marcus Sakey is a very fun trilogy of science-fiction thrillers set in the near-future where 1% of the children being born are "special"--they have extraordinary mental and physical powers which could lead them to take over the world if allowed to develop unchecked. Sakey imagines how our world would react to this change and follows the story to a logical conclusion (which he provides in the third book) as time moves forward and the Brilliants and the Normals struggle for power and control. The main attractive feature of the books (besides its exciting, premise, which is admittedly derivative or reminiscent of Marvel's X-men) is Sakey's propulsive writing. The books simply zip along at a breakneck pace. Additionally, he does quite a good job of giving a realistic depiction of how the U.S. government and society would react to the presence of "Brilliants" among us. This sense of verisimilitude and the quality of the writing make the Brilliance saga one of my highlighted reads of the year.


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