Book List To Be Read

My Post-Finals Reading Plans

stack of books on a desk

This last week has been a bit of a slog, working almost entirely on finishing up the last few things for my classes. Even though it has felt like my undergraduate career was over since we were told not to return from spring break, today was our last official day of classes, and finals start Friday.

I honestly have no love for the two classes I’ll be taking finals in, so I’m especially looking forward to the books I’ve been saving to tackle once I’m finished.

The Charisma Machine by Morgan G. Ames \ Goodreads \ Indiebound

This was a much buzzed about read early this year among the computing education researchers I follow, so I indulged myself by ordering it. The book follows the ‘One Laptop per Child’ project – which sought to improve education in the Global South through technology – chronicling its creation, ideology, and failure. Oddly enough, I remember interacting with one of these distinctive green-shelled laptops when I was younger: I believe a relative had it. I’m primarily interested in learning about the design process used in the project, and hopefully picking up some pitfalls to avoid as I start my own research career.

The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova \ Goodreads \ Indiebound

One of my reading goals for the year was to dive into more non-fiction that does not directly relate to my own fields of study. I stuck with this… briefly in January, reading Doing Good Better as a pre-assignment for my time at the Impact Labs Fellowship. I often find non-fiction unrelated to my projects difficult to stick to, as in the end I much prefer fictional stories or the immediately actionable knowledge I’ve picked up from my many tech-related reads. I’ve been recommended Maria Konnikova as an easily accessible non-fiction writer, and the con-artists topic matter of The Confidence Game appeals to me as a throw-back to my White Collar and Heist Society obsessive days and criminal-viewpoint book binges.

Little While Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes \ Goodreads \ Indiebound

Really soapy, mystery-related dramas have been pulling me in lately. One of the first things I read upon getting home was the Charlotte Holmes series, for the thrilling twists, teenage drama, and mystery; and I recently binge-watched the last few seasons of The Fosters. (the sequel TV series – Good Trouble – is still better, but it was entertaining) I’ve long had a few Barnes books on my TBR: namely The Fixer, and I thought this debutante-themed mystery might be a good place to start.

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson \ Goodreads \ Indiebound

Despite everything, its still the start of summer, and when I think of summer books the top of my list is always Morgan Matson. It has been far too long since I read The Unexpected Everything as an advanced copy back in high school (!), so I decided to order up a used copy of the hardcover. (which seems to be out of print, and which has one of my absolutely favorite book covers) Definitely a good book to pick up if you’re looking for a beach read that does not feature beaches, but instead boasts dog-walking and complex familial relationships.

Grad Student Life

Presenting at a Digital Research Symposium

This past Thursday I had planned to present a research poster for the first time – at the University of Illinois’ Undergraduate Research Symposium. Then the pandemic happened, and, well, I suppose it’s lucky that I had yet to design my poster.

In lieu of my inaugural in-person research presentation, the poster session was organized into a forum, with presenters recording short videos of themselves talking about their work. While I’m disappointed not to be able to speak directly to the symposium attendees, it was fun to dust off my video editing skills and put them to good use.

The research I am ‘presenting’ (currently, as the symposium started on Monday the 27th and stretches through this Friday) is my senior thesis: Visualizing Curriculum Commonalities and Prerequisite Chains Through Metro Maps. It is a project that began as an idea to artistically illustrate the course paths of majors in Illinois’ College of Engineering, and which turned into a saga of scraping poorly formatted websites for data, searching out graph drawing papers, reading almost the entirety of a dissertation from 2008, and implementing my own metro map drawing algorithm.

Unexpectedly, I have still found presenting digitally and asynchronously to be rewarding. I have been able to have Illinois students and faculty from across departments view my work, have had intelligent discussion through answering thoughtful questions about my design choices for the map and how I thought the visualization might impact students as they create their class plans. I’ve also been able to receive an evaluation of the comprehensibility of the (admittedly rather technical) project to academics in non-technical fields, and my friends were able to support me by logging on and leaving encouraging forum comments.

My advisor and I plan to release an interactive visualization of the map, my thesis’ true final product, in the next few weeks. In that time, I’m hoping to put the feedback I’ve received to work making the web-based version of the project the best it can be.

Book Reviews Young Adult Lit

A Study in Charlotte: An Updated Review

The book A Study in Charlotte next to a mug of coffee

A Study In Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro \ Goodreads \ Indiebound \ Bookshop

The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

I miss my college campus rather desperately. I love campuses in general: briskly walking across a manicured quad amongst hundreds of other students doing the same, old brick buildings that look fancy on the outside with cramped classrooms full of falling-apart single desks on the inside. Late nights and trips to the local after-midnight restaurant and working with a lab partner on an assignment that neither of you have any clue how to do.

Reading A Study in Charlotte for the second time, after having first fallen in love with it in the fall of my senior year of high school, I had some of that feeling brought back to me. Yes, there’s murder. And yes, it’s a rather exquisitely done Sherlock Holmes adaptation. But I also appreciate how well it captures the sort of ‘dark academic’ vibe, where your campus is beautiful and moneyed, and your professors are smart and absentminded, and where any one of them might be spinning up a homicide on the side.

The other aspect of the book that really struck me was the prose. It’s lyrical, and harsh, and full of raw feeling paired with clever juxtapositions and metaphors. It paints a vivid picture of the setting, of each of the characters, and of their shared emotion.

At that, I’ll give you the review written by Tamara of October 2015. It was really one of my better ones, and I think the whole of it still rings true:

Before I even picked up this book, I was a little in love with the concept. I love the Sherlock Holmes stories, and I tend to readily jump into modern adaptations of those stories. Sometimes those adaptations work, and sometimes they really, really don’t. This was one that worked wonderfully.

My favorite part of A Study In Charlotte was how the characters were descendants of the original Holmes and Watson. I have found that adaptations of Sherlock Holmes never seem to truly capture the original duo, so I was glad that this book didn’t even try. Instead, in the book’s universe both Sherlock and John were very real people, and have families descended from them. Both the Holmes and Watson families are a bit odd and carry certain traits of their ancestors. I just loved that whole concept, with a bunch of Holmeses and Watsons running around and putting themselves in danger, and with the Watson and Holmes of the same age becoming friends and solving crimes. Adorable.

I also really enjoyed how it was set at a boarding school. I recently [in October of 2015] heard Rainbow Rowell speak about Carry On, and she talked about how setting novels about kids at boarding school is a great way to get rid of parents. (without killing them all) I was kind of thinking about that while reading this book, and wow was boarding school a great setting for this book. It really added to the whole mystery – students at the school are dying and it could be anyone on campus who they might be living right next too.

A Study In Charlotte did a great job with talking about tough topics. This book deals with some pretty sensitive things such as crime, addiction, sexual assault, and I think it did those topics a great deal of justice. It didn’t dumb anything down, and dealt with the victims in the situation kindly while still dealing with that situation as the dark, scary, and harmful thing it is.

Charlotte and Jamie were honestly the best Holmesian descendant main characters I could have asked for. They were so perfectly Holmes and Watson but also not at all, because Holmes and Watson are their great-great-great-grandparents and they’re their own people of course. Their whole dynamic was fantastic. I also feel for Jamie quite in a lot of different little ways. He’s a very relatable character who has a lot of very relatable problems, along with a few problems that aren’t quite so common.

In conclusion: Great retelling, great characters, gorgeous cover. If you love Sherlock Holmes stories, you won’t be disappointed!

Announcement / Personal

Hello Again!

Hi, I’m Tamara.

A long time ago, in 2014, I had a book blog under the name ‘Tamaraniac.’ I wrote book reviews, and created recommendation lists of young adult novels, and took a lot of book pictures in my then twinkle-lighted bedroom. I worked for two independent bookstores (the lovely Red Balloon Bookshop and Subtext Books) writing shelf reviews, helping with order lists, working special events, and getting to meet many great authors.

Then, I went off to college at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. I decided to study Computer Science. I still read as much as I could during breaks, and I still took pictures of those books for my instagram, but I essentially stopped writing book reviews. I took down my blog and replaced it with a professional site. I spent less time on social media, and I lost touch with the book world.

Next fall, I’ll be beginning my PhD in Computer Science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I’ll be doing research in computing education: a field that seeks to understand topics such as how people learn computing, why they learn computing, and how we can help them learn and understand computing better. I’ll also be living a 5-minute walk from Ann Arbor’s independent bookstore, so it seems like the perfect time to reconnect with that community.

Until then, as best as I can tell, I’ll be getting to spend a lot of time reading all the books I’ve missed, and preparing to begin graduate school. On this (new) blog, I plan to write book reviews of whatever is engaging me at the moment: whether that be science fiction, non-fiction, or young adult. I also plan to chronicle my life as a graduate student, my research, and my thoughts about what is going on in the world of Computer Science. I admit that these might be strange interests to pair with each other, but I’m hoping they’ll work together just as well as they do in my new title: Programming and Pages.