2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis

2034: A Novel of the Next World War2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title tells you most of what you want to know. Stavridis is a retired Admiral who has imagined a conflict in the year 2034 beginning with an operation by China to destroy the U.S. fleet in the South China Sea in preparation for an invasion of Taiwan. A Commodore named Sarah Hunt becomes the lead characters for that phase. At the same time a plucky U.S. pilot named Wedge is doing a recon mission along the border of the airspace with Iran. In both cases the allied Chinese and Irani forces use cyber warfare to disable the U.S. “smart” weapons and are successful in destroying the fleet and capturing Wedge. As things escalate we are introduced to important political characters, especially a deputy National Security Advisor named Sandy Chowdhury, his uncle, a high-level Indian diplomat, a Chinese military leader, Lin Bao, and an Iranian Revolutionary Guard named Farshad.

At first I thought this book seemed very much like a Tom Clancy novel, especially by how the action is unfolding in multiple spots around the world and its heavy detail-oriented military action descriptions. Like a Clancy book, the plot line slurred into a series of diplomatic issues and fanciful imaginings of how the various governments would respond as things spiral out of control. But as it neared the end, it reminded me much more of Catch-22 and Dr. Strangelove. A combination of misjudgments, ego-driven decisions, technical glitches, and bad or good luck drive the plot to a comically avoidable climax. I had trouble finding any of the characters believable. If there’s any message intended here, it’s that the U.S. particularly and society in general is too dependent on technology, especially software, and we are all vulnerable to cyber warfare or smaller attacks.

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The Measure by Nikki Erlick

The MeasureThe Measure by Nikki Erlick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a time filler for me. I listened to the audiobook and the reader was decent, but the story itself was too fanciful to get behind. Boxes show up on everybody’s doorstep, tent, cabin, etc., containing a string that indicated how long they will live. This happens worldwide with no one seeing how these boxes got delivered or why. So this is pure fantasy, not science fiction. It’s really nothing more than a thought experiment for the reader. If you got a box like that, would you open it? If you did and got a short string would you live your life differently? A long string? What if your spouse got one opposite of yours, and so on. The book is populated with characters having all the possible scenarios and all or most of the possible reactions – some with long strings doing reckless things as they feel invulnerable, some dumping their short string fiance, etc. There’s no real plot and the characters were too stereotyped to be credible. Still, it was inoffensive and at times thought-provoking. It was good enough to play solitaire to.

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The Housemaid by Freida McFadden

The Housemaid (The Housemaid, #1)The Housemaid by Freida McFadden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first started reading this I was disappointed since it appeared to be essentially a copy of The Turn of the Key, which was so-so. Here’s an English class assignment: Compare and contrast the two books. The protagonist is an attractive young woman (“Girl”) of limited resources and dodgy background who takes a job as a domestic in a wealthy home. The lady of the house who hires her seems nice at first but once Girl moves in, she becomes a total B-word who unfairly accuses Girl of all kinds of wrongdoing and even sets her up to fail. The man of the house clearly has eyes for Girl. A bratty child of the household hates Girl and undertakes to sabotage her. A hunky outdoorsy worker outside the household is kind and rescues Girl repeatedly. She fantasizes about him. So far the two books are pretty much identical.

Things change drastically after that. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say much more, but I will say that you shouldn’t trust anyone’s motives. There are some real twists in the second half. This book is fairly dull for the first half but it’s worth sticking through that for the twists. I’d give it four and a half stars if I could.

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Airframe by Michael Crichton

AirframeAirframe by Michael Crichton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always enjoyed Crichton’s books and this one is no exception. He masters the science, or, in this case engineering, thoroughly and weaves it into the plot. Although this one was published in 1996, it could be ripped from today’s headlines about Boeing and American Airlines. This one involves a fatal accident aboard a fictional Norton passenger jet. Casey, the attractive female VP of Quality Assurance is charged with finding out the cause. There’s an ambulance chasing lawyer who claims it is a faulty aircraft, a hostile union workforce that thinks their jobs are being outsourced to China, and a sleazy TV producer trying to do a media hit job all trying nail her hide to the wall. It’s a page-turning mix of suspense and detective work. The ending is delicious.

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Google trends – Taiwan, Japan, China

I always find it interesting how different parts of the country pay attention to news events differently, like the recent major earthquake in Taiwan. The west coast has more Taiwanese immigrants and more earthquakes than other regions, so it’s not surprising that they searched the term Taiwan more than most of the rest of the country. But then why did New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have similar search trends? Hawaii is known to have a sizeable number of Japanese residents and visitors, so that explains its red color, but why Arizona, Colorado, and south Dakota? They were more interested in Japan than in China or Taiwan those two days. Trying to impart too much politics or hidden agendas into it is fraught with danger. For all I know, all those China searches were people shopping for china as a wedding gift.

The map is from Google Trends for the period April 3rd and 4th, 2024.

What3Words – solar eclipse

A few days ago I posted a What3Words location for a lunar eclipse (watch.moon.eclipse) in Minnesota. That was accurate, a bit surprisingly, but only a little since that eclipse was visible throughout all of North America. Now that a total.solar.eclipse is imminent I had to check that out, too. That has a much narrower path and any given spot on Earth only sees a total solar eclipse once every 375 years. So I was not surprised that location turned out to be in Northern Nevada, a long distance from the path of this one.

For kicks I decided to see if partial.solar.eclipse was in the United States. It turns out it is, but here’s the kicker: it’s right in the path of the total lunar eclipse in upstate New York. Somehow W3W’s predictive powers reversed these two.

The Iliad by Gareth Hinds

The IliadThe Iliad by Gareth Hinds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had a vague idea that the Iliad was about the Trojan War and originally a poem, but not much more. This version in everyday English prose made it much more tractable. The story itself is rather repetitive and unpleasant, but apparently thrilling to readers (or listeners since it was probably based on oral stories) of its day. What’s new about this version is the illustrations, done in comic book style. That’s both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. They seemed too childish for the material and just not artistic enough. I’ve seen many illustrations in books that are higher quality. On the other hand, this book is classified as a Young Adult book, at least in my local library and perhaps having that familiar style would make it more appealing to young readers.

I did learn quite a bit about the original work, including the fact that it covers only two years of the Trojan War which was a 10-year war, and that Homer himself may have been fictional. Also, the war, as told by Homer, was largely decided by various gods helping or hurting mortals and often at odds with each other. In the end, it was a bit tedious to read with scores of cumbersome Greek and Trojan names in paragraphs like X killed Y and Z, Q killed P and twenty others, etc. At least it was something different. I read it because it is nominated for our book club.

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What3words – lunar eclipse, year of the dragon, Salt Lake City

Since today is a lunar eclipse, I thought I’d check my favorite random prediction site: What3Words. Where should you watch the eclipse?

watch.moon.eclipse – near Ely, Minnesota. It is visible from there, but also in fact, from all of North America.

It’s also the year of the dragon in the Chinese calendar, so it’s fitting that fire.breathing.dragon is in Xiamen, Fujian, China.

I have no idea why the site thinks salt.lake.city is in East St. Louis, Ill. I know a couple of people who’ve lived there and it’s about as non-Mormon like as anywhere in America. It’s a rough neighborhood.

 

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the KeyThe Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The highlight of this book was the delightful reading by Imogen Church, the voice actor. Not only was she an excellent actor, but she did a marvelous job with the many English and Scottish accents. The plot centers around Rowan, the new nanny at a creepy old haunted(?) house in Scotland which has been totally upgraded electronically with technology so advanced only a 7-year-old can possibly understand it. The pay is incredible because the preceding four nannies have left suddenly and without warning. Why? (Cue ominous music) But the man and lady of the house take off immediately after Rowan arrives and Rowan is left with three young girls who vary from adorable to hateful. There is yet a fourth daughter, a teenager, who is away but who is expected to return. From the first day, weird and frightening things happen – creepy noises at night, the climate system going wrong, locked doors becoming unlocked and vice versa. You get the idea. The story is told in a series of letters from Rowan to a solicitor asking for legal representation as Rowan has been charged with the murder of a child. We don’t know who the victim was or why she’s been charged.

I thought it was going to be a crime mystery, but the murder part is left alone till the very end. The main body of the story is really a haunted house/ghost story, not what I was looking for. The plot suffered from a lack of plausibility and Rowan is a hopelessly inept character, hard to find sympathetic. I was disappointed in the ending, but the story had enough action of the creepy sort to stay somewhat interesting.

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How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein

How the States Got Their ShapesHow the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If history books in high school and college were this interesting, I might not have developed my hatred for the subject. Stein’s writing is factual but also entertaining. I had no idea about all the competitions, even small wars, over state borders. Another big surprise was how well Congress planned the development of the states west of the original colonies. Many of the oddities one sees in the borders were due to geographic necessity or common sense, usually involving natural obstacles like rivers or mountains. Politics played a big part, too, and there was occasional corruption and certainly greed played a role. I was amazed at some of what I learned, but it did become quite repetitive toward the end, since the same explanations were given again and again as most involved several states. I will point out one geographic fact that may be lost by some readers. The author points out how Congress tried to make various of the western states the same width or height as measured by degrees of latitude or longitude. He doesn’t mention that degrees of latitude are fixed distances, but degrees of longitude are not. The farther north one goes, the narrower one degree is. The southern end of New Mexico is just under six degrees of width and measures 350 miles. The northern end of North Dakota is about 6.5 degrees in width (more degrees) but only about 315 miles across. So the “equality” stressed in the book is only approximate.

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Dark Ride by Lou Berney

Dark RideDark Ride by Lou Berney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hardy is a hapless slacker working as a scarer at a third-rate amusement park and content in that role. Then he comes across two young children with obvious signs of abuse. He tries to get child protective services to investigate but gets nowhere with them. Slowly he begins to grow a spine and makes it his mission to rescue those kids. With the help of an unlikely motley crew (a lesbian goth, a teenage fanboy from the amusement park, and a dodgy prepper landlord) he launches, i.e. stumbles through, an investigation and eventual active rescue.

The dialog is witty and the suspense is, well, suspenseful throughout. As a retired FBI agent, I can attest that the investigative work is surprisingly credible (and entirely foolish for an amateur to undertake). I was amused at first and then became wrapped up in the action. What started as tongue-in-cheek morphed into a page-turner.

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Suspension arthroplasty on CMC joint – patient experience

I’m a man in my 70s who has suffered from osteoarthritis in both thumbs for over five years. For the first three years or so I got good relief from steroid injections, but that stopped working. I was reluctant to have surgery because it wasn’t clear which one would help. The pain was actually centered in my MCP (Metacarpophalangeal) joint, the one most people think of as the base of the thumb, where the webbing is, but the X-rays showed the narrowed bone-on-bone joint to be the CMC (Carpometacarpal) joint, the true base of the thumb where it joins the wrist. I chose the CMC operation for several reasons: 1 my doctor recommended it; 2 it’s surgically simpler with fewer risks and easier recovery; 3 it has a much higher success rate.

Different doctors have different preferences. Mine doesn’t do the “anchovy” operation where a tendon is cut to fill the void where the trapezium bone is removed. Instead he performs the Arthrex CMC suspension arthroplasty where that bone is removed and thumb bone is drilled and lashed to the adjacent finger bone to keep it from slipping into the empty spot, which eventually becomes filled with scar tissue. The operation was one month ago on my right (dominant) hand. I had general anesthesia with a nerve block in the arm and woke up with no pain and my hand in a cast. That night I took one opioid (Hydrocodone) pill for pain on the doctor’s recommendation even though I wasn’t hurting much because they say not to wait for the pain to get bad as the pill takes a while to work. The next morning I took another pill and one in the evening, I had minimal pain that day. The bulky cast meant there were many things I couldn’t do, but my fingertips extended out and I could use the hand to some extent as long as I avoided using the thumb.

The second day I didn’t take the opioid and haven’t since. Acetaminophen has been sufficient to deal with the pain, which has been surprisingly minimal throughout. On day six the doctor watched his P.A. remove the cast and swap it for a brace (aka, spica). The brace is similar to the cast in bulk and coverage, but is more flexible and is removable with Velcro attachment. My doctor was surprised and delighted that my pain was so minimal and I could touch my thumb to each finger easily when the cast and brace were off. I was warned not to pinch or squeeze with that thumb for six weeks and to wear the brace as much as possible, but it’s okay to take it off to shower or when necessary. I wore it to bed the first few nights after that, but found I could sleep more comfortably without it. I even did light chores, like emptying the dishwasher and doing some dishes as long as I didn’t have to scour. My wife did many things for me like cutting my meat and trimming my fingernails.

The next visit was to the P.A. a week later. On day 13 I resumed driving, although only on city streets, nothing high speed and only a few blocks., The doctor wasn’t present as the P.A. removed my stitches. She said I could get it wet and could resume running and exercises as long as I avoid lifting heavy weights, etc. One bad aspect I had not anticipated was that my left hand arthritis pain had gotten much worse right after the operation. I’d asked the doctor about that the last time and he said that was common because I was using it so much more. Although my right hand pain was minimal, that was largely because I was babying it. If I tried to pinch something firmly, e.g. open a ZipLoc bag, or bumped the thumb tip, it hurt a lot. The P.A. told me that I should expect pain until the three-month point. Only then will I begin to feel the pain relief benefits.

It’s now two weeks after that and life has mostly returned to normal. I wear the brace when inactive, e.g. watching TV, reading, etc., but I take it off to eat, brush my teeth, drive, etc. My hand seems pretty flexible to me although I can’t twist my wrist in normal ways. For example, if I’m careful I can brush my teeth with my right hand, but it’s hard to do the right side that way because I can’t bend my wrist for that, so I usually do that side using my left hand. I can use a pencil lightly to do a crossword puzzle, but I hold it wedged low squeezed between thumb and hand, not using my thumb tip and I can’t press hard to write. I can’t sign my name normally yet, so my wife writes any checks needed. I still take acetaminophen daily, but I was doing that for the arthritis before (and still need it for my left hand, too). I don’t know if I will need physical therapy, but I don’t think so. My doctor said not everyone does and seemed very encouraged when he saw me that first visit. I still have a tiny scab at one end of the scar. The skin around the scar has been sensitive, so I roll up my long sleeve on that side when the brace is off as the cuff irritates it, but that seems to be improving. So my next visit is in two weeks; I’m not sure what will be done at that point. Assessment, I assume.

Everyone’s experience is different. Mine is just one data point, so don’t expect yours will be the same. I hope this is helpful. I’ll update this blog when I think enough has changed to warrant it.

Deep Freeze by Michael Grumley

Deep Freeze (Revival #1)Deep Freeze by Michael C. Grumley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John is trapped in a bus when it plunges in a frozen river. We see him next being warmed back to life by doctors. But John is no ordinary man and the doctors are not ordinary, either. This thriller blends current day genetic breakthroughs with a touch of post-apocalyptic survivalism to make a gripping page-turner. There’s quite a bit of action, but that comes later in the book; be content with the intrigue for the first half. The author penned a series of sciency thrillers called the Breakthrough Series, but this is not part of that series, in case you’re familiar with that series. The writing is workmanlike, not elegant, but the twists and turns keep it fresh and interesting. It’s difficult to say more without spoilers, so I’ll just say it was a good read and I recommend it.

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Bizarre by Marc Dingman

Bizarre: The Most Peculiar Cases of Human Behavior and What They Tell Us about How the Brain WorksBizarre: The Most Peculiar Cases of Human Behavior and What They Tell Us about How the Brain Works by Marc Dingman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dr. Strangelove Syndrome (where one hand fights the other or even tries to strangle its owner) is but one of the fascinating anomalies discussed in this book. Our brains are complex and not fully understood. Trauma and other factors can alter or interfere with our brain functions and this book describes many real-life cases of some of the most bizarre. The author does not sensationalize or ridicule and still he manages not to sound too clinical. I think the tone is just right. I learned a lot, and the plethora of names for all the syndromes or symptoms amazed me. I’m sure I won’t remember many of them, but it was interesting just to realize they were common enough to have acquired a name and some were known even back in ancient Greek or Roman times. It’s difficult to give five stars to a book without a storyline or plot, but I was intrigued all the way to the end.

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Arthritic guitarist imagined – by Gemini

I recently underwent surgery on my right thumb in the hopes that I will be pain-free there, and maybe even play guitar again. On a lark I asked Gemini (formerly Bard) to write a short story about a guitarist whose arthritis was cured by surgery. Here is what it wrote:

The worn case lay open on his lap, a mirror to the weathered hands that hovered above it. John traced the faded Gibson logo, his fingers catching on callouses earned in a lifetime of music. He hadn’t played in months, the fire dimmed by the firestorm in his joints. Arthritis, the doctor had said, a thief stealing his passion note by stolen note.

John spent his days lost in the echo of melodies, haunting his mind like ghosts. He’d watch old videos of himself, fingers dancing across the fretboard with an ease that felt like a different lifetime. He even considered selling the guitar, a thought that left a bitter taste on his tongue.

One evening, his son, Thomas, brought him a news article. “They’re trialing a new surgery, Dad,” he said, his voice hopeful. “It’s supposed to help with advanced arthritis.”

John felt a flicker of skepticism, but the hunger in his eyes couldn’t be ignored. He underwent the surgery, a cocktail of nervousness and hope coursing through him.

The recovery was slow, but every day held a new sensation. The first time he flexed his fingers without a wince, tears welled in his eyes. The first time he picked up the guitar, it felt foreign, yet familiar like a long-lost friend.

He started with simple scales, the notes hesitant, rusty. But with each practice session, the music started to flow. The joy of creating, of expressing himself through music, rekindled within him. He wrote a new song, the melody capturing the essence of his journey, from the depths of despair to the sweet melody of hope.

One evening, John hosted a small gathering at his home. Old friends, their faces etched with the lines of shared memories, filled the living room. John, with his guitar slung over his shoulder, a familiar smile playing on his lips, took his place. His fingers danced on the strings, weaving a tapestry of sound. The music flowed, filling the room with the joy of a resurrected dream.

As the final notes faded, a standing ovation echoed through the room. John, eyes glistening, looked at his son, a silent thank you exchanged in their shared gaze. The surgery had not just cured his arthritis, it had brought his music, and with it, his spirit back to life. He was John the guitarist again, and the music, once silenced, was singing louder than ever before.

The Longest Minute by Matthew J. Davenport

The Longest Minute: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906The Longest Minute: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 by Matthew J. Davenport
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This thorough history of the famous quake and fire and the immediate aftermath is well-researched and mostly fascinating reading. The chapters are well-organized, each focused on an unique aspect, sometimes a stretch of time, sometimes on geography (e.g. the waterfront), or the efforts to organize and create viable lines of authority, but they generally flow in chronological order. It was nostalgic reading for me since I grew up in the Bay Area, although I only visited San Francisco a few times as a child. I worked in the city for years as an adult and the similarities and differences, both topological and political, between then and now are striking. I can recommend the book with a warning. It can get repetitive. There are only so many times a story of chimney bricks crashing through the roof or someone watching his business burn down retain interest. It is also dispiriting to read of all the suffering and the racism and corruption of the city leaders, but that’s part of history.

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What3Words – Trump New York fraud trial edition

As my readers know, What3words.com (W3W) is a website that aids navigation by dividing the word’s surface area into 3-meter squares and assigns a three-word combination to each. These are occasionally amusing, ironic, or just fun to play with. See my previous blog posts on these here and here.

Today I examined the W3W assignments to the courtroom of Judge Engeron in New York City (80 Center St., Manhattan). He’s the judge who just found Donald Trump civilly liable for fraud for $450 million. It’s a large building and I don’t know exactly where his courtroom or chambers are located, but I’ve constructed a story containing several combos from that building.

Donald Trump entered the courtroom and sat next to Alina Habba, his gorgeous attorney, the one who failed to request a jury trial, dooming the case. She is also quoted as saying she would rather be pretty than smart because she can fake being smart. Trump whispered to her, “You should show more of that sexy thigh. Lovely! Attend to the proceedings now.” Habba’s last motion had resulted in a delay thus called by Judge Engoron, but today was the day the judge would announce the civil fine and penalty amounts. Habba told him she was optimistic, and told him not to make a scene. He replied, “I’ll behave,” nodded, bucked up by her statement. But the judge announced the penalties as $355 million plus fees and interest, expecting to total debt of at least $450 million.  “Don’t worry,” she told Trump, “We’ll appeal the debit, unless you can’t raise the money for a bond. The court will require one.” So much for faking being smart.

Longitude by Dava Sobel

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His TimeLongitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author relates the story of John Harrison, the clockmaker who invented the first accurate chronometer, the first reliable and practicable method of determining longitude at sea. This device saved many lives by allowing captains to avoid shipwrecks caused by inaccurate methods of navigation.The book is short, the writing clear and understandable. I listened to the audiobook read by an excellent female reader with a posh British accent. I enjoyed it despite the dispiriting subplot of Harrison being undermined at every turn by astronomers who preferred their method. Harrison got his due in the end.

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Cliff Knowles Mysteries are now audiobooks!

Great news for Cliff Knowles Mysteries fans: the series books are now available as audiobooks. Amazon has introduced a new feature for us self-published authors: virtual voice. The reader is not a human but a text-to-voice AI actor. There are a few mispronounced words or occasional odd emphases, but all in all I was impressed with the quality, so I opted in. I wouldn’t have been able to afford live voice actors for all of these. The books are available on Audible.com and Amazon.com. The Amazon pages have not updated to show the audio option for all the books the last I checked, but they could all be found on Audible.com just by searching the name.

All the books are available as follows and all have a virtual voice readers except as noted:

  • Held for Ransom
    Cached Out (human voice actor)
    Fatal Dose
    Death Row
    Gut Shot
    Behead Me (not available as audiobook for technical reasons)
    A Will to Die
    Cliffhanger
    Double Eagle
    Cold Case
    Ultimato
    Brace for Impact
    The Cryptic Crossword Caper (not a Cliff Knowles Mystery, but it is available as an audiobook)

For any fans wondering when the next new one will come out, I regret I have not been working on one. Arthritis in my hands has prevented me from doing extensive typing and I have not found dictating to work well. The good news is that I just had surgery on my right (dominant) hand and hope to solve the problem for that hand at least.

Please spread the word to your mystery fan friends, especially any geocachers.

Nuts and Bolts by Roma Agrawal

Nuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World in a Big WayNuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World in a Big Way by Roma Agrawal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author explains the history and workings of seven significant inventions in a casual and understandable manner. She is an engineer who knows her stuff, and has a flair for writing as well. The material is mostly on a basic level and familiar to those who took physics or engineering in school. As such, it is a bit dry. But the author makes it more interesting by personalizing it with stories that resonate, such as describing how lenses were critical in her own in vitro fertilization journey and pumps essential in her efforts to breast feed. I found it hard to read this for a sustained stretch, but whenever I picked it up, there was an interesting tidbit learned.

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