Friday, January 31, 2014

Find Momo by Andrew Kapp

  Momo is a gorgeous black and white border collie.  Along with his owner, Andrew Knapp, he travels extensively.  Andrew photographs him in different settings, cunningly hidden in the landscape.  This produces a fun coffee table book where individuals can take the time to find Momo on each page, marveling at the photography and how well he blends into the landscapes in which he finds himself.

Momo and Andrew are not particular and travel everywhere.  There are rural shots and city shots; Momo visits museums, doggie parks, mountains, the ocean, small farms, woods and a variety of other landscapes.  Occasionally, Andrew gives the reader a tidbit of information about Momo such as his fascination with cats. 

This is a fun book for all.  Children will enjoy the novelty of finding Momo on each page, while adults will be entranced with the photography. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Booksie's Shelf, January 30th, 2014

Things have been interesting here in the South this week.  We're not used to rotten weather, and we're thrown for a loop when it occurs.  Heck, I spent my working life in education so I wouldn't have to drive when it snowed!  I'm appalled like the rest of the country at the horrors our friends in and around Atlanta endured and glad things finally worked out.

The only good thing about snow is lots of inside time for reading.  Add in back spasms for me, and I've been housebound and reading all week.  I've been in one of the great houses in England uncovering historical secrets, a NYC apartment with a new puppy, inside the lair of computer hackers helping the government and in rural England solving a murder.   Here's what came in new this week:

1.  Careless People, Sarah Churchwell, nonfiction, sent by publisher
2.  Moth And Spark, Anne Leonard, fantasy, sent by publisher
3.  Bark, Lorrie Moore, anthology, Vine review book
4.  Under A Silent Moon, Elizabeth Haynes, mystery, Vine review book
5.  Form Your Own Limited Liability Company, Anthony Mancuso, nonfiction, Vine review book
6.  Creating An Ideal Life, Janet DeLee, contemporary fiction, sent by author
7.  Winter's Bone, Daniel Woodrell, literary fiction, Paperbackswap book
8.  Nothing Personal, Mike Offit, contemporary fiction, sent by publisher
9.  Scent Of Butterflies, Dora Levy Mossanen, literary fiction, sent by publisher
10.  The Up Side Of Down, Megan McArdle, nonfiction, sent by publisher

Here's my current reads, or at least books I've started:

1.  The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, reading on Kindle
2.  Redbreast, Jo Nesbo, reading on Kindle Fire
3.  The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson, hardback
4.  Rivers, Michael Farris Smith, hardback
5.  A March Of Folly, Barbara Tuchman, hardback
6.  A Necessary End, Peter Robinson, paperback
7.  The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, paperback
8.  The Fixer, T.E. Woods, reading on Kindle Fire
9.  Tilted World, Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Tennelly, paperback
10.  The Silent Wife, A.S.A. Harrison, paperback
11.  Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman, paperback
12.  Huck, Janet Elder, paperback

Monday, January 27, 2014

Our Love Could Light The World by Anne Leigh Parrish

Anne Leigh Parrish's set of interconnected stories follows the Dugan family of upper New York state over several decades of their lives.  Lavinia and Potter married young, had five children and there's never enough money or attention to go around.  Lavinia is making the family's wages since Potter lost his job, and what started as a temporary situation is now set in stone.  It would be different if Potter kept the house and kids like she would, but he spends his days frittering time away and she comes home to have to do all the work there also.

There are three girls and two boys.  Angie, the oldest, is overweight and typically sullen, but is drawn to help those left out by society.  Timothy is brazen and energetic, but expects things to come easily.  The twins, who are sisters, are very different, and live in a world of their own, as twins often do.  The baby, Foster, has a sweet nature and is everyone's favorite.  Together they bump along, not really neglected but definitely without enough adult supervision and guidance.

The stories follow the course of Lavinia and Potter's relationship over the years, the awkward struggles of the children as they navigate the rapids of adolescence, projects started and never finished and the sense that life goes on whether it is the life we would have chosen or not.  There are other players in the Dugan family life.  Chip is Lavinia's boss who becomes part of the family.  Potter's sister Patty and her mate Murph play a role at different times even though they live in Montana. 

Readers who enjoy Elizabeth Strout's novels such as Olive Kitteridge will find a similar format here.  Lavinia is the keystone of the family and is a strong woman who lives a life she never expected when she was growing up.  The children all grow up with their individual issues, as children do.  Parrish illustrates the inner mechanism of the one social entity we all encounter, the nuclear family, whether broken or intact.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in how families relate and work.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

Peter Byerly has escaped to England.  After the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, he couldn't face being in familiar places and running into acquaintances, constantly reliving her death.  He flees to their newly renovated cottage in the Cotswold district, where he holes up, talking to no one. 

His doctor wants him to get out and about, and little by little, Peter begins to interact with the world.   He is a book restorer and dealer, and he starts to visit antique stores and bookshops, buying a few books.  As he gets out more, word grows that there is a bookseller in the neighborhood, and he is approached by the local gentry.  This family has fallen on hard times, and wants Peter to evaluate their library and determine if there are books there that are valuable enough to sell.

Peter agrees and then, amazingly, makes the find of his career.  He finds a fabled book, no extant copy of which is known, that proves William Shakespeare was indeed the author of the plays he is credited with writing.  If the book is real, it is the find of a lifetime.  Peter takes it and starts the process of determining its authenticity.

But someone else wants the book, and wants it badly.  There is a murder and Peter and a new friend are chased; their surroundings ransacked.  Can Peter find the truth about the book before it claims his life?

Charlie Lovett has written an engaging novel that will keep the reader turning pages, anxious to see how the mystery is resolved.  The action bounces between three time periods; the present, Peter's courtship and marriage with Amanda, and the history of English literature as the history of the book is revealed.  The reader learns something of the art of book restoration and the historical controversy about the accuracy of Shakespeare's authorship while being entertained.  This book is recommended for mystery and book lovers alike.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Booksie's Bookshelf, January 23, 2014

It's frigid here in North Carolina, so I've been spending my days reading and watching series on TV.  It's just too cold for my first love, swimming laps.  The pool will have to wait until the temperature is above freezing.  Till then, I'm jogging and doing the weight machines.  I just finished an impressive debut novel, Silk Harbor, from a new NC publisher, Old Harbour Press in Greenville, NC.  Here's the newest acquisitions:

1.  Find Momo, Andrew Knapp, photography/animal, sent by publisher
2.  The Reader Of Acheron, Walter Rhein, fantasy, sent by author
3.  Ships Of Merior, Janny Wurts, fantasy, Paperbackswap
4.  Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, Meghan Daum, memoir, Paperbackswap
5.  The Contractors, Harry Hunsicker, suspense, sent by publisher
6.  The Execution, Dick Wolf, suspense, sent by publisher
7.  North Of Boston, Elizabeth Elo, suspense, sent by publisher
8.  Road To Reckoning, Robert Lautner, literary fiction, sent by publisher
9.  Lydia's Party, Margaret Hawkins, literary fiction, sent by publisher
10.  The Mark Of The Dragonfly, Jaleigh Johnson, children's fantasy, won on Shelf Awareness

Here's what I'm currently reading:

1.  The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, reading on Kindle
2.  Redbreast, Jo Nesbo, reading on Kindle Fire
3.  The Bookman's Tale, Charlie Lovett, hardback
4.  The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson, hardback
5.  Our Love Could Light The World, Anne Leigh Parrish, paperback
6.  Rivers, Michael Farris Smith, hardback
7.  A March Of Folly, Barbara Tuchman, hardback
8.  A Necessary End, Peter Robinson, paperback
9.  The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, paperback
10.  The Fixer, T.E. Woods, reading on Kindle Fire
11.  Tilted World, Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Tennelly, paperback
12.  The Silent Wife, A.S.A. Harrison, paperback
13.  Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman, paperback
14.  Huck, Janet Elder, paperback

Here's to better weather and good reading!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Silk Armor by Claire Sydenham

Claire and Victor are Americans who come to Turkey to serve as English teachers.  They become friends as there are not that many other Americans in the small Turkish city where the school is located that they can socialize with.  Each comes with an idealistic viewpoint of what they will be able to accomplish.

Two of their best students are Turkish women, Didem and Sevgi, who grew up together.  They came from the small village of Karaagac and yearn for more than the lives of wives and mothers that is the fate of women there.  It is clear that to change their lives and those traditional expectations they must obtain some education, but female education is frowned upon in their village.  When the economy gets worse, and their village is hit hard fiscally, they see their chance.  The girls take the entrance exam secretly and then present their families with their accomplishment.  The families reluctantly agree to give the girls this chance since the village is dying.  Sevgi will live in the dorm, but Didem's family picks up stakes and moves to Eskishir with her.

The Turkish language does not come easily for Victor and Claire.  Victor hires Didem to give him lessons.  She tells her family that it is Claire she is teaching as they would disapprove of her teaching Victor.  She and Victor fall in love, and soon have plans for Didem to leave Turkey and go with him to the United States.  Claire is pulled into their plans as Didem needs help to study for the foreign student's exam.  Sevgi and Didem's family are excluded from the secret but Sevgi finds out and strongly disapproves.  Disaster occurs as the secret is revealed to the family and the school.

Claire Sydenham has written a compelling, haunting novel about the yearning for different lives and the difficulty of changing one's culture and its expectations.  The characters are familiar even though they live elsewhere, and the reader will be able to relate to them.  The story moves along with the speed of a hurtling train to the disaster that awaits in the clash of cultures.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction, and for those interested in other societies.  The publisher is a new North Carolina publishing house, Old Harbour Press, in Greenville, NC.  If their other choices are as compelling as Silk Armor, they should become successful and an established publisher in the area. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

My Education by Susan Choi

Regina Gottlieb has come to do her graduate degree at a prestigious university set in the countryside. Her new friends are quick to warn her about the workload.  They warn her about the scandalous Professor Nicholas Brodeur, and the rumors of sexual misconduct that swirl around him   But no one warns her about the things that will really matter.  About Nicholas' beauty and ability to make anyone feel like the only person in the world.  About her friend/sometimes lover Dutra and how he insinuates himself into her life.  About Nicholas' wife, Martha, the most compelling person Regina has ever met.

Soon Regina finds herself enmeshed into a routine that spells disaster.  The work seems miles above her, yet she finds herself teaching classes about subjects she has never studied.  She is quickly drawn into the Brodeur's social circle and all her other relationships fall to the wayside.  As she becomes entangled in love triangles that constantly shift yet always leave behind more damage, she slips farther and farther into despair, her dreams of an academic life becoming more and more remote. 

This is the first part of An Education.  The novel picks back up in the second part fifteen years later, when Regina and the others have moved on to new, different and separate lives.  Only with the distance of time and geography is she able to reconcile what happened in her youth and start to build bridges to make what amends are possible.

Susan Choi has written a novel that is not always easy to read, but that captures completely the overwhelming life-wrenching change that love is for the young.  It is all that seems important, well researched lives and goals thrown haphazardly to the side as the individual pursues it.  Damage can be done and it can take years to reconcile that impulsive self-centered person with the more mature self that emerges when one grows older.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

The year is 1887 and all is not well in London.  Jack The Ripper is stalking the streets of Whitechapel, and the city lives in fear, waiting for his next attack.  Then something unthinkable occurs.  Another woman's body is found, or at least her torso.  Is this Jack's work?  Then another torso is found, and it becomes clear when comparing the cases that there is not just one, but two, killers stalking the streets and killing young women.

Sir Thomas Bond is the medical examiner assigned to both cases.  He realizes that the cases are not the same, and he attempts to move past the routine autopsy work he does to try to understand the mind of each killer.  As he struggles with this dilemma, he finds his daily routine shadowed by a man with a withered arm.  He searches to discover who this man is, but what he discovers sends him reeling.  This is a priest of a secret sect, one created to fight the monsters that still inhabit the earth.  Along with a recent Eastern European immigrant, he searches for an evil that is centuries old.  Bond can't believe that such things exist and fears he is going mad.  Yet as the crimes mount he comes to the realization that these men are correct and are seeking an ancient evil.

This evil is the Upir.  It has existed for centuries, attaching itself when possible to a man who then carries out it's hideous work.  Between hosts, it lives dormant in rivers and other bodies of water, sometimes for decades, but it never dies.  It has come to London from Eastern Europe, where the barber had horrendous visions of it.  It is attached to someone here who is carrying out the Torso Murders.  Can Bond, the priest and the barber find and destroy it before it kills again?

Sarah Pinborough has used the details of a historic case, that of the Torso Killer, to weave her novel around.  Like Jack The Ripper, the Torso Killer was never found and his murders remained unavenged by justice.  Actual newspaper articles from the time are scattered throughout the novel, some from London newspapers and others from other countries, even smaller cities throughout the United States.  It is impossible to imagine how the discovery of what was known as the first serial killer was perceived at the time, but it was a worldwide event.  Pinborough's retelling of the Torso murderer's crimes in the same period provides an interesting historical horror/mystery.  This book is recommended for mystery readers. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Barber's Conundrum by John Hartnett

John Hartnett writes short, droll pieces on marriage and raising children for a newspaper syndicate in New Jersey.  The Barber's Conundrum is a collection of thirty-seven of these articles.  It was a semifinalist in The Kindle Book Reviews 2013 Best Indie Book Award Winners.

Hartnett's humor is gentle not sarcastic or cutting.  It brought me to the point of laughing out loud repeatedly.  He writes in the style of a James Thurber or a David Sedaris or a Bill Bryson.  Readers who enjoy those authors will enjoy this collection.

One of my favorite pieces was the one about The Catalog, how agreeing to receive only one mail order catalog results in a variable deluge of others.  There are also pieces about Canadian geese, customer service representatives, soccer parents and the horrors of monitoring children's homework.  The title piece is about how difficult it is to obtain a decent haircut.

None of these topics are earth-shattering.  They reflect the day to day items that make up the mundane world most of us inhabit, and point out the humor in the situations we all encounter.  Readers who dip into these stories will finish the book with a positive feeling and a new author to watch for.  This book is recommended for everyone.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What's New On Booksie's Shelf, Januay 14, 2014

I don't have a resolution or anything, but I've actually been fairly good about acquiring new books this year. Here's the latest to make it through the door:

1.  Stolen Prey, John Sandford, mystery, purchased
2.  Buried Prey, John Sandford, mystery, gym shelf take one, leave one
3.  The Free, Will Vlantin, literary fiction, sent for book tour
4.  Princes Of New York, Robin Lester, suspense, sent by publisher
5.  Alice Close Your Eyes, Averil Dean, mystery, sent by publisher

I don't list newly acquired ebooks, since it is a rare day I don't get one and the list would be too long. Here's a list of books in progress, with their media format:

1.  The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, reading on Kindle
2.  Redbreast, Jo Nesbo, reading on Kindle Fire
3.  My Education, Susan Choi, hardback
4.  The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson, hardback
5.  Mayhem, Sarah Pinborough, paperback
6.  Rivers, Michael Farris Smith, hardback
7.  A March Of Folly, Barbara Tuchman, hardback
8.  A Necessary End, Peter Robinson, paperback
9.  The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, paperback
10.  Silk Armour, Claire Sydenham, paperback
11.  Tilted World, Tom Franklin & Beth Ann Tennelly, paperback
12.  The Silent Wife, A.S.A. Harrison, paperback
13.  Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman, paperback

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth

The Resurrectionist is two books in one novel.  The first part of the book is a biography of a genius who studies medicine, Dr. Spenser Black.  He studies in the 1870's and is at first revered at the university for his knowledge.  But he becomes obsessed with the thought that deformities were not mistakes, but views into the mythical creatures who once existed.  He started focusing all his research on this topic, and soon lost favor with the established medical community.

Leaving the college, he joins sideshows, where he exhibits oddities like Siamese twins and those with extra arms or legs.  Soon, that is not enough, and he uses his formidable medical skills to create mergers of animals and humans.  This experiments led to him being chased from place to place and always one step ahead of the law.  He ends up reviled and lonely, having given his life to the obsession he believes in.

The second half of the book are incredibly detailed panels showing the anatomical structure of the creatures he believed existed in reality, at least in some distant future.  Each creature's chapter starts with a definition and Dr. Black's connection to it.  It is shown artistically, with its scientific classification.  Then pages of drawings show it in various views; skeletal, muscular, internal organs, etc.  Some of the creatures include mermaids, dragons, sphinxes, minotaurs, Ganeshas, chimeras, Pegasuses and harpies. 

E.B. Hudspeth has created a fascinating world in which strange things are true.  The character of Dr. Black is interesting as the reader watches his obsessions take over his life.  But the true joy in this book are the intricately imagined and rendered drawings of the various creatures.  This book is recommended for fantasy and horror readers.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft

In the midst of a cold snap rarely seen in Linkoping, Sweden, a horrific crime occurs.  A man's body is found beaten and hung in a tree, left for whomever to find.  Linkoping is a small town, set in the rural countryside, and has little experience with such a grisly occurance.

Malin Fors is thirty-four, a single mother and a police inspector.  She is assigned to work on the case along with her partner and the rest of the team, but Malin is the lead.  As she and her partner try to determine what happened, the first step is identification of the victim to see if there is an obvious reason he has been killed.  This victim was a loner, an overweight man who kept to himself with no friends.  His only pleasure seemed to be retrieving the balls out of bounds by the local team, but he doesn't interact with team members.  Who could want to kill this man?

There are rumors of teenagers who had singled him out for torment.  Did their juvenile pranks go over the line?  His only real connection was a social worker who encouraged him, but she has been out of the picture for several years, after being the victim of a crime herself.  Her family are also outsiders and it is tempting to suspect that they are involved; perhaps for revenge?  There is even talk of a Satanic ritual, and a coven who wants to use sacrifice to get closer to their idol.

Fors is struggling not only with the case but with her relationship with her teenage daughter, who has found her first boyfriend.  This leads Malin to reflect on her own life and lack of love interest. Also she wants to find the time to get closer with her daughter, the case consumes her time and focus.   Can she solve the murder before another one is committed?

Mons Kallentoft has written a chilling mystery.  Not only is the crime cold-blooded, but the description of what the winter temperatures are in rural Sweden, how people adapt or move away, adds to the moody, remote feeling of the writing.  Readers will be swept along and will cheer for Malin, who is a very human detective.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers, especially in those branching out to novels written in other countries.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

True Hollywood Noir by Dina Di Mambro

In True Hollywood Noir, Dina Di Mambro covers some of the most fascinating Hollywood deaths and mysteries, giving the facts of each case and offering alternative solutions.  Cases go back to the early days of Hollywood and then move through the decades, ending with some of the more recent mysteries with a Hollywood connection.

The cases are a Who's Who of Hollywood.  Cases include George Reeve's death (Superman), Natalie Wood, and Robert Blake's wife, Bonnie's death.  Other deaths include Gig Young, Bob Crane, Thelma Todd, William Desmond Taylor, Jean Harlow and Thomas H. Ince, who died at the estate of Randolph Hearst.  Other chapters detail mysterious deaths that affected Hollywood careers, such as Joan Bennett or Lana Turner and her involvement with Johnny Stompanato.

Each chapter describes the death, covers the news reporting of the event, then gives any alternate possibilities the author found.  One example is George Reeves.  Most Baby Boomers remember hearing that Superman committed suicide.  Di Mambro lays out the case that instead Reeves was very likely murdered, and gives the possible suspects. 

This book is recommended for true crime readers, and for those interested in Hollywood actors and actresses, especially in the early days when stars were treated like queens and kings.  The book is a quick summary of each case, but points the reader in the direction of cases where they may want to seek out longer works that cover the cases in more detail. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Longest Date by Cindy Chupack

The Longest Date is Cindy Chupack's memoir about falling in love and then marrying her husband, Ian.  Chupack is a successful author, working in television and part of the highly rated Sex And The City writing team.  Like her show, Cindy had been a single woman in the city for years, with multiple relationships of varying lengths.  She finally met and fell in love with Ian as they were entering their forties.

Chupack writes about topics that are common in many marriages.  Some are mundane, some heartbreaking, some hilarious.  They cover issues from nursing a husband through a cold, infertility, marriage vows, cooking, money and the decision to have a child.  The writing will make the reader laugh out loud in one chapter while bringing them to the point of tears in the next.  My personal favorite was the chapter about being supportive to a man who has a cold, which in many households translates into a major calamity.  Chupack's take on the situation was classic.

Cindy Chupack has won three Golden Globes and two Emmys for her work as a writer/producer of Sex And The City and Modern Family.  She also worked on Everyone Loves Raymond, Coach and Love Bites.  She has written about dating and relationships for many years in various venues, including Glamour and The Oprah Magazine.  Her insight into personal relationships in all their many facets told with her trademark humor makes The Longest Date a book that readers will read quickly and remember fondly. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

This Is Rage by Ken Goldstein

Silicon Valley is a different kind of place, built on brains and money.  There are Investors, the guys with mega-millions who make deals and mergers while attending parties and whose lives are consumed with strategies and one-up-manship.  There are Bankers, who make the connections, supplying the grease to the wheels of commerce.  Finally, there are the Operators, those with the brains and creativity to create new technological ideas that can make millions if they catch on.

All three groups are at a typical Silicon Valley party one afternoon.  It is held at the home of Daniel Steyer, one of the biggest Investors.  He is on the Board of EnvisionInk, one of the industry's success stories, and is involved in brokering a buyout of the company, with or without the approval of the company's founders, Calvin Choy and Stephen Finkelman.  Suddenly, the quiet of the party is interrupted as two guys attempt to kidnap Steyer.  They fail in their attempt, but manage to instead capture Choy and Finkelman and kill a bystander.

Concurrently, shock-jock Kimo Balthazer is losing another job.  One of the last liberal talk radio hosts, his current emphasis is on how companies mistreat their employees.  A good theme, but he goes over the line one day on the air, naming companies that may be sponsors, and then cursing on the air.  He is fired and since this is the last stop on a downward journey of several years, there are no new syndicates waiting for his show, This Is Rage. 

But, suddenly, Baltazer has an idea.  He has a website, and decides to create his own show, one that is on the Internet.  Internet radio doesn't have pesky FCC regulations.  All he needs is a big story, and the kidnappers have just supplied that.  They aren't ordinary criminals, but programmers who agreed to the crime for money to start their own company.  Now there are criminals who Baltazer can make sympathetic, investors who are maneuvering behind the scenes for profit without considering what might be best for the company employees, a pair of mythical techies who started a company from nothing and may well lose it or even lose their lives.  Baltazer starts his show and before he knows it, it has grown like wildfire and is fueled by the bits and pieces of the story that can leak when thousands of people collaborate on a story in the wild world of the Web.

Satire is one of the most difficult feats to pull off in writing.  It can easily tip over into such hostility and mean-spiritedness that it becomes a chore rather than a joy to read.  Ken Goldstein deftly walks the line, skewering the industries he knows well while propelling the reader on a roller-coaster ride of intrigue and providing heroes to cheer for.  Goldstein lives in this world.  He has worked at such industry giants as Disney, SHOP.COM and Broderbund Software.  He knows the ins and outs of technology and the money culture that has grown up around it.  This book is recommended for those interested in a fascinating look at the industry and for those who enjoy an amazing story with suspense and great pacing.

On Friday, January 3rd, This Is Rage is part of a Barnes and Nobles Free Friday promotion, where they provide books either free or at a major discount.  This Is Rage will be sold for $1.99.  Other books in the promotion include:

Love Thy Neighbor by Mark Gilleo (free)
This is Rage by Ken Goldstein ($1.99)
From the Ashes by Jeremy Burns ($1.99)
The Eighth Day by Tom Avitabile ($1.99)
The Fifth Man by James LePore ($1.99)
Back from the Dead by Peter Leonard ($1.99)
The Shepherd by Ethan Cross ($1.99)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mastermind by Maria Konnikova

The subtitle of Mastermind is How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.  Those of us who grew up reading the Sherlock Holmes stories know that his forte was announcing conclusions that seemed far-fetched and contained information that no one could know.  Yet, once he explained how he came to his conclusions, it became clear how he logically went from point A to emerge down the road at point F or M.

Maria Konnikova, a psychologist and journalist, breaks down the Holmes method.  She contrasts the Holmes method which is cool, logical thinking with that of poor Dr. Watson, whose thinking was impulsive and prone to emotional connections that led him to false conclusions.  The most important analogy of the book is that of the mind being an attic for knowledge that lets one store and process facts to reach correct conclusions. 

The book is organized around this concept.  In the chapter, Stocking The Brain Attic, she talks about how to make observations and most importantly, how to prioritize the observations into those that are unimportant and those which could be important and should be stored.  While one should observe everything, it is not possible to store everything.  But a well-stocked attic is necessary for providing the raw elements to draw on when processing thoughts.

In Exploring the Brain Attic, the focus is on creativity.  Once all the observations and facts are noted and stored away, the next step is to imagine all the possible ways in which they can be combined.  Creativity and failure are necessary steps in science and in logical thinking.  If there are ten possible combinations of fact, nine of them will be failures.  Those interested in learning to think logically cannot be thrown by those failures; they must be examined to determine what made them such. 

In Navigating The Brain Attic, the thinker finally comes to deduction.  They take the ten combinations and examine each closely, discarding those which aren't supported by all the facts.  At the end, one explanation, no matter how improbable, should remain, and will be the truth.   Finally, in Maintaining the Brain Attic, Konnikova talks about the importance of lifelong learning and constantly stretching the mental muscles. 

Readers who are interested in learning to think more logically will find this an interesting study.  Most of us will be embarrassed to realize that our Watson system is usually on full alert, no matter how logical we see ourselves as being.  True logical thinkers are few and far between, but it is a skillset that can be learned and used by anyone.  This book is recommended for Sherlock Holmes fans and for those looking for a way to improve their logical thinking skills.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Booksie's Best Books of 2013

Another reading year has come and gone.  As in other years, some books delighted or instructed or entertained more than others.  Of course, any list of 'best books' is highly individual.  I might rate a top-notch mystery higher than an average book of literary fiction while other reviewers would never mix genres.  I read 141 books in 2013 and here is my list of the books I enjoyed most:

1.  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  Sci-fi and just totally entertaining.
2.  Joseph Anton by Salmon Rushdie.  His memoir of his time living under threat of death from fellow Muslims due to his writing.
3.  The Golem And The Jinni by Helene Wecker.  Fantasy and totally original.
4.  Luther by Neil Cross.  Mystery.
5.  The Thinking Woman's Guide To Real Magic by Emily Croy Baker.  Fantasy and just a delight.
6.  Cinnamon And Gunpowder by Eli Brown.  Fantasy with a pirate twist and a lovely book full of plot twists and joy.
7.  The Kept by James Scott.  A debut novel stunning in its power.  Historical fiction/suspense.
8.  The Republic Of Thieves by Scott Lynch.  The second in his Gentlemen Bastards series; fantasy that is compelling and delightful.

There were also lots of books that I'd consider long-listers.  They are:

1.  The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo.  Mystery.
2.  Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.  Fantasy.
3.  The Blooding Of Jack Absolute by C. C. Humphries.  Historical fiction with a comedic twist.
4.  Police by Jo Nesbo.  Mystery.
5.  The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood.  Suspense.
6.  We Are Water by Wally Lamb.  Literary Fiction.
7.  The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel.  Literary Fiction.
8.  The Death Of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell.  Literary Fiction.
9.  The Rathbones by Janice Clark.  Literary Fiction.
10.  Close To The Bone by Stuart MacBride.  Mystery.
11.  Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler.  Debut fantasy novel.
12.  The Round House by Louise Erdich.  Historical Fiction.
13.  The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo.  Mystery.
14.  A Conspiracy Of Faith by Jossi Adler Olsen.  Mystery.
15.  Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins.  Anthology.
16.  The Time Traveler's Guide To Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer.  Nonfiction.
17.  Lookaway, Dixieland by Wilton Barnhardt.  Literary Fiction.
18.  Prophecy by R.T. Kaelin.  Fantasy.
19.  Birdman by Mo Hayden.  Mystery.
20.  The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Englemann.  Historical Fiction.
21.  The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura.  Mystery.
22.  The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.  Literary Fiction.
23.  Cold Killing by Luke Delaney.  Mystery.
24.  Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick.  Nonfiction.
25.  Tuesday's Gone by Nicci French.  Mystery.
26.  The Last Train To Zona Verde by Paul Theroux.  Nonfiction.
27.  The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern.  Fantasy.
28.  The Gods Of Gothan by Lyndsay Faye.  Mystery.
29.  Jack Absolute by C. C. Humpreys.  Historical Fiction.
30.  The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin.  Historical Fiction.
31.  The Mongoliad, Book Two by various authors.  Fantasy.
32.  Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach.  Literary Fiction.

I fell in love with two new authors (to me) this year.  Jo Nesbo writes mysteries that are compelling but the true draw is his hero, Harry Hole.  C. C. Humphries, the creator of Jack Absolute, writes swashbuckling tales that are just a delight to read.  I was also blown away by the debut of S.M. Wheeler.

What's up for next year?  I'd like to read at least 150 books.  I have several series I want to work on.  I started reading Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series thirty-five years ago.  Now that he has finished it, I want to go back and read it all again as there are several new books in the series I haven't read.  I want to do the same with Game Of Thrones, the Hillary Mantel books about Cromwell, and 2014 is the year I want to tackle the Wheel Of Time by Robert Jordan.

Thanks to all who follow me and read my reactions to books.  I love reading and then writing about my reactions to them.  I wish you all a marvelous 2014.