Monday, February 28, 2011

Triumph Of The City by Edward Glaeser

Edward Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University.  One of his areas of expertise and concentration has been the study of cities and their economic impact in various areas.

In America more than two thirds of us live on the 3% of land that makes up our cities.  People in emerging nations are rushing to the cities from the rural life they have known.  What is the draw?  Glaeser makes the point that no matter what else a city does, its most important feature is the ability to concentrate people in a way that tends to lead to innovation and intellectual capital.  Cities are breeding grounds for new technologies, new ideas, new synergies.  The human capital provides growth material, while enriching the lives of those working there.

Along the way, Glaeser shows alternate ways of looking at things that many have taken for granted.  Urban poverty is a real problem, but Glaeser also sees it as an opportunity.  Poor people flock to cities because they provide more opportunity than their rural backgrounds ever could.  The problem is not the number of poverty-stricken neighborhoods, but how a city works to provide services to those areas so the residents can take advantage of opportunities.

Rather than viewing cities as cesspools of pollution, Glaeser shows statistics that prove that cities are actually much less environmentally harmful than the suburbs.  City residents live in smaller areas which take less energy to heat and light.  They often do not have cars.  Decisions to restrict building in cities, as is common with the building boards and restoration committee recommendations, actually leads to more harm to the environment overall.  If growth doesn't occur in the optimum places, it will occur in less optimum ones.

He also believes that the push to keep buildings smaller has negative impacts that the proponents don't consider.  Their emphasis is to prevent tall buildings that make the residents remote from their neighborhoods, and that block light from existing buildings.  Again, Glaeser emphasizes that growth will occur.  If enough housing is not available in the city, housing and eventually jobs will move elsewhere.  He sees this as a factor in several declining cities.  Also, some cities have done great PR jobs that leads one to consider them overbuilt when statistically, this has proved not to be true.  For example, the cities of California have many fewer residents per acre than a city such as Houston or Atlanta where construction is encouraged.  Glaeser believes this building restriction is short-sighted and leads to unintended consequences.

This book is recommended to readers interested in how cities work and what can be done to improve them.  Glaeser surveys the history of cities, identifies what works and what doesn't and why some cities thrive while others dwindle.  His emphasis is always on the human capital that makes cities viable, and insists that even in the era of high technology, high touch is even more important.  This is a fascinating look at a subject that needs to be studied.  The writing is engaging and the reader will understand this vital subject much better after reading Glaeser's work.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Born Under A Lucky Moon by Dana Precious

Lock the door and turn off the phone.  Once you start reading about the Thompson family, you won't be doing anything else until you find out how this story ends.

The Thompsons live in Michigan.  They are the kind of big, sprawling family that things just seem to happen to.  With five kids, there's always some drama.  Evan is the only son.  A ship captain, he also has his own TV show and is the voice of reason.  Elizabeth is the ultra-organized, ever so chic oldest daughter.  Sammie is the vagabond artist.  Lucy, rebelling against everything, runs off and joins the army.  Jeannie, the youngest, grows up with her role firmly fixed.  She is the mediator, the fixer, the one who soothes the rough spots.  It's no wonder that she ends up as a marketing executive on major Hollywood films.  Who else can handle the thousand and one crises that are a part of every movie?

But there's something now that Jeannie can't fix.  Aidan is a successful Hollywood producer whose only ambition left is to marry Jeannie and settle down.  But Jeannie can't commit.  There's always some crisis to fix, some problem only she can solve.  Will she learn too late that you can't live your life always putting everyone else first?

Readers will laugh out loud at this family and love them and their foibles.  The writing is witty and fresh, and the characters remind you of your best friend from high school.  This book is recommended for readers who are looking for a way to make sense of their lives and not let life's misfortunes stand in their way.  This is Dana Precious' first novel, and readers will be anxiously awaiting her next. 

Stone's Fall by Iain Pears

William John Stone, Baron Ravenscliff, the wealthy English industrialist, has died.  Not unusual for a man of his age, but his death was not of old age or disease.  Instead, he fell to his death from his office window; a second floor room.  When his will is read, he leaves everything to his wife, Elizabeth, with two exceptions.  He leaves a legacy to a French woman no one has heard him speak of, and he leaves a legacy to a child he apparently fathered that no one knew about.

Since the will cannot be settled until these two legacies are distributed, Lady Elizabeth engages the services of a newspaper journalist, to investigate and find the two recipients.  Matthew Braddock, a young reporter with nothing to recommend him except his ingenuity and quick intelligence is her pick.

As Matthew delves into Stone's life, he must learn about the world of finance where Stone was king.  Stone knew little about politics, or the arts, but he knew everything about money and how it could be used to create dynasties and political alliances that bound countries together. 

Braddock is soon involved in a world of complex intrigue.  He learns of Stone's involvement with spies, about beautiful women and betrayals, of backgrounds full of secrets, of amazing kindnesses and casual cruelties.  The plot twists and turns back onto itself, making connections that the reader doesn't see coming.  At the end, a twist that will remain in readers' minds long after the book is completed, hits them like a runaway train.

This book is recommended for mystery readers who like complex plots and a slow unfolding.  It is not incredibly violent, but requires the full attention of the reader.  Pears has created memorable characters whose layers are slowly revealed until the astonishing denouement. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Big Show Stopper by Ken Dalton

This is the second Pinky and Bear mystery in Ken Dalton's series.  Pinky is J. Pincus Delmont, the best criminal lawyer (he is quick to tell you) in Carson City, Nevada.  Pinky gets results but doesn't mind pushing the morality envelope to do so.  Bear is Bear Zabarte, a street-wise guy who came from a Basque sheep-herding family and now makes a living doing this and that.  The that at the moment is working as an investigator for Pinky  Bear is accompanied everywhere by his girlfriend Flo, who would be welcomed as a regular on Jersey Shore.  A high-maintenance woman with a great body and demands piled high, she makes sure Bear toes the line and also that he gets his due from Pinky.

Bear and Flo head for a concert, Bear's birthday present to Flo, to hear her favorite singer Brady Blackstone.  Jack Spurlock, Flo's hairdresser's son, has come up with great tickets and a backstage pass.  Ready for a fun night, instead they and a screaming audience of fans are shocked when an accident on stage results in Brady's death.  The police soon determine that it is no accident, and arrest Jack, who was in charge of making sure all the equipment worked.

Pinky and Bear spring into action.  Pinky is contacted by the grieving widow, who isn't grieving at all, and who is having an affair with Jack.  She offers Pinky a big fee if he can get Jack released from jail.  Pinky puts Bear on the case, and he takes Flo with him.  There are lots of quirky characters; a Vietnam vet who is homeless, various characters in the real estate business, Pinky's ex-wife, Willow, who is the prosecutor, a cute blonde who seems to be after Bear, and a policeman who has vowed to put Bear in jail.  Can this pair discover what caused Brady's death and free Jack before the fee time limit runs out?

This book is recommended for mystery readers who like breezy, witty mysteries.  The characters are believable and the mystery unravels slowly enough to be satisfying.  The interplay between the various characters makes the book enjoyable.  Dalton's third mystery in this series comes out soon, and readers who enjoy this one will be anxiously awaiting that one.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Oracle Of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

In The Oracle Of Stamboul, the reader meets Eleonora Cohen, an eight year old girl whose mind makes her a savant capable of untangling any puzzle, whether mathematical or geopolitical.  Eleonora was born in 1877 in Romania during a day of turmoil in her town, necessitating the use of midwives rather than the doctor.  Her mother dies, leaving her to the care of her father and her stern aunt.

When she is eight, she and her father travel to Stamboul where he plans to sell his glorious carpets.  Before they can return a tragedy occurs and she is left in the care of her father's friend.  While there, she reads and studies, and word of her abilities leak out.  She is summoned to the residence of the Sultan, who asks her opinion of a puzzling foreign incident.  When her advice proves to be the best way out of the dilemma, a firestorm is unleashed.

The Sultan is entranced with this child.  Castle politics run high, with his Grand Vizier and his mother, usually bitter enemies, united in their determination to separate him from this child, whom they see as an intruder.  The papers get wind of the storm and blow it into a typical media occasion, suggesting that the Sultan no longer has his own will but is captured and at the mercy of a child.  Eleonora is buffeted between the various factions that surround her and must now determine the solution to the most important puzzle of all--how to live her life going forward.

Readers are in for a marvelous treat with this book.  It is the genre I love most, historical fiction with a touch of magic realism.  Lukas states that some of his literary influences include Salmon Rushdie, Jose Saramago and Gunther Grass, all authors whose books I devour.  Lukas is a welcome addition to this genre.  This book is recommended to all readers; it's gentle tone countered by the mounting intrigue throughout the book is a wonder. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


At the end of her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian-born man of Australian citizenship who'd been living in Indonesia when they met. Resettling in America, the couple swore eternal fidelity to each other, but also swore to never, ever, under any circumstances get legally married. (Both were survivors of previous horrific divorces. Enough said.) But providence intervened one day in the form of the United States government, which after unexpectedly detaining Felipe at an American border crossing gave the couple a choice: they could either get married, or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again. Having been effectively sentenced to wed, Gilbert tackled her fears of marriage by delving into this topic completely, trying with all her might to discover through historical research, interviews, and much personal reflection what this stubbornly enduring old institution actually is.

Giveaway Rules.

You MUST, MUST, MUST leave your email address in order to be entered!

1, The giveaway starts Wednesday, February 2nd and ends Saturday, February 12, at midnight.  One winner will be chosen.
2. The winner will be chosen by random number.

3. For one chance to win, leave a comment with your email address. Entries without email addresses will not be considered, sorry!

4. For additional chances, link this to your Facebook or Twitter pages and send me the link in your comment.

5. Winner must live in the United States or Canada.  No P.O. Boxes, sorry!

Good luck!  This should be a great book!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Crossing Borders by Michael Ferris

Michael Ferris grew up wanting only one thing; to learn to play classical guitar.  To fulfill his wish, his family let him leave for Europe when he was seventeen to take lessons from world-class guitarists.  Crossing Borders is Ferris's story of his journeys and the people and cultures he came to know as a young man.

Ferris lived in Austria for several years, usually in a series of student hostels and shared apartments.  He learned to eat new foods and to accept the mores of other cultures.  One of his closest friends was an Egyptian man who was also a student.  Ferris's parents had taken a trip to Egypt, and he was as fascinated with that land as they were.

His friend invited him to Egypt to visit for several weeks.  His story of waking up to see the pyramids in the distance, and his encounters with aggressive street hawkers was quite interesting.  He learned to speak Arabic quite well, but was shocked when this garnered him extra security entering the country. 

Other places Ferris spent time included Morocco, where he and his bride spent their honeymoon and southern Italy where they lived for a time.  In each location, he learned to appreciate the culture and rules of the people living there, and to enjoy their food and music.

This book is recommended for those who love to travel and for those who are armchair travelers.  Ferris's appreciation for the various cultures he encounters are interesting and informative and the reader will close the book with a better understanding of those living in other lands.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Spark The Stone Man by Asya Pekurovskaya

In Spark The Stone Man, children are introduced to the two lands of Granite Mountain and Lemon Drop Valley.  As the names imply, Granite Mountain is a cold, hard place where the stonemasons work t force stone from the mountain to make objects.  In Lemon Drop Valley, life is much more pleasant with warm weather and contented inhabitants.

Spark, a young stonemason, has always dreamed of visiting Lemon Drop Valley.  He learns the secret pathway and manages to go there.  While there he manages to see a grand wizard, the mouse who is the wizard's boon companion, and the love of his life, Stella, the beautiful.  Life is full of fantasy and magic.

This is the first book of a proposed six book series.  The story will interest children and the full-page color illustrations by Olga Titova bring the story to life delightfully.  This book is recommended to those reading to young children, or young readers up to pre-teen years.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Let The Dead Lie by Malla Nunn

A young boy lies murdered in the stockyards of Durban, South Africa.  A few days later, two women are killed in the rooming house where he lived.  The South African police bring in their top suspect, Emmanuel Cooper.  The problem?  Cooper is not the killer.

Who is Emmanuel Cooper?  He is a World War II veteran who returned to South Africa to become a Detective Sergent in the police force.  When a new law sweeps through and reclassifies him as non-white, he loses his job and his status as a white man.  He now does undercover work for Major van Niekerk, his former boss in the police.  Unwilling to lose Cooper's skills, he now uses him undercover. 

When Cooper is hauled in and about to be charged with the three murders, van Niekerk works out a deal.  Cooper has forty-eight hours to find the real killers or else he will be charged and probably killed.  As he races to solve the murders, he is helped by a strange collection of people, a Zulu ex-policeman, a Jewish doctor who has survived the German death camps, and the mistress of his mentor.  There are plots and counterplots; betrayals and secrets revealed, making the ultimate secret that much more difficult to reveal.

Malla Nunn has written a gritty detective novel that will entrance the reader.  Cooper is an intriguing hero, one that the reader will remember long after the last page is read.  The setting is done realistically, and the plot unfolds logically.  The gut-wrenching reality of the apartheid laws in South Africa are portrayed in a way that takes the reader into the lives of those unjustly discriminated against.  This book is recommended for all mystery readers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker

Joanie may be having a nervous breakdown.  She deserves a nervous breakdown.  About to turn fifty, everything has changed.  Her husband, Richard, has moved out, saying he doesn't want any commitments, and then instantly shows up with a new girlfriend barely out of her teens.  And by the way, said girlfriend is pregnant and wants to get married.

Joanie has gotten a job in an ad agency; she managed to land it after three weeks of looking and years at home.  BUT, she works with an office full of Gen X and Gen Y coworkers who look at her as if it is a miracle she manages to make it out of her creaky rocking chair each day.  She doesn't like the job, but needs it.

Her mom, Ivy, has moved in due to the recession and losing her life savings.  Far from being a help, she still feels it is her job to criticize every move Joanie makes, and even insists on calling her Roxanne, a name Joanie ditched as soon as she possibly could.  Ivy spends hours on the Internet and has a fresh disaster to inform Joanie about every day.

Then there is Caroline.  Caroline, a typical fifteen year old, which means she ignores Joanie when she can and treats her to sullenness and sarcasm when she can't.  Joanie sees underneath the angst to the girl trying to learn how to become a woman and crushed by her father's betrayals.

Ruth Pennebaker lovingly narrates the life of many middle-aged women.  Despite the woes, readers will laugh out loud at her portrayals, especially mothers of teenage daughters.  The book is optimistic and entertaining and recommended for all readers interested in how to manage life transitions.