Friday, July 31, 2009

Smart Girls Think Twice by Cathie Linz ****

The smart girl is Emma (Jane Austen anyone?), an assistant professor in Sociology. Emma has returned home to Rock Creek for the marriage of her two older, cooler, and pregnant sisters: Leena and Sue Ellen - one a civic activist and entrepreneur and the other an Internet-certificated interior designer. Thrown into this crazy-making mix is mother Maxie, retired hair stylist.

Emma has also returned to study the revitalization of Rock Creek - she has a grant for this research. Her subjects include extreme sportsman Jake - sexy, strong, secure, sexy, sullen, silent, sexy Jake. Did I mention that all the obvious parts of Emma anatomy become weak, and warm, and wet, and wobbly whenever she is near him? This is pretty much all the time, by one coincidence or another, but don't worry about his absences, as the same result can come from her thought of him. Did I mention that this is a romance?

My favorite couple was Leena, the Goth girl and Oliver, the nerd with a 5.0 at MIT.

A fine summer read with a surprisingly intricate and well-constructed plot with great subplots and everything neatly resolved at the end.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Heart of Stone by C E (Catie) Murphy ***

Margrit Knight, protagonist of Heart of Stone by C E Murphy, is a gutsy, legal-aid lawyer living in Manhattan with two love interests: Anthony (Tony) Pucella, a homicide detective, and Alban Korand, the centuries old, gargoyle. Other preternatural characters include: Daisani the vampire, Janx the dragon, Cara the selkie and Malik the djinn, collectively referred to as the Old Races. On the human side of the cast are her roommates Cole and Cameron.

Margrit finds herself in the middle of interracial rivalries as she struggles to unravel the murders of young women in Central Park before Tony hauls Alban off the jail as the prime suspect or she herself becomes one of the victims. In the end, volume one of The Negotiator Trilogy, solves the mystery and ties off the loose ends.

Though published by Luna Books, an imprint of Harlequin Books, and there is a vampire, this is definitely a fantasy, and not a vampire romance.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell *

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is a tribute to confirmation bias and other logical fallacies. In the author's second collection of anecdotes, summaries, and unscientific studies ...
In order to find out more about the reasons teenagers smoke, I [Malcolm Gladwell] gave several hundred people a questionnaire, asking them to describe their earliest experiences with cigarettes. This was not a scientific study. (Emphasis added)
... in which he purports to explain the origin and meaning of fads. In between sections where the book simply reiterates and summarizes what has already be repeated multiple times, the reader is presented with uncritical praise for a random selection of marketing stories (about marketing), urban legends, pseudoscience, and pop psychology.
Divorced people who suffer depression and complain of cognitive dysfunction may be expressing the loss of their external memory systems.
Since this anthology draws its chaotic collection from eclectic and historically diverse sources, some of the excerpts are sure to be novel and/or interested, regardless of the otherwise chaos of the general thesis and and sequencing.

This book is a very fast read, but has a very low signal to noise ratio. If you must read Malcom Gladwell, start with Outliers.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Magic Study by Maria V Snyder ****

Magic Study by Maria V Snyder is book 2 in the series started with Poison Study. In this book, Yelana travels south the meet her parents (Perl and Esau Liana Zaltana) and her brother Leif. In the course of her study with the Fourth Magician Irys, she runs up against the sadist Goel, the megalomaniac Cahil, and the sadistic, megalomaniac Ferde. Amid the usual torture and abuse of the female characters, Yelana make friends with a very smart, telepathic horse named Kiki, an entrepreneural street urchin named Fisk, and reunites with Valek, Janco and Ari for the first book.

A fine sequel to Poison Study, still a page turner, but also slightly repeative with similar themes and situations.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden ***

Babylon Rolling by Amanda Boyden is a novel of the people living in Uptown New Orleans on Orchid Street to year before Hurricane Katrina. The main characters are:
  • Ariel May and Edgar Allen Flank: A married couple from Minnesota, he a Buddhist house husband and she a manager of a hotel in the French Quarter. Their small children are Miles Davis May and Ella Fitzgerald May, also know as Fitzy, though she doesn't like the nickname.
  • Nate and Sharon Harris have five teenage children. The two boys (Daniel, street name: Fearius, and Michael, street name: Muzzle) work for Alphonse, the local drug dealer. The girls Klameisha and Debutante already have their own babies. Angelique is the youngest.
  • Philomena and Joe Beauregard de Bruges: He has colon cancer and she keeps journal on all the activities on Orchid Street. Philomena wants to change her name to Prancie.
  • Cerise (Cherry) and Roy Brown: Long time resident, often visited by their daughter Marie with her husband Thomas and Lil Thomas.
  • Indira and Ganesh Gupta: They are the newest residents. Their children are Elizabeth and William who are the same ages as Miles and Ella.
As might be hinted with all the name changing, this is also a novel of self-discovery as the various characters search to find their place in their relationships, on Orchid Street and in the universe. Each finds a different answer, some leading to a content, though maybe bitter-sweet future, while other come to a dead end.

A pleasant mixture of New Orleans and self-obsessed angst.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Missy by Chris Hannan *

Missy (evidently 19th century slang for laudanum) is set during the Civil War, but as it takes place in the West, it concerns the Gold Rush and the Wild West more than the war in the distant eastern United States. It follows Dol McQueen, a teenage flash-girl (evidently 19th century slang for a prostitute) on her travels from San Francisco (a booming port) through Carson City (during the silver rush) and on to Salt Lake City. It is written with a wry humor and reconstituted dialect.

Before you you pick up this book, you want to ask yourself what you can imagine a 21st century Scottish author can possibly add to the classical genre created and perfected by Mark Twain and Bret Harte? I read much of the book and my answer was: Nothing.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Armor of God by Paul Block and Robert Vaughan ****

Armor of God by Paul Block and Robert Vaughan is a post-9/11 thriller of irony. On one side is the People of the Book, and organization dedicated to establishing peace among Jews, Christians and Muslims. On the other side is a terrorist triumvirate: Benjamin Bishara of Migdal Tzedak (Tower of Justice), Fr. Antonio Sangremano of Via Dei (Way of God), and Mehdi Jahmshidi of Arkaan (The Fundamentals). These three men representing Jews, Christians, and Muslims respectively will stop at nothing to prevent the success of the People of the Book. Thus, in order to prevent cooperation among the religions, the religious terrorists must cooperate themselves.

Introduced into this mix are a brilliant hacker, a mystery of a papyrus scroll of a missing gospel, and the first crusade. The characters are flat and predictable, but the multi-threaded plot mixes the history of the crusades with present day terrorism and technology with a bit of DaVinci Code Catholic conspiracy. The result is readable and engaging.

A quick summer read, if you can't find something better.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bleedout by Joan Brady *****

Bleedout by Joan Brady follows the life of David Marion, not given his surname until he entered school and someone thought it was most appropriate to name him for a federal penitentiary. David is an intriguing mixture of genius potential and street orphan opportunity. The result is an inviting mixture of cleverness and violence. Though he is a killer, he is also a sympathetic. Even as he murders, it is easy to understand his violence.

In a mixture of David Copperfield and Pygmalion, David's mentor wonders,
Is it punishment for the sin of pride that David the murderer is the only person who could help me now? That what I destroyed is what I need?
Bleedout showcases the extraordinary plotting and characterization of an award-winning novelist in her first foray into the thriller genre.

History rarely records the specific autobiographical details that inspire an author. In a notable exception, Dostoevsky is known to have suffered from gambling debts and malnutrition while writing about Raskolnikov's very similar situation in the opening of Crime and Punishment.

Joan Brady's opening author's note breaks the traditional silence on this topic with the following:
If we get right to the heart of things, the South Hams District Council is responsible for the existence of this book. ... I have named the fictional South Hams State Prison in their honor.
Interestingly, her conflict with the council had to do with poisonous shoe glue and modifications to historic buildings, neither of which appear in this excellent book. Maybe this is why we rarely hear of author's inspirations.

One of the best book of the summer.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Liberty by Garrison Keillor ****

Liberty by Garrison Keillor will not disappoint the many regular listeners of A Prairie Home Companion on NPR. But as a novel, it has more. More rambling:
I did all I could do here. Married, raised kids, buried both my parents, fixed thousands of cars and started cars on cold mornings, flooded the ice rink and got up early in the morning to coach peewee hockey, shoveled old people's sidewalks, cleaned the church, gave money to some who needed it, bought rounds of beer when it was my turn, ate dinner at people's houses and tried to make conversation though I didn't care that much for them, was president of the Boosters Club, and for the past six years I ran the Fourth of July.
Lots more sex:
Her flat, firm abdomen between the expanse of womanly hips and the fine bush of dark hair and the tender lips so delicately pursed and folded and the sweet-salty taste of her and she sang and whimpered and cried out and moaned - her pleasure so generous and elaborate, as if he were the world's greatest lover, which he wasn't, except maybe right at this moment to a woman of combustible imagination - he'd never known a woman who enjoyed being made love to so much - Irene was mostly quiet and businesslike in bed, same as in the kitchen, make pie crust - you didn't moan and whimper as you did it or cry out, "More flour! Flour! Flour!"
But like the short rambling vignettes on A Prairie Home Companion, the humor is mixed with life's truths. Liberty is an excellent expansion of Garrison Keillor's heart-warming sermonettes.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon ***

Vampires, Gods, Love, Torture, Death, Humor and Romance. Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon, as long as two or three regular novels, has something for everyone, plus advice for the ages.
I want you to always hold your head up and follow your dreams wherever they take you. Don't you ever listen to the people out to hurt you or make you cry. Listen to your heart and be better than them.
Life isn't about finding shelter in a storm. It's about learning to dance in the rain.
Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
However, there is one major challenge when the protagonists are gods who can heal wounds, raise the dead, and if necessary instantly turn a room full of demons into dust. How can you maintain any tension or interest in a story where are threats can be (and often are) suddenly mitigated in the next paragraph? The answer is, not in this book! I lost interest in the Perils of Pauline threats that can and went with no effect. The book degenerated into the self-obsessed and often silly concerns of various gods who were never in any danger excepts from their own neurotic minds.

This is Book 14 in the Dark Hunter series, so I'm sure someone out there has a different opinion on this subject.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell ****

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is the second book in his series on how people think and the surprising relationships between subconscious processes and conscious actions. Like his other books, Blink is a anthology of anecdotes (In this case we have an great car salesman, an unfortunate police killing, an successful autistic adult, a woman trombone player, and the Aeron chair, to list a few examples) combined with quasi-scientific analysis that is repeated, summarized, and resummarized throughout. As with many non-fiction best sellers, the book is padded and redundant with the few interesting bits separated by much redundant babble.

However, Malcolm Gladwell delivers an interesting and insightful analysis of the snap decisions we all make in a blink, sometimes to great benefit and other times to ours or someone else's detriment.

Read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell first. If you absolutes love it, get this from the library, you won't want to keep a copy in your library.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan *****

How many people do you really know in a lifetime? Your parents, but maybe not until they're long buried? A childhood friend from before we all mature into politeness and deceit. Perhaps you might add to this short list Elizabeth Bennett or Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov? Isn't that what great literature offers? A chance to meet more people than time and society affords? If that's the case, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is great literature.

A dirt-poor, Mississippi-delta cotton town, unchanged since reconstruction, is the unlikely stage for three people, invaders from outside, to make their own private journey into the future. Laura McAllen, newly wed and rescued from spinsterhood, brings her Memphis sensibilities and nascent women's rights to the challenge of rural farm life without electricity, plumbing, society or family. Jamie McAllan, her brother-in-law, and Ronsel Jackson, son of black sharecroppers, both return from the war, having seen a different world. As the only two veterans in town, they are drawn to each other to talk about the horrors they've seen and to drink away the PTSD nightmares. But this is before a black man and a white man can sit together in a restuarant or even drive together in a truck.

But this is not a story of the broader political struggle or strivings for social justice that will lead to civil rights for the larger populations represented by these three people. It is the story of these three people; people you'll know and love. This story, like life, drives you forward each day wondering what will happen next regardless of the horror of today. A wonderfully engaging and uplifting tale.