Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman *****

Did you ever wonder if winning the lottery would change you? In the late 20th century, literally 1000s of folks in Silicon Valley and other high-tech centers won the IPO lottery and many of them felt like the characters in The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman.

The strangely titled book follows two sisters: the all-business high-tech CEO/entrepreneur and the save-the-trees philosophy grad student at UC Berkeley. As one who purchased several of those expensive lottery tickets, I found the story realistic and insightful. The hope before the IPO, the euphoria of the IPO - especially how the success is internalized - and finally how the random gyrations of the stock market subtly replace all other human circadian rhythms.

This is a novel in the model of the 19th century. While the jacket alludes to Austen, I felt the way the diverse characters came together at the end was more reminiscent of Dickens.
Rain at last. Much-needed rain, the weatherman called it. Rain drummed the little houses skyrocketing in value in Cupertino and Sunnyvale.
If you remember the world behind this opening sentence, you'll love the book. If not ... "You had to be there."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova *****

Is it ever heroic, or even acceptable, after culminating your education at the top of the class at Harvard Business School, to abandon your highly-paid, 80-hour-a-week executive position to be a stay-at-home mom? Can an author advocate a 60s style retreat to the rural life of imagined pre-industrial simplicity without sounding like someone trying to set feminism back 100 years?

In Left Neglected, author Lisa Genova accomplishes this transformation of Sarah Nickerson with an auto accident and little-known traumatic brain injury called Left Neglect - where the patient, otherwise just fine, has no perception of the left parts of their body or the left side of their visual field. In this situation it seems acceptable to abandon to rush the executive nirvana in favor of some more modest goal: life in the mountains and a part-time job.

The remote possibility of a debilitating auto accident makes this alternative an acceptable fantasy, and Genova's characters with their expected defects (son has ADHD, mother is depressed) smooth over the underlying message that women belong on the farm, not in the office.

Written by a PhD in neuroscience, the clinical and therapeutic story is fascinating even if the retro-message about women is a bit disturbing. It might have been different if the Sarah had made this decision on her own, but driven to it by an Old Testament wrath-of-god/act-of-god accident mars an otherwise delightful book.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Scarlet Nights by Jude Deveraux ****

What happens when a multi-generational family of con artists sets their sights on Sara Shaw, a young women living in a small town in Virginia (Edilean)? These two cultures, both with centuries of history and tradition clash in the age old battle of city sophisticate versus small town innocent. As the story opens Sara is smitten with Greg Anders against the advice of the entire town. Florida detective Mike Newland comes to woo her away from Greg Anders and discover the mystery: what is the goal of this elaborate con?

Scarlet Nights by romance writer Jude Deveraux is an excellent mystery novel with a smattering of love and humor. Don't let the romance packaging (passionate pink cover etc.) fool you. This is a fine mystery with all the plot twist and turns you might expect and some you might not.

Deception by Jonathan Kellerman ***** 335 2010

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Deception by Jonathan Kellerman *****

Deception by John Kellerman opens with a dead substitute teacher discovered in a bathtub of dry ice and a DVD accusing three teachers at the exclusive prep school where she worked of sexual harassment. Against the world of privileged kids vying to gain entrance to selective colleges, detective Milo Sturgis and his unpaid assistant psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware follow the trail of murder and arrogance along with assorted sex, blackmail, and cheating.

As the the best mysteries, the suspects come and go, as different crime are uncovered and discarded as ultimately irrelevant to the murder. [Micro-spoiler follows:] With so many expensively educated suspects, the geek in me was happy that the Caltech student turned out to be one of the good guys, not innocent - no one is innocent in this fable - but not a murderer.

An excellent book for a long plane ride or a short vacation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen ****

It's the 1930s and European royalty still celebrates weddings in grand style. Lady Georgiana, 34th in line to the throne of England, is selected to represent the Queen for a wedding in an isolated castle in Transylvania. She is joined by her promiscuous mother and girlfriend, both of whom encourage her to marry and bed someone from the selection of princes in attendance, not necessarily in that order, along with a Prince who she has already turned down but is still interested, and a chubby girl from boarding school who is now the beautiful bride and princess, and

Though over twenty and still virgin, Lady Georgiana is more interested in solving murders. Two happen within in days of her arrival. Comic relief comes in the form of the poor cockney girl Lady Georgiana hired as a maid when she discovered there was no way to avoid her attendance.

Maid? This was 1932, merely 15 years following the first patent for the zipper and no lady could dress herself with long rows of buttons and hooks down the back of most formal dresses. I can still remember the 50s and into the 60s, when women would says, "Dear, please zip me up," as even this important sartorial invention did not free formal women from the need for assistance getting dressed and undressed.

In this delightful context of castle with hidden passages, royalty with rigid manners, secret sexual liaisons, and possibly even vampires, Rhys Bowen unfolds a fascinating a whodunit: Royal Blood.