Sunday, March 31, 2013

Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling *

As a reader of the full Harry Potter series I could NOT get interested in this Peyton Place novel of sex and gossip in a small English village.The novel was too British and and too brutish.

Interestingly, only the teenagers were interesting or sympathetic. Time would be better spent rereading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Birdseye by Mark Kurlansky ****

Who invented frozen food. NO! Forget that. How was frozen foods even possible in the first place? Frozen food is one of those evolutionary steps that inspires explanations of intelligent design over evolution. Too many things needed to happen at once. In addition to the frozen food itself, freezers need to be installed along the entire food (pun intended) chain, from distribution (trucks, boxcars, warehouses), to stores, to kitchens (both commercial and residential), plus government approval and regulation -frozen food's terrible reputation had to be reversed.

Birdseye by Mark Kurlansky explains how this investment is made while frozen food was thought to be unpalatable and unhealthy. In this case, intelligent design is the answer, and the intelligence is a man named Birdseye.

Mark Kurlansky is a author of fact-filled books for the Google age where people jump from one set of related facts to another until good sense brings them back to the original topic again and again. He describes Birdseye as a curious man (Rocky Mountain spotted fever researcher, fox farmer, taxidermist, hunter, light bulb inventor, plus frozen food), but the joke is that the author is just as curious. If you are also curious, this is the book for you.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mindset by Carol Dweck ***

If all you only have is a grill, all food looks like BBQ. Mindset by Carol Dweck is a book with a single idea that is dipped in a hundred different sauces and each is grilled to a char.

Carol divides all people into fixed mindset (people are fixed in talent, intelligence, etc) and growth mindset (people can grow their talent, intelligence, etc). Fixed mindsets are stuck ... they can not change. For the individuals, this makes each failure catastrophic. For the teachers/coaches, growth is not expected, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Though the author is a research professor, her book is predominantly anecdote, gossip, and supposition.

On the other hand, this single idea is pretty interesting. though reading the first couple of chapters, and maybe the last one is more than sufficient. Since there is only one item on the menu, any course offers the same value as the full menu. Bottom line: Foster a growth mindset and avoid a fixed mindset. Evaluate the action, not the person.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult *****

We have a rule in my family against mind reading. Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult is a cautionary tale for those who doubt the wisdom of this stricture. The Lone Wolf is Luke Warren and his story is told in two interspersed tales.

One is autobiographical, where Luke recounts his life as a narcissistic, wolf anthropomorphizer in which he forsakes his family. He justified by his received wisdom from living with wolves in the wild. Typical of his delusions is:
... before she even comes into season, an alpha female knows the number of pups she is going to have, their gender, and if they'll stay in her pack or be dispersed to form a new one.
Ultimately Luke's lupine mind reading becomes like the inner voice of a schizophrenic, haunting and dangerous, but impossible to ignore.

In the alternate storyline, Luke lies in a hospital in a vegetative state, while his family fights over his future. I imagine Luke would have enjoyed being the center of attention while everyone tries to read his non-communicating mind. The primary conflict is between Edward, his 24 year-old son,  advocating withdrawal of life support and organ donation, and Cara, his 17 3/4 year-old daughter, advocating waiting for a miracle.

Cara is represented by Zirconia Notch, a lawyer who reads the minds of deceased pets. On Luke's side is Dr Saint-Clare. Here's what happens when the Zirconia, the pet medium, questions the neurologist in court.
"So, basically, you're reading minds now."
Dr Saint-Clare raises his brows. "Actually, Ms Notch," he says, "I'm board-certified to do just that."
Against this backdrop of mind reading, the author fills this compelling novel with characters as sympathetic as they are flawed, and even manages to cobble together a hopeful ending. Jodi Picoult's many fans, and new readers looking for a character rich story will not be disappointed.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Twisted by Jonathan Kellerman ****

Twisted by Jonathan Kellerman is a mystery about a serial killer who strikes on June 28th always with the same weapon, a 3" pipe, but nothing else the same ... not gender, not age, not race, nor location, nor occupation, nor sexual orientation. Besides the murder weapon and date, everything else seems to be random.

Petra Connor, an LAPD detective, has the lead on this unofficial investigation; all the murders are  cold cases, and no one recognize them as related anyway.  No one that is, except Isaac Gomez, a brilliant child from a poor family, earlier rescued by the doctors who employ his mother to clean their mansion. Currently Isaac is interning with the LAPD while researching for his PhD in Bio-statistics, for fun while waiting a few years before going to Med School.

As might be expected by an accomplished mystery writer like Kellerman, the book has subplots and twist, and reveals. It moves smoothly with from start to finish with interesting characters and enough intrigue, sex, and violence, to keep the story interesting without becoming morbid, prurient, or dull.

My only complaint, is the editing. I read the first edition where 77 centimeters equaled three inches, and where drunks in mid-June were characterized starting St. Patrick's Day early. Happy to report later edition changed to 77 millimeters, but later editors still celebrated St. Pattie's Day in June.

A quick-read mystery.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sneaky Pie for President by Rita Mae Brown

If you are a famous author, you can write whatever you want, like when John Grisham wrote the autobiographical novel The Painted House, and when recently Herman Wouk, yes he is still alive, wrote a meta-novel about writing a novel about Moses, The Lawgiver. Well, nowRita mae Brown, cashed in her chips and wrote a novel about the 2012 presidential election: Sneaky Pie for President.

This plot-less book reads like animals voicing Google searches. A mish-mash of random facts and smug opinions. I am a Rita Mae Brown fan, but recommend wait for the next mystery.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Daily Life ... Mesopotamia by Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat **

Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia (The Greenwood Press Daily Life Through History Series) by Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat disappointed me, but it might be exactly the book that you're looking for (apologies to Obi-Wan).

First me ... I enjoy history books that present the narrative of ordinary people, private life. Not that interested in royals, battles, or even the famous intellectuals. My favorite book of all time, in this category, is Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times.

But enough about me ... The key fact to remember is that the Babylonians and Assyrians wrote on clay tablets. A thousand years from now when the history of your life will be lost in deteriorated and indecipherable digital media, archeologists will still be uncovering new readable tablets from ancient Mesopotamia.

Given such a mass of data, it is hard to know what to present and how to organize it. The author chose a catalog-type format with sections on educations, science, economy, etc. With those sections further broken down in to farming, trade, crafts, etc. And these might be divided again into leather, stone, wood, ivory ... At this points, the sub-sub-sections were included lists like
Ivory was also used to make ... boxes, handles, spoons, and combs.
This book is an excellent one-stop-shop for "source" data on ancient Mesopotamia.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett ****

In history, it was. ... they found themselves  hiding in a field of carrots. So, as a badge, they all pulled up carrots and stuck them on their helmets, so's they'd know who their friends were and incidentally have a nourishing snack for later, which is never to be sneezed at on a battlefield.

Terry Pratchett, Discworld, fantasy, humor, light satire ... If this sounds interesting, Night Watch is as good a place to start as any. It does not assume familiarity with the dozens of previous novels in the series. It's actually better than most because it is a prequel and has less of the baggage accreted over the ages.

For Discworld fans who missed this one, Sam Vimes gets sent back in time and meets himself in the wild days when he first joined the Watch. As usual, things go very wrong, but come out right in the end.