Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey **

Sometimes I read a book that was written for someone else. This is one of those situations. The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey is a story of one-liners
I ... came to souvenir shop. I don't think I would have even noticed it except for the big neon sign that said, Souvenirs! Curios!
Some of the jokes were based on word play, while other were just violent and/or gross and/or absurd. I imagine many readers will enjoy this humor, but I did not.

The real question is who likes this stuff? Handey achieved fame on SNL in the short segments: "Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handey." He received two Emmys for his SNL work, albeit simultaneously with around 20 others.

If you're a fan of Handey's work on SNL, you might love this book, otherwise pass.

Note this is called a novel, but novella is more accurate. It is printed on small pages, double spaced, in bold, but maybe that's another of the jokes.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 9, 2013.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cadillac Chronicles by Brett Hartman ****

Alex Riley is 16 and naive. Lester Bray is old and wise. Together they drive Lester's Cadillac Deville from upstate New York to Fort Lauderdale to find Alex's father, then to Alabama to visit Lester's sister, finally returning home.

Cadillac Chronicles by Brett Hartman is a coming of age story with some classic motifs (Alex learns how to drive and loses his virginity to an experienced lady), and some non-traditional ones (Alex gets Lester out of jail and confronts homosexuality).

This YA novel confronts the issues of racism, homosexuality, flawed parents, and bad therapists  with a philosophy of personal responsibility and tolerance. Even though there are several adult who behave inappropriately, there are no villains. The lack of evil and spirit of acceptance allow Alex to grow up and make the book a pleasure to read.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 4, 2013 from CBSD LIBRARY (A Goodreads Librarian - not the author). I received the book on July 19, 2013.

Note: Even though this is a YA novel, it includes a 3+ page section detailing how Alex loses his virginity.

Though the book treats everyone with tolerance and acceptance, as might be expected from the world of a 16-year-old boy, girls/women are mostly cliched and represented by their boobs. For example, when exercise gets too strenuous, our protagonist reverts to "girl-style" pushups. Overall, not a book recommended for young women.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Desert Mojito by Nazli Ghassemi ****

Ever wonder what life is like for expats in Dubai? Desert Mojito by Nazli Ghassemi answers: "Just like Sex and the City." Narrator Maya Bibinaz Rostaampisheh-Williams (Iranian father and American mother) and her girlfriends live a carefree life of men, sex, partying, travel and shopping. Maya makes clever observations like,
Moving at the Middle Eastern pace fro a productive American is like a samba dancer trying to move with the rhythm of a tai chi form
I like the country's semi-liberal, pro-Western attitude mixed with the Middle Eastern flair. And for sure it's the safest place I've ever lived.

If you are looking a mixture of single-girl talk and praise for the exotic life in Dubai, this is the book for you: Sex and the Desert. In this telling, Dubai is a place of sex, drinking, and even a gay wedding celebration.

My problem was the Chamber of Commerce upbeat presentation compared to the recent news stories of rape victims being sentenced to jail terms for sex out of marriage. I know this book was partially funded by a Kickstarter, but it reads like it was funded by the Dubai tourism bureau. This discrepancy spoiled some of the fun for me.

 Arabic Glossary

habibi - My (male) friend
habibti - My (female) friend
inshallah - God willing (hopefully - for future events)
mashallah - God has willed it (appreciation - for good news)
wallah - (I promise) by God
alhamdulillah - Praise to God (similar to Hallelujah)
salaam - Peace (similar to shalom)

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 15, 2013. I received the book July 18, 2013. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Weekend in Weighton by Terry Murphy ***

Eddie G is a 26-year-old trying his hand as being a private investigator, as nothing else seemed to work. His first case involves murders, blackmail, corruption, organized crime, mistaken identities, and lost relatives ... all in a small town in England.

Weekend in Weighton by Terry Murphy has a little bit of everything in the style of hard-boiled detective novels with lots of dialogue like,
I hate to break this reverie Kate, but my bike needs me. And we have a timetable that makes NASA's shuttle launch look like an open mic night.

A major part of the story is a chase that starts on our hero's Santa Cruz Superlight mountain bike, to him jumping off an abandoned bright onto a passing boat, and so on. This goes on for chapters and reads like a script for a tongue-in-cheek super-hero movie ... each escape more fantastic and less credible then the previous one.

In the end I found the plot twist to be obvious and the steady stream of wise crack tedious. Alos concerning was the balance between jeopardy and humor. Eddie G was too much of a comic-book super-hero to ever be convincingly in danger, but too serious about his role as to PI to be really funny.

 I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on June 30, 2013. I received the book on July 16, 2013.

A very short British Glossary

A & E - Accidents and Emergencies - The British National Health Service (NHS) for an emergency room.

Perspex - Plexiglas

WPC - Woman police constable

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

All the Light There Was by Nancy Kricorian *****

World War II. Paris. All the Light There Was by Nancy Kricorian serves up an fresh and innocent retelling through Maral Pegorian, a girl separated from Anne Frank by three years and 750 kilometers. Both children are keen observers of the people they live with, themselves, and the horror beyond their limited circle.

Paris during World War II was occupied by the Germans. The French were divided between Collaborators and the Resistance. The Jews were shipped to work camps and Buchenwald. Against this historical backdrop, Maral belongs to the Armenian deportee community, those few that survived Armenian genocide 25 years earlier.

In this position Maral's community is innocent, neither persecutors nor victims. Maral is additionally an innocent as an adolescent girl, a studious, intellectual adolescent girl. Mostly the war happens around her ... Jewish neighbors are taken away, friends of her brother are arrested and shipped away, but also her teachers encourage her to apply to the Sorbonne and she raises chickens.

And, Maral falls in love and grows up. After a meeting her first boyfriend in an abandoned apartment, she observes,
Now I had a new secret. It was getting hard for me to distinguish between the lies the war required and those necessary for growing up.
On of the appeal of children's stories about humanity's horrors is the myth/hope that children can pass through these events unscathed. This particular story has a happy ending, and I'd like to generalize to believe/hope that people really survive and live happily ever after.

Like Maral's father says of her child,
Of course he's walking. What do you think? Babies eventually walk and talk and ... do what humans do.
If you are optimistic about what humans do, you will enjoy this book.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on June 25, 2013. I received the book on July 6, 2013. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Two Kites by Robert J Muller ****

The Two Kites by Robert J Muller is three books in one.

First, it is an alternate history. Imagine the European settlement of the America never made it to California. Instead San Francisco (Menmenet) is a Egyptian (Kemet) settlement. In this book we see the classical culture transplanted to modern times. Egyptian gods and burial customs combined with cell phones, Egyptian architectural and cooking transplanted to the San Francisco geography and climate. These imaginings alone might be worth the cost of admission.

Second, this book is a mystery, a murder and a stolen knife ... a knife that traces its history to ancient Egyptian cults and sacrifices. Mystery readers will not be surprised nor disappointed with the police detectives, concerned, but reluctant private citizen, and multiples twists and turns.

Finally, this is a work of art. The book uses over 150 classical Egyptian words. While a glossary is included at the end of the book, the beauty of this production is that the extra wide margins are used to show each Egyptian word transliterated in the familiar Latin alphabet (as they appear in the text) along with the translation and the beautifully rendered hieroglyphic forms on every page. In this way the flow is not hamper by the appearance of these Kemet words. The artistry is completed with delightful line-drawing illustrations by Mary J Swanson throughout.

Whether you read this book for the alternate history, the mystery, or the beauty of the production, you will not be disappointed.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Cactus Island by William Manchee *

Cactus Island by William Manchee opens when the law firm of Turner and Waters takes on a pair of very strange cases. Paula Waters' case involves a divorce where the husband disappears and the wife, Paula's client, is charged with his murder. Strangely, when the CSI teams goes through the house where the husband was last seen...
The lab boys say its the cleanest crime scene they've ever seen. They didn't find a single fingerprint, not one fiber, and no hair even on the hair brush. ... Even the sheets were clean like they were just out of the package.
Stan Turner's case involves a boy, also charged with murder, who was the driver of a car that went over a cliff killing a friend. The driver claims he was distracted from a UFO going to land on Cactus Island. When Stan get an analysis of the dirt on Cactus Island, Dr. Walston reports...
Yes. There was no trace of organic matter in the sample, which is unusual. This could have resulted from some sort of combustion or chemical residue left by an aircraft...
While this "Stan Turner Mystery" starts with a pair of intriguing puzzles, I found the resolution very disappointing ... SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Before the spoilers, something convinced me to jump to the end before getting half-way through. The chapters alternate between Paula and Stan point-of-view---Paula gets the odd chapters and Stan gets the even ones. However, aside from the numbering, I found it very difficult to differentiate which POV was which, Paula and Stan were identical twins.

In the end, Paula/Stan solve  the mysteries: It is UFOs.Tarizonians working with the CIA, trading American children for technology, and so on. I loved Men In Black, but this didn't work for me.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Read giveaway on June 10, 2013. I received the book on July 1, 2013. 


Friday, July 5, 2013

Big Data By Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier ******

RIP: Scientific Revolution - da Vinci to von Neumann - the short reign of cause and effect. If you read only one non-fiction book this year, this is it.

For 100s of millions of years, correlation has been the natural heuristic of all intelligent behavior, The driver behind evolution is mindless correlation. All that matters is what survives with not consideration of "why?" Then came the scientific revolution and the scientific method and a demand to understand "why?"

Big Data by Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier makes the case that this brief respite from correlation is over, the scientific revolution is over, correlation is back in charge.

In the California Content Standards for Science, EVERY standard from kindergarten through high school includes the statement:
Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations.
along with an age-appropriate discussion of the scientific method of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, analysis, and conclusions.

The goal is the scientific method is to discover "why?" Why is the sky blue? Why are my eyes blue?  Why is the IBM logo blue? Why is sadness called blue? The scientific method over the last 500 years has made a fetish of understanding root causes, laughing at correlation ---
correlation is not causation.

Curiosity and discovery have changed. Now with the power of computers, BIG computers, this is all being turned on its head. Computers now make the observations --- skip the rest of those steps --- and that is the conclusion. This is so different that the world will change in ways that can not be imagined, but change it will. This book begins the discussion of a foreign topic that will seem so obvious as to not require any discussion by the generations are the end of this century. For now, take a peek.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on June 15, 2013. I received the book on July 1, 2013.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ben Barka Lane by Mahmoud Saeed ***

Foreign translations often present a view of an alien culture, but published-in-1970-Iraq (and banned) Ben Barka Lane by Mahmoud Saeed is more a mirror on the human condition than a vision of a particular time or place.

Certainly Si l-Sharqi is a Iraqi expatriate living in Morcco, the women wear jalaba and veils outside, couscous is a favorite food, and tea is flavored with mint. But after that protagonist Sharqi is a young teacher on summer vacation. His relationship with men is about drinking and gambling, and with women -- sex and Casablanca night life.

Sharqi struggles with women. He is infatuated with Ruqayya.
[Ruqayya] gave every letter the true value for which it was created, in the long journey begun thousands of years ago in the sea of meanings. She followed the line of its development from abstract signal until it joined in syllables, then words, then became melodies and strange, warn new meanings, in the inspiration of a unique hour.
Most other women he refuses their advances while obsessing about their sexuality and availability.
He went the last round with her but with great care, fearing to inflate her narrow waist.
With the men he is torn between morality and loyalty on one hand and social pressure and ambition on the other. He is befriended a leftist opposition leader, Si Habib, and the rich and powerful Si Idris. These two men are political opposites, but, being a young (every) man, he often is more concerned the social and sexual implications of these relationships.

I imagine this was banned in Iraq more for reasons of sex than politics. Not the book I was expecting.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Read giveaway on June 11, 2013. I received my copy on June 21, 2013.