Saturday, August 31, 2013

Endangered Species by Vaulte Kamish ****

Are you missing Terry Pratchett since his unfortunate health challenges have slowed the wonderful stream of Discworld Novels? Well you might enjoy Endangered Species by Vaulte Kamish with a similar mixture of off-beat humor, unreality, and topical satire.

The book is full of unexpected turns,
He tried anything to buck her off - twisting, flapping, dropping to the ground, the Marcarena.
and surprises,
... he bit her in the crotch. She squealed and let go.

But what is the excuse for this chaos and mayhem? A global cooking contest with fame, fortune, and the future of the planet at stake. The cooks all searching for exotic tastes from endangered animals like ...
Two velocarabbits, a snaggle-toothed platypus, a vulture penguin, albino air leeches, and an Anaerobic Tiger-tailed Viper!

As promised, a fun adventure in hyperbole and social commentary.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on August 1, 2013.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Source*Forged Armor by Paul J Bartusiak **

Source*Forged Armor by Paul J Bartusiak is an old-fashioned spy thriller with omniscient point-of-view, and omniscient characters. John Angstrom works for DARPA reviewing proposals for an innovative design for a MAV -- Marine Amphibious Vehicle -- and Professor Czolski is a genius professor in St Petersburg  willing to trade superior Russian technology for his freedom.

Throw in a few twists and a couple of beautiful women and the trade is made.

This was a very fast read as the omniscient style meant that much of the writing was redundant since character dialogue was interspersed with  inner dialogue from all participants.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 29, 2013. I received the book on August 8, 2013. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty *****

The women: Tess's husband has fallen in love with her best friend, Rachel's daughter was murdered, and Cecilia's husband has a secret. Actually, as in real life, everyone has secrets ... from their partners, their parents, their children, and themselves. This intricately plotted novel (I think of Dickens) is about introspection, fear and self-discovery.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty follows the journeys of these three women from (sometimes blissful) ignorance to ambiguous knowledge. Though the book references Pandora, knowing is ambiguous, sometimes leading to understanding and sometimes to resignation.

This is marketed as a "book club favorite," and it is easy to see how this story can lead to interesting sharing and personal discussions.

My only difficulty was that the main character were very similar in very similar situations, so the character names were the main cues as to which one was acting in each situation. Since I am not good with names, I found myself often confused. Regardless, the plot was terrific and I'd recommend the book to anyone wanting to read about contemporary people/parents and their quotidian struggles.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 29, 2013. I received the book on August 8, 2013. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Prostate Monologues by Jack McCallum *****

I am a few days away from a prostate biopsy, so I found The Prostate Monologues by Jack McCallum especially timely and relevant.

 As McCallum points out so well, prostate cancer is currently a puzzle, some medical people even want to change the name to prostatic epithelial neoplasia ... like that could help anything. Part of the puzzle is the currently popular screening test: the PSA test. For a favorable test result (say 2.5), some men are close to death, and for a unfavorable result (say 4.5) some men are in no danger. However, if you have a result is like 800, you ARE close to death.

After that there are the treatments. There is no obvious advantage between radiation, regular prostatectomy, and robotic prostatectomy. All offer a chance for incontinence and/or impotence in exchange for chance to fix a problem that might not have existed to begin with ... or not.

McCallum does a great job to provide a balanced view with lots of interviews with doctors and patients. Anyone who knows what a DRE is should read book.

If you can forget your (or your partner's) prostate, the book raises an interesting philosophy of science question. What is the role of anecdote in science? Traditionally anecdote is an anathema  to scientists. This book points out that after the research is delivered to practitioners and patients, anecdote rules.

Consider the current controversy on PSA testing. Urologists who see people die of prostate cancer - their universe of anecdotes - recommend lots of testing and treatment. While general practitioners who see a incontinence and impotency after treatment - their universe of anecdotes - are against testing and treatment. That leaves the poor patient confused in their little universe of anecdotes. The beauty of this book is that it extends the patient's world of anecdotes.

That helps ... or not.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on August 6, 2013. I received the book on August 13, 2013. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall ****

Do you like the #1 Ladies Detective Agency? The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall has India's Most Private Investigator. The former has Mma Precious Ramotswe from Botswana, while the latter has Vish Puri from India. After that they are a similar mix of local color, family, and strange crimes.

I read this book for two reasons. First, I am planning to visit India and wanted to the local color. Second, I am a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith (author of #1 Ladies Detective Agency) and appreciate light detective/mystery fiction.

Readers interested in a pleasant journey to India with some light mystery will not be disappointed. However, I found these book less readable that the McCall Smith books. The rant at the end might explain some of this, but not all.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 15, 2013. I received the book on July 27, 2013.

Rant alert: This book has glossary of unfamiliar terms. I despise the idea of a glossary in a work of fiction. First, it interrupts the flow of the narrative to stop and page the back of the book to find a word in the glossary. But worse it creates confusion as the the responsibility for readability. In a normal book, the writing is meant to be readable. The is often accomplished by defining foreign or obscure terms as they are used. However, in the case of the glossary, the responsibility is split leaving the reader confused and asking, "Am I supposed to understand this or has this been delegated to the glossary." In the worst case, the reader doesn't understand and interrupts the story to check the glossary and nothing is there. Here are a few examples of worse case words from this book.

Crore: 10 million. This used a lot and not included in the glossary, even though lakh (100 thousand) is included.

Delli Wallah: Also used a lot. It means someone from Dehli.

Peg: Ubiquitous. This is a generic alcoholic drink, maybe similar to shot.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 15, 2013. I received the book on July 27, 2013. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Secrets of Lost Cats by Nancy Davidson ****

The Secrets of Lost Cats by Nancy Davidson, appropriately written by a psychologist, is a bit schizophrenic. Mostly it's about lost cats and their owners, but for a little bit is is a memoir of the author's inner struggle with loss and commitment. As a reader, I loved the first part (cats, cats and more cats) and mostly ignored the rest. Fortunately for me, the cats dominated, as is only right.

The book tells twenty stories of lost cats around the world, each illustrated with a lost-cat poster. As a cat person, I enjoyed the length people go to to find their lost pets, such as breaking into a neighbor's house, putting up billboards, and going on television. Is is also interesting to see how people adjust to the eventuality that their pet isn't going to return. Some imagine the pet taken in to a loving home, while others fear the worst dinner for wildlife to experimentation in secret labs.

The psychologist author plays a fun game: Guess the owner's personality and gender from the lost-cat flyers. Who expresses emotion (We are heart broken) and who gives lots of details (11 month, 3 weeks old). Also, do rewards help? And an extra bonus, what does "I am not a cat person," even mean?

In summary, if you like cats, (you know who you are), this is the book for you.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 12, 2013. I received the book on July 20, 2013.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cosmos by Carl Sagan ****

Cosmos by Carl Sagan is a 20-year-old serialization of a TV series, but also a timeless classic.

Cosmos is a history of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology by an astronomer who never lost his childhood enthusiasm for looking at and thinking about the night sky. If you live in a modern population center, the night sky is washed out by light pollution and only a few handfuls of the 100s of billion stars in our galaxy are visible. In ancient times, 1000s of individual stars were visible in the night sky.

If all you can see on a moonless night is a few planets, Orion's belt, and the north star, it is difficult to appreciate the attraction of astronomy through he ages. Cosmos is your best opportunity unless you plan to travel to one of the few remaining deserted locations on our tiny planet.

This book is a classic because Carl Sagan's excitement and appreciation of the world beyond planet Earth is timeless, and much of the book is the history of science with fascinating details like the accuracy of Greek calculations for the size of the Earth and Newton's sex life (non-existent).

A great read for anyone interested in science and stars, and, really, what else is there?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Mutation by Robin Cook ***

Opening with a Mary Shelley quote,  Mutation by Robin Cook immediately declares its intention to update the classic Frankenstein. The monster in this horror story is a super-intelligent ten-year-old boy named VJ.

Here's a little science behind this fantasy. During development growth factors turn on and off to sculpt our bodies and brains. Before and after birth different areas and systems experience rapid growth and long periods of stasis. Imagine if we could extend the period of rapid brain development. Could we make a super smart person? Should we?

 This book reads like a thriller, Cook spins a tale that keeps the plot moving forward and the pages turning. However, while the pages turn, the ultimate resolution is obvious from the beginning. In addition the flat characters prevent the horror from reaching its potential. Thus, when the book is over, it feels like a hike through an amusement park ... upbeat music, fast turns,  flashing lights, but no experiences of lasting impact or value.

An excellent book to kill time on a long airplane flight.