Thursday, June 30, 2016

Twenty-eight and a half wishes by Denise Swank ***

Twenty-eight and a half wishes by Denise Swank carries the subtitle of Rose Gardner Mystery much like the books of Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton. In the opening novel of this series, Rose Gardner is the prime suspect for the murder of her nasty mother. With the help of her mysterious neighbor, her married sister, and her unreliable visions of the future, the mystery is solved, but not before there are more murders, and more accusations.

While the book is billed as a mystery, much of the book reads like a romance with Rose Gardner more concerned about her relationship with the mysterious neighbor: what does she think of him, what does he think of her, does she want to lose her virginity with him, why won't he make love to her, etc. This lady is no Stephanie Plum or Kinsey Millhone.

Either because of the romance or not, Rose Gardner is more passive than might be expected for a 21st century female protagonist. She does have her moments, but more often than not she is an observer and a victim while others take action. When she does take action, it is too often shopping and dressing.

This month I also reviewed Irreparable Harm by Melissa Miller. Ostensibly both these book are of the same genre, but Melissa Miller's protagonist kicks serious butt. Both books currently offer the first Kindle volume in the series free.

If you're looking for a fast moving mystery with twists and turns and surprises, this is the book for you. I got this first book in the series as a free Kindle book. I expect you can do the same.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Seeds, Sex and Civilization by Peter Thompson ****

In a volume reminiscent of the groundbreaking and bestselling Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, Seeds, Sex and Civilization by PeterThompson chronicles the history of civilization from the perspective of botany and agriculture starting with the suggestion that western civilization’s current hegemony can be traced back to the different attributes of wheat vs maize and rice, with the former leading to large-scale social structures and creativity.

Later he points out how the origins of agriculture and thus civilization can to traced to a limited number of locations. Different plants have different germination strategies. Some plants find it advantageous to sprout at asynchronous times to avoid predators. These plants make poor targets for domestication. Agriculture prefers crops with sprout and mature in synchrony.

As with many other fields in science, much of academia has spent millennia thinking about Aristotle and the Bible, instead of getting their hands dirty. 
“The role of pollen in plant reproduction appears to have been better understood by gardeners, few of whom committed their ideas to paper, then by academics, who were all to eager to promulgate their opinions.”
 Ultimately the book is a hagiography of botanists. One of the people who is not beatified is Lysenko, a favorite whipping boy, who with the discovery of epigenetics, might ultimately be raised to the level prescient prophet, proving once again that smug arrogance rarely works in science.

If you are interested in a history of agricultural and seed science, this is the book for you. If you have a friend who doubts the value of seed banks, recommend this book to them.

Full House by Stephen Jay Gould ****

 Within popular culture little there is little agreement between the evolutionists and the creationists beyond that Homo sapiens are the pinnacle of creation. This supremacy is viewed by creationists as God’s work, while evolutionists see it as an inevitable product of evolution. Full House by Stephen Jay Gould agrees with no one and intends to convince scientifically minded readers of a third alternative.

With arguments heavily based on math, probability, and statistics, the author proposes that evolution does not prefer more complex organisms, or more directly, there is no survival advantage, or natural selection, for complexity. Thus, Homo sapiens do not represent the goal and accomplishment of evolution, but merely the accident of a random walk.

One quarter on this book uses baseball “as one of two central examples to carry the major message.” If you are not a baseball fan, you might find this an overly long discussion about the dearth of .400 hitters, something that hasn't happened since 1941. I have been to 3 or 4 games in my life, and watched fewer than that on TV, but I was able to follow. Regardless it felt like a significant digression.

As a result, this is another of those nonfiction book with a single conclusion that feels like it could have been presented in a tome half the size of less. Many self-help and popular-business books also exhibit this characteristic.

If you are comfortable with statistical modeling and reasoning, this is an easy read. If you like the idea that the world lacks either divine direction or scientific inevitability, this is the book for you.


Irreparable Harm by Melissa Miller *****

Reminiscent of John Grisham and Stephanie Plum, Sarah McCandless (protagonist of Irreparable Harm by Melissa Miller) is a lawyer and a detective. When a client’s commercial jet crashes into a mountain, Sarah is part of the team assigned to defend the client from the expected law suits. Aside from being an rising star at a large firm, Sarah has a secret. In her very limited spare time, she has become something of a martial arts expert.

Both her legal skills and her martial arts are put to the test, when her boss is murdered and she is put in charge, with the result that several violent people target her. One of the minor joys of this book is watching various people underestimating the small, five-foot tall woman, only to discover how dangerous she is after it is too late.

Sarah studies Krav Maga. Martial arts seem to become popular in fashion cycles. After World War II, judo was popular. During the 1970s there was David Carradine and Kung Fu. In the 1980s we had the Karate Kid. Maybe Krav Maga will be next.

The many fight sequences follow pattern of defense, attack, control, but the real fun is the surprise of the large thugs discovering they are out fought by Sarah. Later they warn others to be wary, but of course everyone underestimates her and learns for themselves.

If you like a good mystery, law firm politics, really smart and violent female protagonists, this book is for you. Fortunately this is the first book in a series.

I received this book for free on Amazon. I expect you can too.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Ship by Allan Krummeanacker ****

The Ship by Allan Krummeanacker is a contemporary fantasy with something for everyone, starting with Cassandra Elliott, a billionaire heiress with ghostly relatives who arrive to protect her at critical times, and who has psychic abilities. Next is Julianna Lightfoot, whose father is a native American shaman and whose mother is Italian. Both are marine biologists, and her family is protected by two spirit wolves, one black and the the other white.

Their team is rounded out with several other characters with strange powers who might be aliens. No vampires or werewolves.

The antagonist is The Ship, a intelligence that for centuries has prowled the seas assimilating people and other ships into its composite intelligence, hive mind. This sets the stage for an enormous battle.

In addition to the epic battle, there is also the romance between Cassie and Julie, as each struggles with their personal fears of close relationships and coming out.

 If you enjoy action that is a mixture of force and psychology, this is the book for you. The battle pitches back and forth as each side discovers or reveals different powers, allies, and tactics. From the first encounter to the last, the excitement builds until the climatic ending.

I purchased this book on Amazon as a free kindle book.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Nine Essential Things ... by Harold Kushner ****

Nine Essential Things I've learned about Life by Harold Hushner is a small book about God and religion. As with many books on this subject, what the author opposes is often as important and telling as what is supported. Kushner opposes many things: literal interpretation of The Bible, obeying God, and non-religious spirituality (religion is what you do, not what you believe).

Rather than looking for God in the outside world
"Nature ... can too often be harsh, unreliable, destructive,"
the author suggest to find it in the actions of individuals
"courage and determination [of an individual] speaks to the power and presence of God."
The author sees people as uniquely moral and compassionate.
"Babies are moral animals ... with empathy and compassion ... understanding of justice and fairness."
Like other religious tracts, the author appeals, to intuition, common sense, and conventional wisdom.
"No other creature can be described this way."
Some readers might not be convinced by such arguments.

As a grandparent, I felt for a priest who said,
"When I was young celibacy meant not having sex. Now that I am older, celibacy means not having grandchildren."
If you are interested in a liberal interpretation of The Bible and a view of religion centered on the people as opposed to The Book or the clergy, this is the book for you.