Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Third Girl by Nell Goodin *****

In the The Third Girl by Nell GoodinMolly Sutton is recently divorced and looking for an escape. She fell in love with a cottage on the Internet and bought it in spite of her rusty French language skills. She would have preferred a low profile but this plan was foiled by large breasts she had acquired at her ex's behest and the couple staying at her rental unit. They were parents of a local student who mysteriously disappeared.

As a nice change from most cozy mysteries, Molly is not a curious busybody. This is a very pleasant read, like a walk in through the country on a beautiful day.

I received this Kindle copy at no cost.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Foreign Affairs by Stuart Woods ***

WARNING: A key plot point is a young lady's ability to hide an iPhone inside her body. I did not find this interesting or plausible. You reaction might differ.

Foreign Affairs by Stuart Woods is a Stone Barrington novel about a young lady named Hedwig (Hedy) Eva Maria Kiesler who Stone meets on a airplane. She immediately moves in with him, and as a result she is kidnapped.

This novel had me thinking about superheros. I recall reading somewhere that superheros need interesting superpowers and a vulnerability. Consider Superman with his many superpowers and vulnerability to Kryptonite, or James Bond with is high-tech gadgets and a weakness for beautiful women.

Stone Barrington's superpower is his powerful friends such as the U.S. President Kate (Madame President), NYPD Police Commissioner, and various heads of national intelligence agencies. He also has inexhaustible staff and financial resources. Vulnerabilities? None worth mentioning.

As a result all problems are immediately outsourced, Stone himself is not that interesting, so not the best superhero.

This short novel predictably ends with her rescue and a teaser for the next installment. This novel is #35.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Make Me by Lee Child *****

On average we spend more days reading our least favorite books. This is because our favorite books are read quickly, while the others go more slowly. In general, I read about a book a week or around 50 pages a day.

Make Me by Lee Child is a longer book (400 pages) with smaller print and single spacing. However, Jack Reacher's mystery in the middle of a an Oklahoma wheat field only lasted for 2 1/2 days. Like I said, my favorite books are read quickly.

If you want quick and enjoyable read, here it is.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Eve of a Hundred Nights by Bill Lascher ****

Melville and Annalee Jacoby were reporters in Philippines in 1941. If you didn't immediately ask yourself, "Wasn't the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941?" you might lack the context to read this fascinating story of the open years of World War II in the Pacific. You might also want to refresh your memory of the battles on Bataan and Corregidor.

Eve of a Hundred Nights by Bill Lascher recounts the story of Melville Jaconby and Annalee Whitmore, two Stanford graduates interested in adventure, excitement and writing. Much like idealistic and privileged young people today, Mel and Annalee were free to follow their dreams, and ultimately succeeded through persistence, talent, and connections.

For example, Annalee wanted to be a screenwriter in Hollywood. In a short time, she had a seven-year contract with MGM and wrote five screenplays which were produced. Having achieved this goal, she quickly abandoned her contract to move to China, a move facilitated by her college friends and contacts.

Much like current college graduates, Melville followed his muse by putting together multiple part-time and freelance projects to support himself, until his network landed him the job of Time bureau chief for the Pacific, based in Manila.

The position is Manila was a mixed blessing. While it provided him with sufficient stability to marry Annalee, it also place the couple in Manila at the opening of WWII during a time when the U. S. "Eruope First" strategy starved (literally) the Pacific forces. Refer here to Bataan and Corregidor.

For anyone interested in WWII, this book will certainly offer some new view and insights into the Pacific war through the experiences of these two reporters.

Some interesting details: During WWII China sent pandas to the U. S. to build support. A national naming contest had the winning entries: Pan-Duh and Pan-Dee. The famous Pan Am Clipper was a Boeing 314 - a sea plane. A Japanese submarine shelled shelled California.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman ***

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman is a 19th-century historical novel about Camille Pissarro, French Impressionist. The story starts in St Thomas and ends in Paris. Hoffman writes poetically with a mixture of mystical fantasy and imagined memoir. The result is a protective fog blurring the social ills of the period, such as antisemitism, slavery, prejudice, and strict social stratification, which are integral to the story.

"Based on a real story" can be the biggest challenge to an author. One the positive side, the "real story" delivers many of the elements of a novel, such as plot, setting, and characters. However, real life is nothing like a novel. Reality tends to be chaotic and meaningless, while a novel is orderly and structured. This novel follows the life and times of Camille Pissarro, the reader might not.

Given the subject, the book could have been a harsh commentary on the brutality of the time, but instead it is a poignant love story. Page by page, Hoffman is a wonderful writer and a pleasure to read. However, I found the book a bit hard to follow.

We arrived in Marseille, where we spent a few days at a hotel on a bluff overlooking the cold Atlantic.
I can't imagine why this city was moved from the warm Mediterranean to the cold Atlantic.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis *****

Early childhood education produces more anxiety among parents, teachers, and politicians than other child rearing topics. Somehow, we all feel that this is our opportunity to make a difference before the later years where the child's increasing agency, and our increasing impotence, dulls optimism and enthusiasm. By the time adolescence hits, they seem to be on an independent path and much beyond the influence of the previous generations.

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis, by Yale Professor and Harvard honors graduate, with 20% of its pages dedicated to notes, bibliography, and index, dives into these fraught waters with ample references to history, politics, anecdotes, and personal experiences. Before you cross this off you list, consider Christakis' primary theme and recommendation: Get to know your child and appreciate their unique powers and capabilities.

From her lofty position, Christakis discounts today's ubiquitous early education standards, academic preparations, and skill training.
"the prime purpose of being four is to enjoy being four; of secondary importance is to prepare for being five." [... nothing about college entrance exams]
Do not be concerned if your child is not reading or doing math, and certainly don't fret if the child can not sit still and take notes while a the teacher lectures.

One of her criticisms is the packaged curricula, including my personal pet peeve: seasons. How foolish and irrelevant is it to teach seasons in southern California, with pictures of falling leaves and snow appropriate for New England. Southern California has seasons of rain and wind and fires with ample educational topics. Why use the foreign examples of leaves and snow?

She also points out the urgency of skill objectives. For example, when introducing children to clay, it is folly to start with creating bowls or animals or whatever project is in the lesson plan. Small children can benefit from spending days or even weeks just experiment with the material. The same is true for all materials from mathematical manipulative (what a terrible name, right?) to the various projects which seem to have more emphasis on something to put on the refrigerator than on child education.

One last thing to remember on those sleepless night...
"Studies of identical twins raised apart seem to put a damper on the idea that what we do for our children has much effect."
If you are a parent, this is a book to give you license to appreciate your child as they are, and help you through the stress of today's pressure cooker of early childhood education. Can not recommend this any higher for all parents of children through first grade. It is full of advice, examples, and encouragement.