Monday, September 26, 2016

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler ****

After retirement one has a tendency to reminisce and extract lessons to share with children and grandchildren and anyone who might listen. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler is about Tess, a twenty-two-year-old from Ohio who moves to New York (City) and works in an upscale restaurant, making it a great book for foodies and New Yorkers, but what about the rest of us?

Much of Tess's story is the universal experience of growing up and finding, or not finding, one's place in the world, and hopefully someone to share that place with you. Tess struggles finding direction.

Is service work, well-paid service work, temporary or a career? Tess is smart and motivated. She studies food and wine and service. She becomes accomplished, but still can not figure out whether she is just a good student or on a road to her future.

The same is true for her personal life. New York nightlife is a challenge, but she figures it out. Again, this success is not all that satisfying.

Here I return to the retired point of view. Danler reminds me of the struggles on my own early twenties, so much so that I have no idea how I found myself, my career, and my partner. In the end, I felt more humility and gratitude, than any expertise to pass to the next generation.

Sometimes this is the result of literature and a welcome alternative when so much writing pretends to know the answers.

One of the lessons of service that Tess learned is, "People came back to the restaurant just to have that feeling of being taken care of," but the servers had to always remember...
"Regulars are not friends. They are guests. Bob Keating? A racist, and a bigot. ... he has no idea he's being served by an old queen. Never show yourself."
After a year in New York, Tess develops strength and attitude. When being accosted by a stranger in a bar...
"I know it is quiet at your job ... so I understand the need to impose yourself on whatever docile-looking female you find ... If you want someone to put up with you, may I suggest your waitress because that is lit-er-ally what you're paying her to do right now."
Tess grows up, becomes stronger and more independent, but is she on the road to happiness?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt ****

Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt Nathalia Holt intertwines two historical narratives: NASA space exploration and the women at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Both these stories started with missile development for World War II, but with the end of that war, the efforts transitioned to scientific missions.

In the beginning women could not be engineers, but they could be computers – women who manually performed the complex calculations required by male engineers. As bad as this discrimination might sound today, it was a great opportunity for women in the 40s and 50s when many engineering schools didn't even accept women. 

These were rigorous technical jobs were given to women with limited education, who showed promise and interest, sometimes right out of high school. Their success was what we might expect today, but shocked the people of their generation who didn't expect women to work, and if they did, the career choices were nurse, teacher, and secretary, not planning interplanetary missions.

Aside from the commonality of working on space exploration, the women were from different races, and some married, some divorced, some had children, some didn't. As today, this history shows that gender tells little about a person. 

This is a wonderful history of technical women and NASA.

In the beginning, and for decades, this group at JPL was exclusively female.
“It was a respected position, one that men eagerly applied for. It just so happened that their applications were all turned down.”
The job ads stated “no degree required,” which in those days was code for women to apply. However the ideal candidate was someone with a math minor. Women rarely majored in math as there were no female jobs using math. The minor simultaneously indicated aptitude and interest.

The women were responsible for calculating trajectories among other things. In the 70s this meant planning the path for the Voyagers to explore the solar system and beyond. Voyager planning was done in secret as Congress had only authorized as far as Jupiter.

On a personal note, I enjoyed the story of early computing machines, as I also worked with Friden calculators, and IBM 70x and 1620 machines.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Foreign Deceit by Jeff Carson *****

In Foreign Deceit by Jeff Carson Wolf is a deputy sheriff in a small town in Colorado. This book involves two cases, one of a high school boy who accidentally falls to his death and a suicide by Wolf’s brother in Italy. Without giving anything away to experienced mystery readers, both case turn out to be murders, as do all deaths in all mysteries.

Wolf is tough and observant and persistent. The plots move along in a believable and interesting way. This is one of those good books that read too fast and end too soon.

It was available as a free Kindle book as an introduction to the series. Try it, you’ll it.

However, there was a third plot line about sheriff’s office politics and promotions. I felt the resolution of this plot line was contrived for no other purpose than to leave a questions for the next book in the series.

Monday, September 12, 2016

21 Dares by JC Gatlin **

21 Dares by JC Gatlin opens when Abbie Reed was three and a half years old, and someone broke into her house and slit her twelve-year-old sister’s throat with a box cutter. Abbie never recovered.

Now fifteen years later, she is in college, in therapy, and isolated. She is being stalked by an incompetent stalker who is always obvious in the same coat and hat.

Her acquaintances throw her a surprise party and challenge her to 21 dares. Corpses pile up, but the plot never adds up. It was available as a free Kindle book as an introduction to the series. Try it, you might like it.

My concerns: The unbelievable plot resolution was overshadowed by Abbie herself. Abbie was a character who consistently made bad decisions. She seemed to consider a positive choice, but each time accepted pressure from anyone and everyone to make the wrong choice. She accepted every dare, no matter the source, and no matter the consequences.

When the murderer is revealed, that character’s motivation turns out to be as unconvincing as Abbie’s.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Forget Me Not by John Hemmings ***

 In Forget Me Not by John Hemmings Mark Kane and his assistant Lucy solve crimes in the Boston area. This case is about a lady, wife, mother who died of Alzheimer’s shortly after being reunited with her daughter who was given up for adoption before her marriage. She leaves half her considerable and personal estate to the daughter. Not surprisingly the husband and sons question the bona fides of the daughter. Enter our private investigator Kane and his assistant Lucy.

What follows is an ordinary investigation and mystery with the requisite plot twists and turns. It was available as a free Kindle book as an introduction to the series. Try it, you might like it.

Two caveats:

First, much of the opening chapters involve a convoluted setup to prevent DNA testing from being the obvious solution to the mystery about whether the daughter is genuine. This includes cremating the lady, having all her relatives predeceased, adopting the two sons of her marriage, etc. Thus the long introduction is more about setup than sleuthing.

Second, while several crimes are uncovered and solved, none of them are brought to justice. I found this odd. I did not see anything in Mark Kane’s character development to indicate that he would play judge and jury and decide to pardon everyone. This seemed to be a radical result from nowhere.