Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Heist

The Heist by Daniel Silva 475 pp.

This is the latest installment in the Gabriel Allon series. Once again the Mossad agent/art restorer is busy restoring a masterpiece in Venice when his work is interrupted with espionage duties. The murder of a man well known for trading in stolen artwork is found brutally murdered and the Italian Art Police want Allon's help in finding a missing Caravaggio. The art investigation soon leads into tracking billions of dollars used to fund the Syrian civil war. Allon uses staff and resources of "the office" to mastermind a plan to steal the money. In the meantime Allon and his wife are awaiting the arrival of twins and Gabriel moving into his new position as the head of Mossad. The usual cast of characters play parts in the story although Ari Shamron only makes a brief appearance. This is one of my favorite series but I'm apprehensive about the next book to come because the beloved character of Shamron is failing in health and may not be part of the series much longer. But I know by the time the next one arrives I will be eager to read it.

Middlemarch

Middlemarch by George Eliot, 827 pages

For those of you not already reading Middlemarch in our adult summer reading program, Middlemarch is a fictional town set in the English countryside in the early-ish 1800s and focuses on some of the more well to do families that live there. We first meet Dorothea Brooke, a young woman with the lofty goal of learning and making life better for those around her, but decides to do that by marrying Mr. Casaubon, a man almost three times her age. Then there is Fred Vincy, at the crossroads of his life: in love with his childhood friend, Mary Garth, but bent towards self-destruction through gambling and idleness. And then there is Tertius Lydgate, a doctor who moves to Middlemarch with the plan of bringing a new practice of medicine to the masses, and with the equally lofty goal of making some new scientific breakthrough. Of course, there are many characters I'm leaving out (Will Ladislaw, Rosamond Vincy, Nicholas Bulstrode, Peter Featherstone, Camden Farebrother...), but most of the action revolves around these three. We've spent a lot of time discussing how this book is considered a staggering work of genius, and while I'm not sure I can speak to that, I can recognize why it's considered a classic. Eliot manages to juggle all of these characters and their pains and dreams and suffering without dropping the ball with any of them. With a narrator's eye view of each of these characters, she manages to inspire pity and sympathy for some of the more awful ones (see our summer reading blog for more on that). And though her writing tends toward the analytical, I still managed to find myself sucked into what would happen - if Dorothea would ever realize that she loved Will, if Lydgate would ever manage to out connive his wife, if Fred would ever pull his life together to make it with Mary. Many in our discussions on the book have mentioned that they feel the need to reread this book, and I agree (though I definitely want to read it in print and not as an ebook). If you're a fan of Victorian novels, but haven't read this one yet, go for it! And join us in August for our last discussion and tell us what you think.

FBP, volume 1

FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, vol. 1: The Paradigm Shift by Simon Oliver, art by Robbi Rodriguez, and color by Rico Renzi, 160 pages

When your sink breaks, you call a plumber, but when gravity breaks, you call the FBP.

For some reason, the laws of physics have gone a bit haywire. Gravity may decide to stop working outside of your local high school, or time will decide to run a little faster inside your home than outside of it. When that happens, the FBP will come in and fix whatever's wrong. A relatively new agency, it's seeing a fair amount of change itself - veteran field agents who were there in the beginning, doing whatever it took to get the job done are suddenly finding themselves superseded by kids fresh out of college who have largely spent their lives learning about physics instead of seeing it. Agent Adam Hardy is caught between these two. The son of a physicist who disappeared when he was a child, he was attracted to the glamorous danger of the FBP's work. But physics isn't the only problem facing the FBP. Like anything government does, there are legislators who bristle at the idea of the government being the only one in charge of protecting people from physics and think that the private sector should have a whack at it. So when a bubble universe forms in a major metropolitan area, everyone is interested to see how the FBP handles the job. And in the case of Agent Hardy, he begins to quickly realize that there is more going on here than simple American politicking might suggest.

FBP is a comic that has been on my radar for awhile, but it wasn't until I bought a copy of this volume for my brother's birthday that I finally took the chance to read it. And I'm really glad I did. It's stories like these that I'm glad that comics exist. Simon Oliver's premise of "physics is broken" is perfectly suited to being told panel by panel, where art and color can also help tell you what's going on. He manages to explain to you what is going on, science-wise, and why that's not right pretty clearly (though, let's be honest - I'm a librarian, not a physicist, so I have no clue if his science is correct to begin with). And Robbi Rodriguez's art is fantastic. Slightly messy, he manages to convey energy and movement in his lines, even when the characters are standing or sitting still. Rico Renzi's coloring work is equally great, with muted colors contrasting perfectly from the brighter, almost neon colors denoting moments where physics is going wrong. If you're looking for science fiction that is closer to science fact, then you can't go wrong with FBP. I'm looking forward to reading more set in this world.

Heads or Tails

Heads or Tails / Lilli Carre 200 pgs.

An interesting collection of short stories that are all a little bit magical.  All deal with the human condition and many with avoidance.  I particularly like the one where Madeline "slits" from herself and finds herself already in places she is going.  For example, she heads for bed but finds herself already sleeping there.  After hanging around watching herself for awhile, she goes to a new town and starts a new life and forgets about her old self.  There are many gems here.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon  200 pp. (of 452)

It's rare that I don't finish a book but I just couldn't take any more of this one. Warren Zevon was a great musician but an awful person. This book, which is a series of narratives, anecdotes, vignettes from family, friends, fellow musicians, and his own diaries tells the whole ugly truth of his addictions, womanizing, obsessions, violence, and other bad behavior. I didn't know much about him other than his music and I'm sorry I found out. Before his death, Zevon asked his ex-wife to write this book and spare no gory details. She followed his wishes. Maybe in the future I'll pick it up and finish it. 

Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT?

Can't we talk about something more PLEASANT? by Roz Chast  228 pp.

Christa reviewed this book and said pretty much what I would have. Parts really hit home for me especially since my 87 year old mother-in-law is making plans to enter assisted living soon. Chast portrayed the bad and, less often, the good in the process of dealing with her aging parents with honesty and humor, where possible.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin, 753 pages.

Book four of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which HBO's Game of Thrones is based.
The story of 10-year-old Arya, one of my favorite characters, plays a big part here, but it takes a strange turn as she leaves the Seven Kingdoms, looking for the knowledge that Jaqen H'ghar, the faceless man, has promised.  Lots of fun and lots of action, though it is tough to keep the different chronologies straight.


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Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis, 271 pages.

Lewis's latest look at Wall Street covers the post-2008 crash phenomenon of High Frequency Trading (HFT). The author was surprised to learn that many of the biggest banks and big trading companies allowed HFT firms to have access to their in-house "dark pools," and allowed those same firms to have the fastest fiber connections into and between their exchanges. This allowed the very smart, very high-tech HFT firms to have microsecond or nanosecond advance knowledge of big trades, giving them and their high-speed computers time to get ahead of the trade and make a fraction of a cent or so on every share traded. The author estimates that on each of the strategies that were discovered by the traders who gave him the info for the book, the HFT folk made at least a billion dollars per year. Interesting stuff. One of those eminently accessible works of nonfiction that has the pacing and plotting of a good solid novel, though that's no surprise since readable quick-paced nonfic is a specialty of Lewis.

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Plugged

Plugged: a novel / Eoin Colfer 254 pages.

 Daniel McEvoy is a bouncer at a seedy small-time casino in New Jersey.  He is ex-military with serious "daddy" issues but with the ability to take care of himself.  When his sort-of girlfriend ends up murdered, he gets caught up in an amazing week of crazy circumstances, missing friends, shady police business, and mob-like antics.  The plot is full of holes but our hero is so fun and the narration so funny, you will be happy to overlook the more ridiculous aspects.  I'm already looking forward to reading the follow up book.

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Running Blind

Running Blind / Lee Child 360 pgs.

 I'm really trying with these Jack Reacher novels.  Everyone tells me how great they are and I want to believe, I really do.  In this outing, Reacher is tied down to the house his mentor and father figure left to him in his will.  He is also in a committed relationship with the daughter of the same guy. He is getting antsy and feels overwhelmed by the responsibility.  He gets the chance to help the F.B.I. on a case of recently separated women from the military who are turning up dead in very bizarre circumstances.  Nobody can figure out what killed them and they are found in a bathtub full of paint.  I have no problems suspending my belief that any of this can be true.  I'm willing to go along with the ridiculous plot to get the Reacher action and thrills.  I can admire the pull for the simple life. BUT I have to just stop believing when Reacher's entire portfolio of belongings is a single tooth brush and the clothes on his back.  Dude you must stink.  Yes, you can shower every day but putting the same unwashed clothes back on each and every day is just not possible.  You have to have a spare outfit and get some tooth paste to go with that toothbrush.  PLEASE, I'm supposed to be falling for you but I can't get past the personal hygiene issues.  And, to get a little more picky, this guy is so strong and skilled he can kill many with his bare hands...I will believe all of that too but I think you would have to do a little bit of a workout every now and again.  Maybe this book covers such a short time period that he has suspended his workouts but even so, he only has that one outfit so I'm not seeing how it can fit in either.  The Jack Reacher movie was widely panned but I'm curious to see if it can explain these two big issues for me.  Maybe I'll read another of these books but it will be awhile.

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