Sunday, April 20, 2014

How to fail at almost everything and still win big

How to fail at almost everything and still win big: Kind of the story of my life / Scott Adams 248 pgs.

Scott Adams has a system for many things and not goals.  This is something that works for him.  Simplify as many things as you can and observe and learn from the stuff that is going on around you.  Pay attention and you may find a system that works for you.  This book covers a lot of ground about success, business, psychology, health - including diet and exercise, and happiness.  Happiness should be the only goal and the only reason to do things.  Not surprisingly, Adams is analytic and willing to examine his failures for the worthwhile parts.  I guess it helps if you are an optimist or at least it certainly seems to have helped him.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

John Adams

John Adams / David McCullough 752 pgs.

Our second president is an impressive subject.  He didn't win the revolution but he did nominate George Washington to lead the troops.  He didn't write the Declaration of Independence but he had huge influence on the basic structure of our government and democracy.  He was instrumental in convincing foreign governments to support the new country during the revolution and served as the first vice president.  He was married to a woman whom he considered a partner.  She was impressive in her own right, extremely intelligent and level headed and always managed their finances because she was better at it than he was.  This book tells a lot about John Adams but also much about the founding fathers and the time of the revolution.  at 752 pages it will keep you busy for awhile but it is time well spent.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib by David J. Schwartz  416 pp.

In an alternate version of Earth, there exists magic and demons and parallel dimensions and colleges that teach magic and government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs, among others. In this version of Earth the FBMA was started by Aleister Crowley. The heroine of the story is Joy Wilkins, an FBMA agent sent undercover as a professor at the community college to investigate the disappearance of a faculty member and a demon trafficking operation possibly connected to those committing terrorist attacks. Joy is a bit disabled in that she is face blind and has to rely on her ability to see auras to recognize people. But this doesn't always work because people's auras change. She finds herself in the midst of an ancient magical war and doesn't know who to trust; her agency boss, the members of the mysterious organization, The Thirteenth Rib, a trickster god who has taken the place of another professor, or any one of the many magical and possibly sinister people she encounters. This book has a variety of different characters, plenty of action, and intrigue. This book was originally published as a Kindle serial before coming out in paperback. I took a chance on it when the Kindle version was on sale for only a dollar or two because the title intrigued me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Divorce Papers

The Divorce Papers / Susan Rieger 461 pgs.

Anne Sophie Diehl is an up and coming criminal lawyer and an established firm and is happily dealing with her clients when a woman walks in needing a divorce and nobody else is there for the intake interview.  Of course Mia likes Sophie and wants her to handle the case even though she doesn't know anything about family law. Well, this walk in isn't just ANYBODY, she is the daughter of long-time client and local rich business man Mr. Meiklejohn.  Sophie gets roped into this case but learns a lot along the way as she and Mia build a relationship.  The novel is told in memos, emails and filings.  It is amusing in places and sad in others.  Jane, the 10 year old daughter of the soon to be uncoupled couple has a hard time understanding the situation while, at the same time, being wise beyond her years.  Many memories and still unresolved issues from her own parent's divorce decades ago resurface for Sophie as she deals with the legal issues as well as the emotional issues of her client's situation.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York / Liana Finck

A charming new graphic novel.  The narrator receives an old notebook full of newspaper clippings, from which emerges the ghost of Abraham Cahan, famous founder of the Yiddish paper the Forward.  (I wrote about an interesting Cahan bio recently.)  Together the narrator and Cahan look at letters from Cahan's 100-year-old advice column, The Bintel Brief.  Finck brings the stories to life with quietly effective drawing, and shares Cahan's response to each letter.  Alongside the letter stories, which evoke Lower East Side life at the turn of the last century, Cahan and the narrator carry on their own dialogue, and before he departs Cahan has advice for our author as well.  Moving but not sentimental, this would make a great gift.  Recommended. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Enon

Enon / Paul Harding 238 pgs.

Charlie Crosby had a pretty standard life until his 13 year old daughter Kate is killed on her bike after being hit by a car.  To say he falls apart does not really do justice to the bulk of this book that tells the tale of the year after Kate's death.   Turns our being Kate's father was really the only thing that gave Charlie any meaning in his life or satisfaction.  He tumbles into despair, drug addiction and a depression with magical elements.  It is sad.  Still, there is hope and despite this book centering on Charlie, you learn that the little town where he lives gives him the time and space to deal with his loss.

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The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones  421 pp.

This novel in verse is about the life of a woman at fifty with a daughter going off to college, a seriously ill mother living across the country, a looming book deadline, a husband she alternately adores and wants to strangle ("Being married makes me feel like a miner trapped in a shaft."), a changing body, and hot flashes ("I am the roar from the oven door that melts the glasses right off your face."). As she navigates her life the poems are touching, angry, funny, heartbreaking, sweet, and all have a wonderful ring of truth. This is a book that will be most appreciated by women who are in the late 40s-mid 50s. However, men should read it also since it may serve as an explanation/warning of what is going on with the women in their lives.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Danny, Who Fell in a Hole

Danny, Who Fell in a Hole by Cary Fagan  116 pp.

This junior fiction book is about exactly what the title says, a kid falls in a hole. When Danny's parents announce that they are going to relocate to both New York City and Banff, Alberta, Danny is not happy. But when they tell him that his dog has been given away to live on a farm, Danny is so upset that he grabs his backpack and runs out of the house...and falls in a large hole at a construction site. Using just the items in his backpack and, with the help of a friendly talking mole, Danny makes the best of his circumstances. He also learns to look at things a bit differently than before. This is a cute book, not great literature but a nice story for young chapter book readers.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, 418 pages
Days of Blood and Starlight, 517 pages, both by Laini Taylor (935 pages total)

Mild spoilers ahead.

With the release of the last book in the trilogy imminent, I decided to do a little re-reading. The quick, twenty second explanation for this series is that it's angels versus demons, Romeo and Juliet style. Except the demons aren't really demons but chimaera (creatures made up of parts from other creatures, but not in a Frankenstein way - click the link), and the angels are only angels because what else do you call winged human beings? The longer explanation goes like this: Karou is an art student in Prague when she isn't running errands around the world picking up teeth for Brimstone to do magic with. The only life she has ever known has been the life she has lived in Brimstone's shop; her only family being Issa, Yasri, Twiga, and Brimstone himself. She feels like something's missing, some vital part of herself that could only be discovered if she knew where she came from and how she found her way into Brimstone's shop. Akiva, an angel, is on a mission - to find and mark each of the doorways in our world that lead to Brimstone's shop. His life isn't all that great: bred to be a warrior in a never ending war between the angels and the chimaera, he once aspired to doing something greater before all hope was ripped from him. Hellbent on ending the war in his world, Eretz, by destroying Brimstone's ways into ours, he crosses paths (to put it mildly) with Karou and finds himself drawn to her, and she to him. So when the portals burn, leaving Karou cut off from Brimstone and the others, she finally finds the truth about herself, and the growing attraction between her and Akiva becomes tenuous. Roped into continuing Brimstone's work, she lives with what's left of the chimaera in a kasbah in our world. She and Akiva both, separately, have to decide if they are willing to pick up what's left of Eretz and forge it into something new, something that resembles peace.

To say that I love this series would be an understatement. There have been a few YA series that have dealt with angels, and while I haven't read many of them, I feel pretty certain in my belief that none of them have taken this tack with them. Reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone again, I found myself really struck with how closely Laini Taylor hews Karou's backstory to that of Romeo and Juliet. It's like she decided to explore what would happen next in Romeo and Juliet if Romeo had decided on revenge instead of suicide, but in an alternate world living alongside our own and with magic in it. And I love how she removed angels from their Judeo-Christian background and treated them as fantasy characters instead. She's not exactly the first to do it - Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere had the Angel Islington and Anne Rice had Ramiel and Setheus in Vittorio, the Vampire, but they still mostly retained their identity as servants of God. Here angels are presented as just another species, and the real trouble doesn't really start until we catch wind of them in our world. I'm really excited (though a bit sad!) to see how it all ends.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Red Herring Without Mustard

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley  432 pp.

This is another mystery featuring the precocious and persistent eleven year old Flavia de Luce. In this episode Flavia accidentally sets the tent of a gypsy fortune-teller on fire at the church fete. She helps the old woman by letting her park her caravan on her family's property at Buckshaw Manor. Later Flavia discovers the woman had been attacked and beaten and gets her medical help. Of course, she can't resist doing her own investigations into the attack in spite of the friendly police inspector who wants her to stay out of it. Then a local poacher is found murdered and hanging from a statue in the Buckshaw garden and Flavia finds herself in the thick of it. Yes, the idea of an eleven year old being a chemistry expert and a detective is far fetched but Flavia still retains many childlike ways. Her fights and pranks with her sisters continue and her much maligned father is hopeless at controlling his daughters, especially Flavia. The touching addition of the discovery of a lost family portrait adds a little extra to the story.  This is a light and entertaining series.