The Peripheral by William Gibson
The Peripheral by William Gibson
The Black Box by Michael Connelly. A solid police procedural, with roots in the 1992 LA riots and a modern-day resolution
The Private Patient by P.D. James. I’ve read all of her books. This might be the last Dalgliesh book, as P.D. James passed away last November. It is classic James, with her examination of class issues, attention to detail, and convoluted plot. A woman goes to a private clinic for facial reconstruction and doesn’t survive the night. It’s not the best-written of the series, but I’ll take it. There is an elegiac air to the book. She takes care to wrap up certain details of her characters’ lives (in satisfying ways).
Tomorrowland by Steven Kotler. A collection of essays on current science practices that read like science fiction. Terraforming? Think about the Army Corps of Engineers. Flying cars? Gyrocopters. Geordi Laforge's visor? There's a visual prosthetic in use. It was a lot of fun to read for science nerds and science fiction fans.
Becoming Madison by Michael Signer. This book covers Madison's early years and his influences. It's written in a lighter style than Madison's Gift. John Witherspoon was his professor at what later became Princeton. Patrick Henry was a major antagonist for much of Madison's early life. Their disagreements culminated at the Virginia Convention to ratify the Constitution. I had no idea Henry opposed it so strongly. Much of the book focuses on what Signer calls Madison's Method for overcoming opposition. Madison didn't have much charisma but he was organized and went to trouble to learn his subjects thoroughly. It's an interesting read.
Madison's Gift by David O. Stewart. A scholarly, well-written look at five major people with whom Madison collaborated in forming a new nation. Madison's gift was in forming partnerships. With Madison, Washington helped lead the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers, Jefferson founded the party system, and Monroe solved the problems of the French relationship. Some of the partnerships later ended in bitterness, but his marriage with Dolley was a love match. I knew it had been a struggle to form the new government but I am impressed with the details of what it took to win through. The Virginian Founding Fathers really struggled with the issue of slavery and that comes through clearly. I always think of Adams' comment and Franklin's rejoinder: "Mark me Franklin, posterity a hundred years hence will not forgive us." Franklin: "Independence first, then the rest."
I haven't been writing as much in the online journals because I've been working on some other writing. I wonder if I only have so many words in me every day :) I have more books to share later this week.
The Very Best of Charles DeLint. This was a gift in every sense of the word. The author collaborated with fans to pick the stories to be included. Charles DeLint also offered free downloads one day last month with the news being spread on social media. I found out from a friend and grabbed it. Many of the stories were new to me. I enjoy his urban fantasies quite a lot. While some of them are sad, most are decidedly optimistic. If you haven't read any of his work, this is a great way to get into it.
Last books from 2014 before I start the New Year. This was a curiously unsatisfactory lot, by and large.
Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander. Juliet is a former cruise ship pastry chef who returns to her home town to heal a broken heart and work in her mother’s bakery. Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so several of the characters work at or near it. For a first mystery, this is pretty good. I think she tried to put too much into it – the forest fires were a little unnecessary and the Mia subplot didn’t help the story along. Overall, though, this isn’t a typical cozy and I like it for that. (Updated: found out the author writes another series, so it isn’t a first novel)
Monster’s Chef by Jeffrey Tervalon. A chef with a drug problem is hired to work on a music superstar’s private estate. Weirdness ensures. I debated the rating and classification on this book for quite a while. On the one hand I read it in one sitting. It was more gripping than I originally thought. None of the characters are likable (intentional, I think, on the author’s part). I didn’t see the similarity to the MJ situation that other readers saw. I didn’t care for the hallucinatory nature of sections of the book.
Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen. Two older brothers open a classic restaurant. The youngest opens a hipper joint a few years later. I found this book a slog. I read the first two thirds and skimmed the rest. it’s a curiously bloodless sibling rivalry. They don’t seem very interested in each other. There’s something mysteriously wrong with the youngest but no details are given. The descriptions of the restaurants and the food were fine. There just wasn’t enough to engage my attention.
Whiteout by Ken Follett. Published in 2005, it now seems kind of an average techno-thriller. A deadly virus is stolen from an isolated lab during a Christmas blizzard and the facilities director has to get it back. Two teenagers do more to retrieve the virus than she does.
The Corsican Caper by Peter Mayle. Wonderful writing, the food descriptions made me hungry, but I must agree with others that it's novella length at best. No mystery or suspense either.
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid. This rewrite of the Jane Austen classic is part of a series updating Jane's books. Instead of diaries and dances in Bath, it's Facebook, smartphones, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The heroine Catherine still gets carried away by novels, but here it's Twilight. Catherine stills learns the lessons from the original novel. I like Val McDermid and she took a good approach to the rewrite, it just didn't work for me. I wasn't that fond of the original. Some scenes felt authentic, especially the frenzy for cellphone connection, but generally I don't think it translated well to modern day.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. This book was hugely popular when it first came out but I'm only now reading it for the first time. Dinah is a minor character in the Bible, sister to Joseph and daughter of Jacob. Her story as well as those of Leah and Rachel are center stage. Jacob and Joseph as well as the other men don't come off very well in this version. I liked the instances where religions collided - that's true to the era and the area. It was a good read.
The nonfiction book of the week is When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. This was an entertaining and enthralling read. After the Nazis burned books, librarians held massive book drives to send books to soldiers. Hardcovers ultimately proved too heavy. Thus was born Armed Services Editions: small, lightweight, literally designed to be "pocket books." The stories about soldiers reading them under all conditions and in all theatres will move you. Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Katherine Anne Porter's short stories are two unlikely authors that soldiers adored. I think the ASE program might have been the reason my father went into publishing after the war. Certainly many soldiers ended with a deep love of reading. It helped raise American literacy, too.
Found In Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche.
The Churchill Factor: How One Man Shaped History by Boris Johnson
The Monuments Men by Richard Edsel and Bret Witter
The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson
Found In Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. I never think about the little instruction booklets that come with my new electronics. Thanks to this book I’ll never look at them the same way again. Translators and interpreters affect out lives in subtle ways. They have a hand in many areas, from the religious books we follow to peace treaties to YouTube videos and beyond. I never considering the difficulties in translating porn or TED talks. Most of us know at least one funny mistranslation (all your base are belong to us, anyone?) but think how dangerous a mistranslation could be in safety directions. The book is full of interesting anecdotes that will make you think.
The Churchill Factor: How One Man Shaped History by Boris Johnson. I really enjoyed Boris Johnson’s unabashedly exuberant The Churchill Factor. I lucked into an ARC and it’s worth reading. It took some time to get used to his slangy style, but it was worth it and even eventually seemed appropriate. Johnson’s premise is that Churchill was exactly the right man in exactly the right place to make the choice for good that benefited history. The year 1940 was pivotal in the fight against the Nazis and he made a decision to end appeasement. I loved the stores about his past, his relationship with Clemmie, and his prodigious writing output. I learned a lot about Russia’s activities in the war – my history classes glossed over a lot of that. The only chapter I didn’t like was the one where Johnson listed all Churchill’s worst decisions and then proceeds to excuse/explain them away. He really reached on some. All in all an enjoyable read for someone looking for more information about Churchill written in a casual style.
The Monuments Men by Richard Edsel and Bret Witter. This is an extremely detailed account of about a year during World War 2 after D-Day in the European theatre. Hitler and his crew systematically looted the great treasures of Europe. If they were in museums or in the hands of private collectors, especially Jewish ones, they ended up in the hands of the Nazis. The were shipped east and kept in repositories, many of those underground. The Monuments Men tried to track down these repositories. Remarkably, the Allies made the decision to return the artwork to where it belonged, even to Germany, instead of claiming it for reparations. I will never be able to look at the Castle of Neuschwanstein in the same way after learning it sheltered so many looted treasures.
The Monuments Men worked without much in the way of resources. It was remarkable that they were able to return so many treasures. Visiting European museums would be a very different experience today if it weren’t for their efforts. I was particularly moved by the story of Rose Valland. She has been given short shrift in many historical accounts. If it weren’t for her recordkeeping, many items would still be lost. The Monuments Men were gifted art curators and historians. Many of them went on to distinguished careers in the best known museums in the world.
The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman. This book attempts to explain what the CIA’s Master Chef examination, Michael Symon, and Thomas Keller have in common. It explores what makes a great chef from several different viewpoints. Is it adherence to classical cooking, a sense of fun, creativity? This book was written in 2001 so it was interesting to read in light of what we know now. Michael Symon is a big name on television and Thomas Keller is still revered as the chef for the French Laundry. I hadn’t heard about the Master Chef designation. It was interesting to read about the challenges the aspirants went through. The exam tests a chef’s knowledge of classical French techniques thoroughly. If you haven’t read and practiced the recipes in Escoffier, there’s no point. It’s a good addition to any foodie-file’s shelf for the behind-the-scene tales. Very enjoyable
How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson. It’s a companion book to a series currently being broadcast on PBS. What would history be like if an artificial intelligence wrote it? It would likely focus less on human interactions and more on the development of technologies. Robots wouldn’t care as much about social evolution as they would about technological innovation. The hummingbird effect is in contrast to the well-known butterfly effect where tiny actions can have enormous unknown consequences. The hummingbird effect is linked chain of causality that might be unanticipated but traceable. I enjoy these kinds of books about the development of technology. I like the background information about how inventions came to be and the changed our lives.
Seven Wonders by Ben Mezrich
Blood Rubies by Jane Cleland
A Nip of Murders by Carol Miller
Betrayed by Lisa Scottoline
Seven Wonders by Ben Mezrich. When his twin brother is killed, Jack Grady vows to find out why. His brother’s research takes Jack around the world to visit the modern Seven Wonders and solve an archaeological mystery. Ben Mezrich is best known for his nonfiction books about whiz kids who gamble, create social networks, and take risks. Two of them became major motion pictures. The movie version of this book might be fun but you can skip reading it. It’s a mixture of Indiana Jones, the DaVinci Code and National Treasure, but not in a good way. It’s full of unbelievable coincidences and the writing is choppy. The MacGuffin is particularly unbelievable.
Blood Rubies by Jane Cleland. A chef known for her Faberge egg cakes is launching a new reality show. Josie Pigeon, local antiques shop owner, is called in to appraise a suspected Faberge snowglobe. This innocent beginning soon leads to a murdered financial guru, a suspicious stalker, and another murder. I was fortunate to receive an ARC for this book. I hadn’t read any of her books before. It was easy to get into the series and was perfectly fine as a standalone. She researched her topics thoroughly and tied together Faberge eggs, snow globes, financial wizards, and a pastry chef’s new television show in an engaging fashion. I enjoyed it and will likely look for more in the series.
A Nip of Murders by Carol Miller. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of the book. It’s one of the cleverer and more creative cozies I’ve read this year. I waffled between three and four stars. Let’s call it 3 and 3 quarters? It’s a good second novel after a good debut. Definitely worth reading. It’s hard to discuss its virtues without spoilers. The use of geo-cachers to bring a bunch of suspects together has to be a first. The use of cream cheese to create a “situation” (for want of a better word) is also a first. Confederate treasure as a MacGuffin has been around for a while but this is one of the more creative uses I’ve seen. A lot of it had me baffled but she did wind everything up to a satisfying conclusion. I do like her cast of characters. The only part that bugged me was Daisy’s insistence on disbelieving everything Rick says or does. So far in the books he hasn’t been a liar.
Betrayed by Lisa Scottoline. Judy Carrier is an attorney with Rosato & DiNunzio. She’s handed a complicated asbestos case, her love life is crumbling, and she finds out her beloved aunt has cancer. Her aunt’s closest friend is murdered and in short order we are plunged into illegal immigrants, drug smuggling, and more. I received an ARC of this book (due to be published 11/25/14). I’m familiar with many of the characters but I don’t follow the series that closely – I was surprised that there are 13 of them. I’d call it suspense, rather than a mystery. I enjoyed the book, but there’s just one subplot too many. I think the one that finally drags down the book is the reveal that Mom is actually the aunt and aunt is actually Mom. It’s unnecessary and contributes nothing to the story. I even think the boyfriend thing is too much. We don’t care enough about Judy that it matters. Don’t read unless you’ve read some of the earlier books and have at least a passing familiarity with the situation and characters. Otherwise you’ll be confused.
The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York edited by Cyrus Patell and Bryan Waterman. I enjoyed this quite a bit. It's well-researched and the essay selection is well done. It's arranged chronologically through various genres, moving from the authors of the early days to the Age of Innocence to the bohemians to the modern days of poetry slams and musicians. Immigrant and ethnic literature are not ignored. Overall, a very solid review of New York-centric books.
The Universe edited by John Brockman. The back cover blurb is a little misleading. The essays are not tied to the discoveries of March 2014, but that doesn't diminish the collection of essays at all. They cover various scientists' views of cosmology over the last 15 years. But this is an elite group indeed. Leonard Susskind talks about meeting Murray Gell-Mann; there's an essay by Benoit Mandelbrot (fractals); Andrei Linde explains string theory. Some theorists believe they need to go back to philosophy. My favorite essay covered the concept that the universe computes. Not for everyone, but if you are interested in the topic, then you will enjoy the collection.
Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis. Flavia Alba carries on her father's work as a private informer in ancient Rome. If she doesn't solve a double murder, the slaves in the house will be executed. Flavia is her own character, completely different from Marcus Didius, but sharing some of the same quirks and passions. The novel is meticulously researched, the story is lively, and I didn't guess the killer. I'll look forward to more.
Memphis Ribs by Gerald Duff. Two police officers chase down murderers and drug dealers in Memphis during Festival time. There's plenty of barbecue and blues in the novel, but no suspense. The bad guys are identified in the first few chapters. It was written in 1999 and it seemed dated. The blurbs said the author had a good ear for the dialect, but I'll have to take their word for it. No suspense, no mystery.
To Eat: A Country Life by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, illus. Bobbi Angell This book refused to be categorized. The authors had decades of experience in working the land and they distilled it down to the purest essence. Each chapter is only a few pages long and covers a single vegetable. There's information about how to grow and cook it, but also how it fit into the farm, the seasons, and their lives. There are no tricks anywhere and I suspect their recipes and farm are much the same. It's an education in plain good language. Bobbi Angell's illustrations added greatly to my enjoyment of the book. Simple and beautiful.
Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life by Frances Mayes. Twenty years ago, Frances Mayes and her husband bought a house in Tuscany. They've been repairing it ever since, interspersed with good meals and good friends. This third book in the series has an air of farewell about it, not just to their life there but to the Tuscany that they knew. It tried to cover a little too much territory - it wasn't as cohesive as the earlier story. Still I enjoyed it.
Jam Today Too by Tod Davies. I loved the subtitle The Revolution Will Not be Catered. Revolutionaries seldom think about food and usually expect the women to do the cooking. The book is organized into life circumstances and the foods that might be appropriate to them. The recipes are arranged more as stories within the stories she's telling, rather than lists of ingredients. Her description of how to build a basic pantry was spot on. I loved her approach to the importance of eating locally and sustainably. She's at her best when she stays at the local level. Broader pronouncements aren't her strength. I was disappointed she repeated the old story about the Irish and fish (the English hanged poachers, so fish wasn't an option to solved the famine.)
And then there was Local: The Lexicon of Sustainability by Douglas Gayeton. This book annoyed me so much, I wanted to throw it across the room. I received an ARC for it, and it had a different subhead. I hope that means they changed some of the problems within. I've never seen a book so sabotaged by its design. Who thought it was a good idea to write in script across or (worse) around a photo? Or write in dark green across light green? Whole sections are inaccessible to people with vision difficulties. And readers don't put down a book to scan a QR code. I battled through enough of the text to realize it was badly organized as well. The goal is laudable, but this book does it a disservice.
I am reminded of <lj user="elmyraemilie">'s link to the NPR podcast on why we buy cookbooks. Strikes me that this is a good description of why and what I get.