vamysteryfan: (books)
Tough choices, keeping it down to just 10. But these are worth the reading.

 The Peripheral by William Gibson
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Very Best of Charles deLint by Charles deLint
Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottolini
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman
Forensics by Val McDermid
Future Crimes by Marc Goodman
The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner
Sapiens by Yuval Harari
vamysteryfan: (books)
To-Read Shelf
Coming of Age at the End of Days by Alicia LaPlante
Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman (About Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg)
Currently Reading
Zoo by James Patterson (there's a CBS miniseries on now)
The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman (nonfiction; it seemed to fit well with Zoo)
Finished This Week
It's been a beach-read kind of week. Nothing heavy.
The Black Box by Michael Connelly. A solid police procedural, with roots in the 1992 LA riots and a modern-day resolution
Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb. We know who the bad guys are almost from the beginning. The book is about investigating and pinning down the evidence in a futuristic setting.
Lingo: Around Europe in 60 Languages by Gaston Dorren. If you are interested in words' births, evolutions, and in some cases, deaths, this book is for you. 
vamysteryfan: (books)
 If I know a book is part of a series, I usually try to start reading close to the beginning of the series. I broke that rule for these, with varying results.
The Mask by Taylor Stevens. I received an ARC for this book before finding out it was third or fourth in a series. The beginning made it seem like the worst Mary Sue ever. Magical talent to acquire languages, amazing fighting skills, tragic back story, plus a healthy dose of Had She But Known. Once I got past the first 50 pages, it was actually very readable. Without being spoilery, the perpetrator was hiding in plain sight. The culture clash is an important part of the book. I might go back and read the first one, which won several awards
Terminal by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs. It's the eighth in a series. If I'd known it was a YA, I might not have picked it up, but Kathy Reichs is a powerful draw. I can't recommend it, even to its target audience. Teenagers in Charleston with superhuman powers from a biochemical agent battle other superhumans and a shadowy government agency. I couldn't buy that even teenagers would make the same mistakes several times in a row. I didn't find the characters sympathetic.
Death Ex Machina by Gary Corby. This one, I will definitely look for the earlier books. It's set in ancient Greece, around the time of Pericles. Aeschylus and Euripides are minor characters. The story revolves around a death in a theatre during revels dedicated to Dionysus. The main character is Socrates' older brother. The mystery is interesting. The historical research is well done, without being an info-dump. I liked the writing style as well.
Masque of a Murderer by Sasanna Calkins. This is the third book in the series and I haven't read the other two. The setting is interesting - London, just after the Great Fire. The historical research is nicely done and the writing style is smooth. I'm not sure a girl would have had that much freedom, but I could suspend disbelief. I might look for the other two.

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).
vamysteryfan: (books)
I'm backed up on my reading list and I haven't posted here in a while. I need to catch up.

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.
You're Not Lost If You Can Still See the Truck by Bill Heavey. This is a collection of essays by a Field & Stream writer. I'm not at all into hunting or fishing but he makes it sound interesting. He has a lot of adventures and misadventures. There are a couple of essays about his family, including a very moving one about losing a daughter to SIDS.
A is for Arsenic: the poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup. During the two world wars, Agathie Christie was a pharmacist. Her knowledge is reflected in her use of poison in her novels. From arsenic to veronal, the author follows a pattern for each poison. She picks a book that features a poison, talks about a real-life case that Christie might have heard about, gives the history and current science, and then talks some more about the book. My eyes did slide a little past the technical bits, but it was very interesting. For Christie fans, it's a must.
vamysteryfan: (Default)
 Spread the Word by William Safire. This is the 500th book I’ve added since I started using Goodreads to track them in October 2012. It’s a collection of his columns “On Language” in the New York Times from the late 90s. While some of the examples are dated, it’s still a fascinating read. He had a gift for playing with language. I love when there are words about words. Take Paradiorthosis, a correction that is itself incorrect. Next time a guy tries to mansplain to me, I’ll throw that at him. Or Kakistocracy, government by the worst people. I think that should be illustrated with a picture of the current Congress. Or Linguaclips, the technique of abbreviation, clipping long words into short ones, and clipping those into initials and acronyms. I could go on. A great book for people who enjoy reading.

Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman. This is a well-written, well-researched book that will open your eyes. After the first few chapters, I disabled Location on my apps and Facebook and started turning off my cellphone when it wasn’t in use. The amount of data we willingly share on line is staggering, but you might not know what happens to it next. When you sign up for an online dating service, for example, that data is sold, often in realtime. We are commodities, bought and sold to advertisers. Then there’s what hackers and organized crime does with the information. Hackers can access your computer cam and sell photos of you online. With the Internet of Things (communicating devices) gaining speed more and more of our world is subject to intrusion. His final chapters detail some solutions that governments can take, that corporations and coders can take, and that we as individuals can take. Mr. Goodman did an amazing job making this technical subject accessible to regular readers.

Clam Wake by Mary Daheim. I’m generally a fan of Mary Daheim’s cozies. I’ve read all the Alpine mysteries and most of the Bed & Breakfast series. This was a weaker entry. Renie and Auntie Vance in particular were grating. The way she harped on all the drinking was weird. The mystery was fun, though slight, and the location descriptions were excellent.

vamysteryfan: (books)
I pick up cookbooks for many reasons. Some I keep as references, some I use the recipes. Sometimes I get them just to give away. These recent acquisitions illustrate my different categories.
It Ain't Sauce, It's Gravy: Macaroni, Homestyle Cheesesteaks, the Best Meatballs in the World, and How Food Saved My Life by Steve Martorano. One of the cookbooks I got for the stories. I loved the author's stories about growing up in South Philly with a ::cough:: colorful group of relatives and friends. They look like wonderful Italian food recipes. I'm looking forward to trying them. 
The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table by Jeff Morgan. This is an excellent cookbook for any cook. I'm not Jewish, but I liked it. The first 40-some pages are a brisk discussion of the requirements of kosher cooking and a kosher kitchen, a listing of the various types of wine and how to pair them with food, and some history. I found that part interesting. Then on to the recipes. They are all quite doable. Many of them would fit well if you follow a Mediterranean diet. I loved the details of wine pairings for each dish.
Home: Recipes to Cook with Family and Friends by Bryan Voltaggio. I was fortunate enough to receive an early copy of this book. This cookbook falls into my subcategory of food porn. There are gorgeous photos accompanying each recipe that will make your mouth water. It is more for the advanced home chef, rather than a novice. Fortunately, I live close enough to Frederick that I can eat his food at his restaurant. This will be a cookbook I will leaf through for inspiration.
Quick Check Guide to Organic Foods: Discover the Benefits of Going Organic for Your Health, the Community, and the Environment by Barbara Wexler. The first 50 pages cover the basics: why choose organic, what organic means, resources, and separating out the hype. The real value of this book lies in its detailed comparisons of foods readily available in most supermarkets. It has calorie counts and extensive nutrition information. If you focus on organic eating, this is a reference book you will want to have.
vamysteryfan: (books)
 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s fairly audacious for an author to even try to unify 70,000 years of human history. Yuval Harari does it in this beautifully written, challenging, fascinating book. He puts his arguments together and then takes just that one step farther that makes you reevaluate conventional wisdom. He starts with the premise that human civilization is based on the ability to believe in imaginary things and to agree on them as a group. The groups got larger through history and we unified our imaginary agreements into larger and larger systems, such as money and religion. He and his translators did a wonderful job keeping the reader interested through some difficult chapters.

Thirty Tomorrows: The Next Three Decades of Globalization, Demographics, and How We Will Live by Milton Ezrati. I’m not a fan of the book. I thought the title was deceptive. Most of the book looked backward at history, rather than looking forward. While it was extensively researched, few of the examples were after 2010. Technological and political developments over the past five years have made some of his theories obsolete. Some of the chapters were contradictory. No matter how much the US “jawbones” other countries, it can’t change their monetary policies. He underestimates the impact of job losses and changing demographics

The Guardian of All Things: The Epic Story of Human Memory by Michael S. Malone. A poor choice of title and an ultimately flawed book. It’s not about human memory, it’s about the devices we’ve created to store information for us. I wanted to title it “From Stones to Skins to Silicon: the epic story of our mnemonic devices.” As a reporter in Silicon Valley, he had a great seat for the development of computers. He’s excellent on those chapters. He’s a little shaky on early history.

vamysteryfan: (Default)
Did you know that Madison was the last surviving member of the Constitutional Convention? These two books taught me a lot about the fourth President of the US.

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.
vamysteryfan: (Default)
 Two books are work-related, the other was fun.

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A. Moore. This is the 2014 update to the marketing classic, with new and timely examples. The author discusses and analyzes the challenges of bringing high tech products to market. He starts by clearly explaining his terms and how he sees the issues. The crux is how to make the jump from a niche to a wider market. I found the discussion extremely helpful. I think his ideas apply to intangibles as well as tangible products. It changed the way I thought about some of the Internet collapses we’ve seen over the past few years. Even if you aren’t in the field, the business insights are worth reading.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal. This was an interesting discussion of getting people to return to your product, whether it’s web content, an online game, or something tangible. He uses the model of Trigger => Action => Variable Reward => Investment to describe his ideas. The power of variable rewards comes from differences each time the user clicks. The difference can just be more or different photos (as on Pinterest). Investment can be time, not just money. He also offers exercises to apply his process to the reader’s project.

In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roe. I was fortunate to receive an ARC for this book. In 1900 a teenaged Pablo Picasso arrived in Paris. Already there or soon to arrive were Derain, Vlaminck, Rousseau, Leo and Gertrude Stein, Paul Poiret, Diaghilev and of course Henri Matisse. The first decade of the 20th century changed the world for art, cinema, dance and fashion. The author keeps the focus tightly on culture – there isn’t much mention of political or scientific events. I learned a great deal about this remarkable decade and the development of Fauvism, Cubism and Modernism. She makes a persuasive argument that the development of cinema had an important effect on artists of the period. It is well written and interesting.

vamysteryfan: (Default)
This week's nonfiction book is What We Talk About When We are Over 60 edited by Sherri Daley and Linda Hughes. It's a collection of essays written by women. Some talk about the past, some the future. Some are depressing, some are inspiring. In other words, it's life. tI gave me a sense that it's never too late to try something new.

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.
Aunt Dimity and the Summer King by Nancy Atherton. I received an ARC of this book and thought I'd give the series another try. I think I should just accept the series isn't my cup of tea. The heroine is ditzy, the conceit of talking to a ghost through a book is repetitive, and the setting is unrealistic. There is an explanation of how Finch came to be but it didn't make a lot of sense to me.
Insatiable Appetites by Stuart Woods. This book actually takes place before Hot Pursuit. It opens with Kate Lee's presidential election. This is a better-than-usual entry in the series. It brings back a character that's been offstage for quite a while and ties up that loose end. Stone is more of a lawyer in this one. It's a nice quick read, perfect for airplanes.
Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline.  
<lj-cut text="** spoiler alert **">I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC for this book. This was an excellent read. An eminent psychiatrist is going through a messy divorce but his professional life is better than ever. Suddenly, he is hit with a sexual harassment suit and he is accused of unprofessional behavior with a patient as well. He has to solve the problems before he loses everything. One in 24 people in America are sociopaths, according to the book. They can "smile, and smile, and be a villain." We don't suspect who they are because they can mask themselves so well. The doctor is stunned to learn just who has been orchestrating his problems. The surprise twist at the end really surprised me. The first hundred pages or so were riveting. It slowed down a little in the middle but built to a very satisfying conclusion. This is a standalone - it doesn't contain any of her series characters. Well worth reading.</lj-cut>
vamysteryfan: (books)
 Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr. This is a good thriller featuring my favorite Park Ranger and some resourceful women. It's rather more bloody and violent than previous Anna Pigeon books and there's less focus on the national park system.
Winter at the Door by Sarah Graves. I'm glad to see her starting a new series. Home Repair is Homicide was getting  repetitious. I love the details about rural Maine and Lizzie Snow seems like a great addition to the world of female protagonists. I enjoyed the other characters too.
The Sweet Spot by Stephanie Evanovich. I picked this up after seeing Evanovich and Stephanie in proximity on the cover. I should have paid closer attention. It's not a Stephanie Plum mystery but a mildly kinky romance novel by Janet's niece. Quick read, not terribly interesting. I've read better. (by Jane Davitt and Lyn Gala)
Hot Pursuit by by Stuart Woods. Potato chips! Seriously, these books are irresistible quick reads. Stone gets a new airplane, goes to London, helps foil a terrorist plot, and makes the social scene. I like the avionics details, he can't write sex scenes, but overall, I just enjoy reading these books. 
This week's nonfiction book is The Scarlett Letters: The Making of the Film Gone with the Wind ed. John Wiley Jr. Margaret Mitchell's letters before, during and after the making of Gone with the Wind. Some interesting insights into a very proper Southern lady. She was quite adamant about not getting involved in the making of the film. Judging by the letters she had middling success. The Hollywood publicity machine did its best to entangle her. She had quite a sense of humor. I loved the accompanying photos and illustrations. I'm generally not one for letter collections but I enjoyed the insights.
vamysteryfan: (books)

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.

vamysteryfan: (books)
Game of Mirrors by Andrea Camilleri. Inspector Montalbano is dealing with explosions near empty warehouses, an amorous neighbor, and the usual annoying reporters, in between delectable meals. I received an ARC of this book. The characters are old friends now. The series does not need to be read in order. Reading the Inspector Montalbano series often makes me hungry, with the culinary descriptions. The story is mostly carried forward by conversations. Worth reading!

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.
vamysteryfan: (jeopardy)
 Steve Jobs' Life By Design by George Beahm. This book does not contain the text of the 2005 commencement speech. The author takes that speech as a starting point and tries to illuminate various sections with additional information and anecdotes from Jobs' life. The author is clearly a fan of Jobs and wants to share that enthusiasm. Jobs is undoubtedly a visionary and a brilliant inventor. But learning details about him as a husband and father, I came away thinking less of him as a man. Perhaps it was simply the author's style, with too much of a gloss. Watch the video on YouTube and learn what the man wanted to share from his own lips. 
On Writing, Editing, and Publishing: Essays, Explicative and Hortatory by Jacques Barzun. This slim collection of essays ranges from the 1940s to the mid-80s.   His style reminded me a lot of William Buckley or William Safire. He has that same enjoyment of polysyllabic words while preaching plain language. He makes some excellent points in his essay "English as SHe Is Not Taught" on that subject. I also enjoyed his essay on the discipline needed to be a writer. 
The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. Did you know there’s a word for unnecessary words in a sentence (pleonasm)? Mark Forsyth knows the words that classify the structures of famous phrases. From alliteration to epistrophe to zeugma, he explains the figures of rhetoric that make speeches and poems memorable. His writing is fun and entertaining. Even the suggested reading list contains one of the best puns I’ve seen in a while. He capped a description of one writer by saying he “built huge rococo sentences filled with trapdoors and secret passages and little subordinate clauses.” It’s worth reading even if you are not a writer for his sheer enjoyment of words.
Every Idea Is a Good Idea: A Musician's Guide to Unlocking Your Creativity by Tom Sturges.  The more you understand how others create, the better equipped you are to start your own creative process. That's the basic premise of this book. The title is misleading. I found it a somewhat frustrating read, although it did repay some perseverance. The first four chapters were essentially name-dropping with occasional nuggets of helpful advice. I was skipping pages by the end of the fourth chapter. The fifth chapter had some solid advice. The sixth and seventh chapters discussed the collaborative process that TV writers use. I went back and looked at the opening chapters and realized his examples focused heavily on collaborations there too: Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Lennon and McCartney, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Bernstein and Sondheim. I realized the examples he presented had more to do with collaboration than unlocking individual creativity.
vamysteryfan: (books)
 I haven't been reading as much as usual because I'm doing NaNoWriMo (and I've been writing there instead of here). 
Atonement of Blood by Peter Tremayne. Fidelma must discover the reasons for a murderous attack on her brother. This is the 24th book in the series, which surprised me. I missed a number of them. Fortunately, these books don't require much knowledge of the series. This is a good historical mystery. Fidelma has given up her life as a religious to concentrate on her career in the law. The mystery is satisfying as a standalone. It is convoluted and there are detours along the way but the author provides all the clues. I enjoy the details of life in Ireland in the seventh century. The one thing that drives me crazy is the author's insistence on reciting Fidelma's credentials several times in each book I've read. At this point, once is enough.
The Orpheus Descent by Tom Harper. Two separate but intertwined stories - the philosopher Plato in 389 BC is searching for a lost friend and modern-day Jonah, a rock guitarist, is searching for his wife Lisa, who may have been kidnapped or may have run away. The first two-thirds of it were excellent; the last third dragged. The analogy to Orpheus and Eurydice got a little labored. The sections with Plato had some interesting comments about philosophy. Favorite comment: "Democracy is a charmingly chaotic form of government. It treats all men equally, whether they deserve it or not." Also "You can step in the same river twice - if the river is defined mathematically." Jonah seemed to do a lot of pointless running around and the end of their story was rushed.
Goldberg Variations by Susan Isaacs. Gloria Garrison hasn't cared about her family in decades but must now choose one of her grandchildren to inherit the multimillion-dollar business she created. I generally enjoy Susan Isaacs' books but this one was not a favorite. First, constantly shifting viewpoints are a pet peeve in any book. Shifting among four people made it hard to get involved. Second, the main character was was unlikeable and her redemption at the end wasn't particularly believable to me. Third, the little epiphanies the characters had were a little too pat. I did enjoy the discussion of Teshuvah - quite different from Catholic confession.
vamysteryfan: (books)

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.

vamysteryfan: (books)
This week’s books traveled the globe, then came home and got cozy.

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.
vamysteryfan: (books)
In Search of the Perfect Loaf by Samuel Fromartz. Breadmaking requires all the senses: the way the dough feels in your hands while kneading, the way it looks when it's ready, the way bread smells when it's done, even the hollow sound a well-baked loaf makes. The book could have used scratch and sniff paper for the smell of bread. It does have some recipes but that's not the point, as even the author acknowledges. The point of baking is hands-on practice. Along the way, he discusses biodiversity, cultural differences, journeys around several countries, and more. I even liked the technical details about fermentation and yeast. He did explode one of my cherished myths about the air in San Francisco being special to sourdough bread. Even if you aren't a baker (I'm not), I think you'll find this an enjoyable read.

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.
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I have one set in ancient Rome, one (partly) in Victorian London, and one in modern Memphis.

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.
The Sherlock Holmes FAQ by Dave Thompson. This is a terrific 21st century take on Sherlock Homes. It comes complete with synopses for all the stories and some of the movies and television shows. He writes about Arthur Conan Doyle's life, career, and interests. He also sets the stage with details about the London fog, Scotland Yard, and even the Underground. His comments on Doctor Who and Benedict Cumberbatch add fun to his lively writing style and it's well-researched.

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. 
vamysteryfan: (books)
There are cookbooks I get because I need the recipes (Weight Watchers Cook It Fast). Others are essentially food porn, like Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian, with beautiful pictures and mouthwatering descriptions of dishes I'll never cook. Then there are the ones I call food memoirs - partly recipes, partly stories and descriptions of the lives behind the food. Here are three worth reading.

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.


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