Category Archives: Review

Review: The Truth

The Truth
The Truth
by Terry Pratchett

Title: The Truth
Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2000
ISBN-13:  9780380818198
Publisher: Harper Torch

William deWorde has a newsletter he sends to rich people who pay him to write about the gossip in Ankh-Morpork. The dwarves move in with a mechanical printer and make a deal with deWorde to publish more frequently. Soon, Ankh-Morpork has two papers, one which publishes the truth as deWorde has been able to ferret out, and the truth people want to believe. DeWorde gets wind of a story which is politically dangerous, and find himself in danger.

It may be heresy to say, but I think Pratchett is funnier than Douglas Adams. And Pratchett’s silliness in my kind of silliness.  And while they’re silly,  Pratchett’s books are also social commentary. The Truth is about facts, truth, justice and what people want to believe is true. It also features mayhem, but then all of Terry Pratchett’s books feature mayhem of one sort or another.

Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick

Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Published: 1962
ISBN-10: 0141186674
Publisher: Penguin Books

To my wife Anne, without whose silence this book would never have been written.
Dedication

Japan and Germany have won World War II and have taken over the world.  Hitler is dying from syphilitic incapacitation in an insane asylum, while his henchmen maneuver for power.

The US, as we know it, has been divided into three regions:  the Eastern US controlled by the Nazis, Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (the Pacific states) controlled by Japan, and a buffer zone  called the Rocky Mountain States.

This should have been a gripping story, given the premise. But overall, I found the characters bland, and the dependence upon the I Ching an overused plot device.

Review: How We Got to Now

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson
How We Got to Now
by Steven Johnson

Title:  How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
Author: Steven Johnson
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9781594633935
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Twitter:  @StevenBJohnson

Steven Johnson picked six topics we take for granted in our modern-day lives and explores how these topics became so important.  For instance, he tells the story of standardized time by first telling the story of sea trade and railroads and multitudinous time zones until someone had the idea of synchronizing our clocks.  Which then led to even greater discoveries and implementations.

I’m a big James Burke fan.  My favorite episode of Connections was the one in which he explained how Jacquard weaving patterns led to Hollerith computer cards which led to modern computer programming.  I’m also a history nerd and love multi-disciplinary works like Johnson’s.

The topics are relevant and interesting.  Johnson’s writing style makes some the complexities easy to understand, and offers up intriguing anecdotes about how things like Clean came to be such a big deal.

One of the best things in this book is Johnson’s reminders that innovations don’t happen on their own.  Creativity builds on the work of others, often over many years of trial and error

The Six Topics are:
1. Glass
2. Cold
3. Sound
4. Clean
5. Time
6. Light

Review: Baby You’re a Rich Man

Baby You're a Rich Man by Stan Soocher
Baby You’re a Rich Man
by Stan Soocher

Title: Baby You’re a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun and Profit
Author: Stan Soocher
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61168-380-5
Publisher: ForeEdge

This was a LibraryThing Advance Reading Copy, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

I was looking forward to learning more about behind the scenes Beatles.  Reading about the lawsuits against them, and the people who got rich from these suits seemed a fascinating way to go.  Not so much.

Stan Soocher’s deeply researched book does tell every single detail (or so it seems) of the convoluted legal world of The Beatles from their first manager, Brian Epstein, to their last, Allen Klein.  But after a while, it reads like a laundry list of industry moguls suing each other and The Beatles in a frenzy of mean-spirited greediness.  Some of the lawsuits seem to be filed out of spite.  Those are just the outsiders.  The suits between the members of the group are a reflection of their evolution from  young Liverpool lads to mature artists realizing that many of the events happening to them are neither what they expected, nor what they wanted as artists.

The most interesting part was the intertwined lawsuits against John Lennon and Yoko Ono.  Not only was J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to have Lennon expelled from the US for his vocal political views against the Viet Nam war, but Yoko’s ex-husband was playing games with custody of her daughter with him.  Lennon and Ono were caught in a Catch-22 of suits which hampered their ability to resolve anything.

The odious Allen Klein looms large for much of the book, finding new and distasteful ways to put more of The Beatles’ money into his own pocket.  It was almost a never-ending litany of fleecing his clients by law suit.

Soocher’s detailed writing tends to be dry.  Not quite completely boring, but not quite enthralling either.

 

Review: Sand

Sand by Hugh Howey

Title:   Sand
Author:  Hugh Howey
Twitter: HughHowey
Published: 2014
ISBN-13: : 978-1328767547
Publisher:  Mariner Books
Publisher’s Blurb:
The old world is buried. A new one has been forged atop the shifting dunes. Here in this land of howling wind and infernal sand, four siblings find themselves scattered and lost. Their father was a sand diver, one of the elite few who could travel deep beneath the desert floor and bring up the relics and scraps that keep their people alive. But their father is gone. And the world he left behind might be next.

“It was strange how tense one could become while surrounded by the banal.  It was the waiting, waiting.”  (p. 78)

Hugh Howey shot to the top of my favorite authors’ list with his Wool trilogy.  His dystopian world-building is solid, as are his characters and their relationships to each other, and their harsh living conditions.

In Sand, Colorado has been covered by … sand.  Familiar city names have become bastardized versions of themselves.  The biggest lost city was once Denver but is now Danver.  Danver is El Dorado.  Everyone’s heard the myth that lost treasure can be found in Danver; enough wealth to make life worthwhile, if not pleasant.  Pirates and sand divers from all over have searched for Danver to no avail.  Until one day …

The main protagonist, Palmer, is a highly skilled sand diver.  Able to go deeper than most others, his talents are well known.  He and a friend are hired by a group of brigands to dive and bring back proof that this location is the mythical Danver.

It is indeed.  And then everything goes wrong.  Because, the brigands don’t want the buried treasure, they want something more valuable and dangerous.  Power.

And thus we have another dystopian political thriller.  A good one, albeit a little light on the details of how Colorado became the sand covered danger that it has become.

Sand’s main protagonist is brother to three siblings, abandoned by their father who left for another not-so-mythical destination, No Man’s Land.  It’s supposed to be a better place where the rebels are gathering to join forces and devise a way to take Colorado back from the greedy forces in power.

And while that’s a common theme in political thrillers, Howey manages to give it a twist, and make it much more interesting.  I like his world-building a lot, and the quirks he gives his characters are really entertaining.

Sand is about more than survival, though.  It’s about community, family, and trust.  It’s about figuring out who we are and what matters.  And that’s what resonated for me.

Review: Artemis

Artemis
by
Andy Weir

Title:  Artemis
Author:  Andy Weir
Twitter:  AndyWeirAuthor
Published: 2017
ISBN-13: 9780553448122
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Publisher’s Blurb:
Jasmine Bashara never signed up to be a hero. She just wanted to get rich. 

“And like all good plans, it required a crazy Ukrainian guy.”  (p. 55)

This was a fun ride!  Jazz is a smuggler, moving illicit things around her home town of Artemis, a lunar based town of 2,000. It kinda pays the bills, if your idea of home is a coffin sized bunk and food is flavored algae. 

Like all good smugglers, Jazz dreams bigger.  Just one big job away from paying her debt and moving into a better compartment with better food.  But, she gets more than she bargained for when she agrees to do a little sabotage for a very wealthy patron.

At its heart, this is a caper novel.  Jazz has to enlist the help of her ex-boyfriend’s current partner, the crazy Ukrainian guy, and her devout father whose trade is welding at which, of course, Jazz has turned up her nose.

Aretmis is not The Martian.  Those expecting that have been disappointed.  And that’s unfair to Andy Weir.  I really like that he wrote a strong, female protagonist who lives off her wits and solves the puzzle of which political faction wants to destroy her home town, all the while saving it.

Jazz is quirky.  Her relationship with her devout Muslim father is strained, he heartily disapproves of the way she chooses to live.  The crazy Ukrainian guy is an inventor and has a predictable role to play in Jazz’s life.

The math and science aren’t as strong in Artemis, even still I got lost in the explanations why things worked the way they did in gravity 1/6th of Earth’s.  The story itself was fairly predictable.  And yet, I still enjoyed the twists and turns and Jazz’s predictable snarky bravado.

I wanted to go to space so much, still do, as a tourist.  Space programs fascinate me and getting to be a counselor at Space Camp in Mountain View was nearly heaven for me.  Andy Weir’s homage to the Apollo program put a big goofy smile on my face.

There’s a saying, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and I found myself wishing there had been more protagonists like Jazz to read when I was a much, much younger bookworm.  Not being able to go to space because I was a female had become so normalized for me that it took Jazz to realize it didn’t have to be.

My prayer for girls and young women is that they find female characters who show them they can be what they want.  As uneven and predictable as Artemis can be, it’s worth reading just for character development of a smart young woman named Jazz.

Review: Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law
by
Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones

Title: Moore’s Law
Author: Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780465055647
Publisher: Basic Books
Publisher’s Blurb[The silicon transistors’] incredible proliferation has altered the course of human history as dramatically as any political or social revolution. At the heart of it all has been one quiet Californian: Gordon Moore.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

“Gordon was the opposite of a gregarious, people-pleasing middle-child:  instead, he was a boy with exceptional concentration and focus, oriented not toward words and emotional engagement, but toward practical results – with or without companions.”  (p. 44)

Full disclosure:  I usually make it a policy not to review books of people I know.  David Brock is a co-worker, and friend, which should instantly be grounds from even considering writing a review.  However, Gordon Moore has had such a tremendous impact on the computer industry, it seems unfair not to. His contributions need to be known, and Moore’s Law does a very good job of making them known, and understandable.

Further, I have been dilly-dallying over this review because Moore’s Law covers so much interesting history I’m not sure I can do right by it.

Not only is it the history of Moore, whose family arrived in California in 1847.  It’s also the history of computing, computers, and Silicon Valley.

Every decision in Gordon Moore’s life was based on the words “measure, analyze, decide.”  He kept notebooks detailing nearly everything; finances, business models, chemical analysis, semiconductor design, everything.   In this measurement and analysis, he figured out what came to be known as “Moore’s Law,” making computers faster and more powerful.  It’s led to things like the computer in our pockets we call smart phones.

That’s just part of a fascinating life inextricably connected to what’s become Silicon Valley.  There’s so much more in Moore’s Law about the lives of those pioneers and revolutionaries whose passion for chemistry, engineering, and physics brought about the devices which connect the universe in creative ways Galileo could only dream of.  Gordon Moore led the charge, quietly.  Not because he wanted to change the world, but because he was fascinated and saw ways to make money off the now ubiquitous micro-chip.

Thackray, Brock and Jones make the story of this complex man highly readable.  For those curious about the roots of modern computing, its effect on our lives, and the biography of the quiet revolutionary who led computers to this point, readers should read Moore’s Law and add it to their library.

Review: Beloved

Beloved
by
Toni Morrison

Title: Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
Published: 1987
ISBN-13: 9780375402739
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf
Publisher’s Blurb: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

It’s often difficult to tell the difference between an over-hyped book and one deserving of my attention.  Thus it was between Beloved and I.  Until an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad made me think I “should” read it.  The tipping point came over lunch with a friend who was absolutely shocked I hadn’t.  All righty then.

The opening line, “124 was spiteful,” sets the stage.  Who or what is 124 and why is s/he/it/they spiteful?  That sentence leads into the deeply moving, dark tale of not so distant slavery and being black in America.  Which story resonates today as we struggle with racism in modern times.

124 is haunted by the spirit of Sethe’s daughter who, we learn as the story moves on, was killed as an infant as protection by her mother from the slave runners.  This “ghost” symbolizes all the pain, anger, and suffering slaves endured at the hands of white owners.

But then, Beloved appears seemingly out of nowhere and is suspected to be the corporeal manifestation of Sethe’s daughter.  The chaos still exists, now represented by the physical embodiment of pain, anger, and suffering.

124’s inhabitants are the epitome of chaos as buried memories come to the surface.  How can anyone go on after suffering the horrific indignities of being a slave?  How can life go on?  How can anything approach something approximating “normal?”

Beloved explores these questions.  And faces harsh realities.  Being black in America will never afford the right of equality and the privilege of agency.  Never.

My favorite quote is from a scene that Paul D describes while a slave at Sweet Home.  He describes to Sethe what it was like to have his eyes opened by Schoolteacher, who taught everyone on the plantation until Mister broke up the lessons.  Mister gets to be Mister no matter what, because he’s white.  “Schoolteacher changed me.  I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.”  Paul D realizes now his value was less than the chicken who was about to become dinner.  Schoolteacher exposed him to that understanding, which both binds Paul D tighter and frees him.

Cleveland in 1863 just as well be Ferguson 2014 or Philadelphia 2018.  Anyone who thinks this is not the way of the world hasn’t been paying attention.

Beloved is complex.  And I join the chorus which insists this is a book which should be read by everyone.  Repeatedly.

See my list of books which help me understand being black in America.

Review: The Methods of Breaking Bad

The Methods of Breaking Bad
edited by
Jacob Blevins and Dafydd Wood

Title: The Methods of Breaking Bad
Author: edited by Jacob Blevins and Dafydd Wood
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780786495788
Publisher: McFarland Books
Publisher’s Blurb:  Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad is a central work in the recent renaissance in television-making.  … This collection of new essays focuses on a variety of themes.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

As a writer, I found Breaking Bad a ripping good story.  Which, in my vernacular means asking, “What happens next?”  And that was my reaction to Breaking Bad a lot.  Digging into the themes and subtext has helped deepen my understanding of writing as a craft, and of Vince Gilligan’s brilliance as a story-teller.  Not to mention Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of the fascinatingly unlikable Walter White.

Breaking Bad is a work that facilitates, perhaps even makes possible, a dialogue about aesthetic, philosophical, psychological, and ethical elements in our culture in a way we have yet to see in television.  (p. 7)

The essays written by academics in The Methods of Breaking Bad focus on the ways in which the story is told.  I found it invigorating, inspiring and, more than a little intimidating.  At best, I am casual viewer, reviewer and writer.  One can only go so far on one’s own.

Miguel E. H. Santos-Neves’ essay, “Our ‘word … is half someone else’s’:  Walt and the Literary Echoes of Whitman” focuses on the purpose of Walt Whitman’s “Learn’d Astronomer” in Breaking Bad.  In larger context, Santos-Neves makes the point that unlike the insular community of a story like The Sopranos, the literary allusions in Walter White’s world point to something less constrained,  the entire world.  Bonus points for making me finally read Whitman.

Not many of the characters in Breaking Bad were likeable.  Most were downright loathsome, yet viewers returned episode after episode, hanging on every twist and turn.  Aside from Jesse Pinkman (Walter’s sidekick), and Mike (played so well by the always excellent Jonathan Banks) who had his own sense of honor, there was no one I liked.

Giving Skyler White short shrift was quite in vogue at the time.   After reading Rebecca Price Wood’s “Breaking Bad Stereotypes about Postpartum:  A Case for Skyler White,” I reconsidered.  Price Wood’s thesis that Skyler’s behavior was exacerbated by being pregnant for most of the series, and giving birth to beautiful Holly resonated.  Surviving in Walt’s world would be harrowing for any woman.  Trying to maintain sanity while pregnant and being mother to Flynn, who has cerebral palsy, would be damned near impossible.  And that’s where Skyler finds herself.  I still don’t like Skyler, but I do have more sympathy for her based on Price Wood’s essay.

The most fascinating essay for me was Neil Connelly’s “What Writers Can Learn From Breaking Bad:  The Risks and Rewards of Deliberate Disorientation.”  His comparison of Gilligan’s story telling style to that used by Toni Morrison in Beloved is what drove me to read it finally.

Above all else perhaps, the reader must trust the writer, must feel like an intentional master plan is being unveiled, must sense that her efforts are being rewarded with additional knowledge and understanding.  (p. 49)

That was one of my aha! moments.  As was the ensuing discussion of how disorientation is used to great effect.  Gilligan’s skill forces us to trust he’s leading somewhere, and that we will understand when we get there.  From the iconic opening scene of the RV roaring down the dirt road and a pair of khakis flying out the window to Walter’s death at his own hands, the viewer wonders “What is going on?” Followed at some later point by, “Oh!  That’s what was going on!”

Reading Connelly’s essay helped me understand that disorientation was one of the most appealing things about Breaking Bad‘s story.  Gilligan made me pay attention, and since the payoffs came frequently enough to help me understand the story at a deeper level, I came to trust the story was leading me somewhere interesting.

Overall, The Methods of Breaking Bad, led me to enjoy the show on a deeper level.  As a creative person, the collection of essays gave me much to ponder about craft and style.  Not a bad use of time, if you ask me.

Review: A Well Behaved Woman

A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

Title:  A Well-Behaved Woman
Author:  Therese Anne Fowler
Twitter:  ThereseFowler
Published:  2018
ISBN-13:  978-1250095473
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publisher’s Blurb:   The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family in as they rule Gilded-Age New York, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

Nancy Pearl has a the rule of 50.  I have the rule of 100.  Especially when a publisher is gracious enough to give me a free copy to read.  I just couldn’t make it past 115.

Any sympathy I might have had for Alva Vanderbilt, and the plight of women in the Gilded age just went out the window.  We are supposed to sympathize with this girl from the South whose family has fallen onto hard times so she marries into the Vanderbilts.

I tried, really I did.  As a historian, I know it’s unfair to impose contemporary standards onto ages long gone.  And i do sympathize that for women there was so little agency that marrying into a wealthy family, and gaining social status, was of the difference between a death from poverty, or living.

But honestly, Alva was so dull.  And everyone in society so mean and cruel.  And William was just one-dimensional.  And the descriptions of the unseemly wealth and how it was spent ….

I am sorry Therese Anne Fowler, St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley that I can’t give a better review of this book.  Thank you so much for providing me with the opportunity to try.