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Category Archives: book review

Nerve

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Dick Francis’ mysteries are all set in the world of horse racing and Nerve is no different. I read it for a mystery bookclub and was disappointed. While I liked the affable hero, Rob Finn, I expected a murder in this mystery and a faster pace.

Rob Finn’s a talented steeplechase jockey, he’s an outsider in his own family of talented musicians. Finn also gained a little of my sympathy as he’s hopelessly in love with his first cousin. Yet as much I’m a romantic and found the cousin Julia a wonderful woman, she was his first cousin. For me that’s too close to be sure of good genetics should a couple have children.

In Finn’s world several successful  jockeys have been fired, injured and in once case the victim of suicide. What’s going on? It seems coincidental until just when Finn’s career begins to take off and he’s featured on a popular racing TV program, Finn’s horses fail one after another. Soon he’s shunned and isn’t getting as many races. Finn doesn’t understand it but vows to figure out what’s really going on and to rescue his reputation.

I liked learning about the racing world and I liked the touch of romance, but Nerve lacked mystery and the writing wasn’t terrific. I found that I could skim paragraphs and not lose out much. That’s not a good sign. My favorite writers make me savor every word.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2020 in book review, mystery

 

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And All Through the Night

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Famous for hard-boiled police stories, Ed McBain delights with And all through the House. Set in his 87th Precinct with thieves and drug dealers getting hauled in on Christmas Eve, McBain creates a – dare I say charming- modern nativity story with 16 year old, Puerto Rican Maria and her young husband José getting arrested for squatting in an abandoned building.

I enjoyed the tough guy bravado and the clever mix of the nativity with the police genre. Published with illustrations that have a straightforward look, this short story was a fun, quick read.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2019 in book review, contemporary, fiction

 

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Loserthink

loserthink

Dilbert creator, Scott Adam’s latest book Loserthink: How Untrained Brains are Ruining America, points out many of the irrational ways people think and shows us out of our muddle into the light of clear thinking. After you read Loserthink, with some disciple and practice you see when you fall back into the murk of confirmation bias, mind-reading, overly emotional thinking, couch lock or arrogance. By learning to think more like a leader, entrepreneur, historian and other experts, their methods will help you examine evidence and analyze it to think more effectively.

Adams writes with wit and includes plenty of examples from his own life. He humbly admits to having made every mistake in the book.

The book’s a fast read, but one I’ll return to as I check on my progress.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2019 in book review, fiction, non-fiction

 

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a cute mystery with with a precocious 11 year old heroine, Flavia de Luce. Set in 1950’s pastoral England, Alan Bradley’s novel is as sweet as can be and at times that sweetness was too much. I listened to the audio book which featured a gifted narrator, but after about 15 minutes not wanting to develop literary diabetes I had to turn it off.

The charming, brilliant Flavia is a chemistry whiz who can’t abide her older sisters. She plans and concocts a poisonous lipstick for her sister who loves wearing make up and focuses on her looks. Flavia is smitten with the Periodic Table and is an expert in chemistry, history and all things esoteric.

When a mysterious stranger is found dead on her family’s estate, her father is arrested for murder and Flavia begins to investigate. Of course, the police get involved, but as implausible as it sounds only Flavia makes any significant discoveries. The inspector’s role in the story is just as a foil to Flavia’s clever thinking. He’s not a bumbler, but I didn’t buy that the police seemed to make no progress on he case.

Bradley stuffed more clever metaphors into a paragraph than any author I’ve ever read. Flavia’s thinking was clever, but someone ought to teacher her to tone it down. No one speaks like this. Not even the most precocious child.

While I did like the mastery in small doses, I found the ending disappointing and Flavia’s character too sweet.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2019 in book review, fiction, mystery

 

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Getting to Yes

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Getting to Yes by Robert Fisher and William Ury completely changed how I look at negotiations. Typically we think of negotiating like haggling at a flea market both sides begin with a false impossible request and they where each other down till they will reach a midpoint.

Getting to Yes opened my eyes to Principled Negotiation which separates the people from the positions and use tried-and-true principles to show the people you’re working with why you want what you want can find solutions the benefit all. So negotiation isn’t a battle of the wills, but we’ll rather a way to look at situations and base decisions on solid principles.

I got the audiobook on CD and played it in my car. I enjoy the narrators deep authoritative voice which reminded me of someone like Charlton Heston. His voice made some of that more humorous negotiation examples hilarious.

The book is methodical and would help anyone whether you’re negotiating a business contract, International peace, a salary, or a car purchase. It has help for people who have harmonious relationships or people dealing with toxic personalities. It’s a book I can see referring back to again and again. I was ready to apply these principles last week, but my supervisor forgot we were going to talk about a job offer that’s been on the table a few weeks. Maybe tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2019 in book review, fiction, non-fiction

 

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The Ukimwi Road

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Travel writer par excellence Dervla Murphy’s The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe chronicles her incredibly journey across Africa on her bicycle in 1992. During this time, AIDS was sweeping through Africa and as Murphy traveled, she learned how AIDS impacted the people of each country. Murphy talks with healthcare professionals, missionaries, corrupt border officials, health educators, prostitutes, feminists,  truck drivers, and more.

Her plan, Murphy insists, was to have a pleasant 3,000 mile ride through Africa. Instead her ride is an intense education into the AIDS epidemic in which she seeks answers to what caused Africa’s epidemic and how can it be stopped in a place where so many men won’t use condoms or stick with one partner. One of Murphy’s strengths is that she judges herself as much as anyone else. She seeks to understand the people of Africa and critiques the role of foreigners who’ve colonized and now offer aid in forms that usually fail.

Murphy’s witty and perspicacious. She’s a keen observer and thorough researcher, who made me feel like I was right there with her listening to stories around a common dinner table as she also made me grateful that bedbugs or dirt roads on a rainy day were affecting me.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2019 in book review, fiction, Travel Writing

 

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The Guest Book

Susan Blake took 10 years to write her novel The Guest Book.

Yikes!

Although the cover of my advanced copy claimed this as the “New Great American Novel” I found the structure of the novel confusing, the characters stereotypes and the plot contrived. I would have abandoned it except I was reading it for a new book club that I’m facilitating.

The story was about a rich WASP family (the term WASP is used in the book itself) that suffers some tragedy early on and then refuse to take in a Jewish boy from Germany during WWII. The patriarch of the three generations shown is in finance and his company invests in a company in Nazi Germany throughout the war.

The family owns an island and big summer home there. The idyllic summer home is an idol. The book shines light on the guilt and bigotry of the family. The chapters jump from era to era and managed to both bore and confuse me.

All the characters seemed similar. One granddaughter had epilepsy and that was the mark for her character. Most characters blended into each other.

I wish I didn’t have to read this whole book, but feel as a book club facilitator I should. The guest book in question isn’t mentioned till the last 85% of the book.

I hope the next book is better.

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2019 in book review, fiction

 

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Leave it to Psmith

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I just finished another hilarious audio book narrated by Jonathon Cecil. Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith is a complicated frolic involving Freddie, a rich foolish young man, who tries to get his uncle out of a fix and to get a hefty sum so he can get enough money to buy into a booking scheme. If he only could become a bookie, he can marry his dream girl. All he needs is 1000 pounds. His uncle would help but his parsimonious aunt keeps a careful eye on all the family finances.

Eureka!

Freddie will get someone to steal his aunt’s insured necklace, hand it off to the uncle who’ll in turn submit a claim for the necklace, sell off the real one and give some money to Freddie, some to his needy niece and have some freedom for himself.

Who will take on this ridiculous endeavor?

Enter Psmith. A gentleman who’s fled a dull job for his uncle and has advertised to take on any work. Soon Psmith is posing as an erudite poet and entering the uncle’s country home to figure out how to get the necklace.

The story is great fun and wonderfully read by Cecil.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2019 in book review, British Lit, British literature, fiction, humor

 

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E.B. White: Some Writer!

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E.B. White: Some Writer! is some biography. A book for children, say grades 4 and up, is well researched and well written. Barbara Gherman’s biography is based on White’s letters and papers as well as on interviews with his relatives.

The biography begins with an overview and then proceeds to describe E.B. White’s life from grade school onward. The tone is delightful and readers get a sense of White’s shyness, his sense of adventure (within the US – traveling abroad was too much for him), his family life, love of nature and writing career. White, whose friends called him Andy,

The book contains many photos of White, his parents and family, which helps readers get to know White in yet another way.

As Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and his essay’s are among my favorite writings, I enjoyed learning more about the man. He’s as sincere and caring. He deeply cared about his friends, family and quality writing. The book was a fun, insightful read, which I highly recommend.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2019 in book review, Children's Lit, contemporary, non-fiction

 

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Partisan Journalism

partisan journalism
In his well researched book Partisan Journalism: A History of Media Bias in the United States, Jim Kuypers traces the history of American journalism back to America’s founding and shows the history of journalism’s connection to party politics. Each era differs, of course. The changes in media from newspapers to radio and television and now the Internet make a marked difference in journalism. After all, few disagree with McLuhan who told us “The media is the message.”

This is clearly shown in the impact of the decrease in newspaper subscribers, who’d at least glance through most sections of the paper, and Internet readers, who hop by clicking from one link to the next, perhaps never seeing stories unrelated to their core interests.

I know from my research into the 19th century that newspapers were clearly affiliated with political parties. It was customary for each paper to annually declare which party they were aligned with. Now that practice is no more, but it’s not hard to determine that PBS*, MSNBC, CBS, CNN, etc. lean towards the Dems and Fox News leans towards the GOP. Kuypers does spend a good chapter on surveys of journalists, which confirm what I’d heard about a slant in journalists vis-a-vis in membership in and donations to the Democrats. (Roughly over 85% of journalists identify themselves as Democrats. Even a majority of Fox News employees donated to Democrats in 2012.) There’s a lot of solid data, along with the sources so you can double check it all.

Rather than rehash every section let me share an excellent summary and review:

[F]ocusing on the warring notions of objectivity and partisanship [ . . . ] Kuypers shows how the American journalistic tradition grew from partisan roots and, with only a brief period of objectivity in between, has returned to those roots today. The book begins with an overview of newspapers during Colonial times, explaining how those papers openly operated in an expressly partisan way; he then moves through the Jacksonian era’s expansion of both the press and its partisan nature. After detailing the role of the press during the War Between the States, Kuypers demonstrates that it was the telegraph, not professional sentiment, that kicked off the movement toward objective news reporting. The conflict between partisanship and professionalization/objectivity continued through the muckraking years and through World War II, with newspapers in the 1950s often being objective in their reporting even as their editorials leaned to the right. This changed rapidly in the 1960s when newspaper editorials shifted from right to left, and progressive advocacy began to slowly erode objective content. Kuypers follows this trend through the early 1980s, and then turns his attention to demonstrating how new communication technologies have changed the very nature of news writing and delivery. In the final chapters covering the Bush and Obama presidencies, he traces the growth of the progressive and partisan nature of the mainstream news, while at the same time explores the rapid rise of alternative news sources, some partisan, some objective, that are challenging the dominance of the mainstream press. This book steps beyond a simple charge-counter-charge of political bias
For more, click here.

The best part of the book was how it shows readers how to look out for framing, selection and emphasis and the sort of questions to see how television journalists shape the news to fit their agenda.

I recommend people read Partisan Journalism and take the time to fact check as you go.

*My near daily source.
My other regular source since I believe in learning from all sides.

 

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2019 in book review, fiction, non-fiction

 

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