Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Risk Intelligence

Risk Intelligence: How to Live With Uncertainty by Dylan Evans, 276 pages

How do you make decisions? Do you carefully weigh all the factors, creating pro/con lists and weighing the risks inherent in choosing the wrong thing? Do you just wing it? Evans argues that good risk-takers have something called high risk intelligence, meaning that they know how to estimate probabilities accurately. A lot of us, he argues, are either underconfident or overconfident in our abilities to make these estimates.

Despite the fact that this was much more of a psychology or even math book, this is the April pick for Business Reads. I chose it on the basis that there is inherent uncertainty and risk involved with owning or running a business. That's certainly true, and some people may find Evans' focus on probabilities fascinating and useful. However, as someone who has been known to say that there's a 50% chance of anything happening (either it will or it won't), I was largely frustrated by this book. (And based on what Evans was saying, I think he'd be equally frustrated with me.) I enjoyed a few of the chapters, particularly about those about the tricks of the mind and being aware of what you actually know and don't know, but I didn't care for the heavy emphasis on mathematical equations. This was similar to Think Twice, which we read in February for the Business Reads group; of the two, I prefer Think Twice.

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft, 420 pages
Cover image for The call of Cthulhu and other weird stories / H.P. Lovecraft ; edited with an introduction and notes by S.T. Joshi.
I started reading this book namely because I saw one of my coworkers reading it and was fascinated by the depiction on the cover. It is not often you see Cthulhu wearing a mustache and monocle.  I have never read anything by Lovecraft though I know who Cthulhu is, so it was with a very open mind that I started reading.
Of the eighteen stories, my least favorite was Herbert West – Reanimator and my favorites are The Hound, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Colour out of Space. I think my dislike for Reanimator stems from seeing the semi cheesy movie already and knowing what to expect. Or maybe with the movie storyline being the first I saw of it, the book made it feel more alien or something.
Most of the rest were quite good and left you with a small sense of undefinable dread. Not enough in my case to make me stop reading or to keep me up at night, but a vague feeling or thought the creeps into the mind under the right conditions.

Walking Dead Compendium 2

Walking Dead Compendium Volume 2 by Robert Kirkman, 1068 pages

Cover image for The walking dead compendium two / Robert Kirkman creator, writer ; Charlie Adlard, penciler, inker ; Cliff Rathburn, gray tones ; Rus Wooton, letterer ; Sina Grace, editor ; Charlie Adlard & Cliff Rathburn, cover.

Zombies, cannibalism, and violence. This second part of the Walking Dead series has everything you would expect from in a post-apocalyptic world were food is running out. This book also focuses on the theme of what it means to be human, and humanity as a whole. We keep seeing glimpses of society trying to reemerge in the book, only to be quashed by some type of fighting, much like Steve said, not always with zombies. It is nice that the main character deaths have subsided a bit, it was hard to remember the back story as new characters died off as often as old. It was also hard to root for or care what happens to the characters in the book, as it was likely they would be dead soon.

This might have been part of Kirkman’s plan though. This disassociation with the characters slowly hardens the reader to their eventual death, much like being there would. With death likely around every corner you don’t want to get close to anyone as losing them will make it hurt so much more. Here we don’t get close or root for the characters because we know they will likely die.

This volume seems to end on a cliff hanger moment which makes it likely there will be a volume 3 with more characters that we can impassively watch die.   

Monday, April 21, 2014

Christian Perfection

Christian Perfection by Francois de Salignac de La Mothe Fenelon, edited with an introduction by Charles F Whiston, translated by Mildred Whitney Stillman, 208 pages

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51fO5OaKdHL._SY300_.jpgFenelon was archbishop of Cambrai in France at the beginning of the eighteenth century, having previously served in the court of Louis XIV as the protege of the great orator Bossuet, the bishop of Meaux.  Bossuet and Fenelon had a falling out in later years, due in large part to the former's Gallicanism and the latter's Quietism.  Since Bossuet seems to be enjoying a minor revival of late, Fenelon might likewise be worth revisiting.

Christian Perfection is a devotional work, having been distilled primarily from letters and lectures given by Fenelon to those under his spiritual direction.  It is, perhaps, a bit too Quietist for strict orthodoxy, emphasizing the need for surrender, or even annihilation, of one's own will, but given modernity's Pelagian tendencies, this may be less a flaw than a useful over-corrective.  Certainly, it is well-written (and well-edited and well-translated), moving in places, thought-provoking in others, and never insincere.

The Guts

The Guts by Roddy Doyle
 122 pages read of 328

I will admit that I was disappointed not to finish this book since it seemed so promising but Doyle's style of writing made it impossible for me to enjoy.  The sequel to the Commitments (a great movie by the way), The Guts is a continuation of the story of Jimmy Rabbitte.  However Doyle doesn't write dialog in the usual "she said,  he said "what he said" manner.  Instead dialogue is a dashed with the reader left to figure out who is talking.  This combined with very little descriptive narrative leaves the reader frustrated and makes it impossible to enjoy the story. When you have three characters called Jimmy having a conversation,  you'll want to throw the book across the room.
This book is more a screenplay than a novel.

Without Warning

Without Warning by David Rosenfelt
 295 Pages

Rosenfelt's stand-alone novel has a small town  under threat from an unknown serial killer.  When a time capsule is dug up following a major flood, the chief of police uncovers not only a body  but a sheet of paper making future predictions of murder within the community.  Two of those murders have already happened, creating a need for speed in finding the killer before more people die.

Rosenfelt writes very capable suspense fiction, so long as you are willing to suspend disbelief at the extent people will go in order to wreak revenge. 

Wild Things

Wild Things by Chloe Neill
350 Pages

Part of the Chicagoland Series, Neil's latest entry fall flat as it continues in the formulaic tale of graduate student Merit, turned vampire and the struggles of vampire society against Chicago.  Like so many similar books in this genre, the author is unable to break out of the chosen one (Merit) plotline and each book is basically a duplicate of the previous. 

Soulless the manga

Soulless (the Manga) Volumes 1 and 2 by Gail Carriger, 470 pages

Cover image for Soulless : the manga. 2 / Gail Carriger, REM.Cover image for Soulless : the manga. Vol. 1 / Gail Carriger, Rem ; art and adaptation, Rem ; lettering, JuYoun Lee.I stumbled upon this manga series while perusing the graphic novel section at Central. Intrigued that it was not with the other manga in the teen lounge I picked it up. It further caught my attention as it was about vampire, werewolves and ghosts being part of a Victorian era London. Just from reading the small blurb on the cover I could tell there would be some type of romantic storyline as well. Having nothing to read at the time I decided to try it.

It is a Western manga, meaning that it was not written in Japan and translated like the majority of Manga. It also reads left to right like a normal book, which took some getting used to having read only Japanese manga thus far. The story itself turned out to be interesting and action packed. I particularly liked that Carriger doesn’t portray the vampires and werewolves in the stereotypic manner. Here we see exceptionally dressed werewolves and vampires that pride themselves in keeping a very positive public opinion. They don’t kill people and won’t feed on someone without permission. We also don’t see the lust to convert everyone to their side or to rule the world.

Overall I enjoyed the manga, but since it does have some adult situations I can see why it might be excluded from the teen lounge. I was also informed by Nathan that it is based off a book series by Carriger so I might read that in the future.

Battle Magic

Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce, 440 pages

8306725Rosethorn, Briar and Evvy have been traveling to other lands to see their magics and the different plants and rocks that are available. They have been visiting Gyongxe and plan to go home from there but instead, they are invited Yanjing by its emperor to see the fabulous gardens. They accept and see the gardens but after they leave they find out that the emperor is planning to attack Gyongxe. Instead of heading home, they head back to Gyongxe to warn the people about the imminent attack and then stay to help fight. The Yanjing Emperor is a cruel man and the small band of mages may have finally bitten off more than they can chew. While not actually part of a series, this book deals with character first introduced in The Circle of Magic series. Fans of fantasy should like this book and, while it stands alone, readers will probably want to follow up with the other books from this world.

One Piece Volumes 21-30

One Piece Volumes 21-30 by Eiichiro Oda, 2048 pages

In this ten volume block we see the conclusion of the Baroque Works story line along with the much expected fight between Sir Crocodile and Luffy. We also see the start of a new storyline called Skypiea. Skypiea is a mythical island in the clouds that is only rumored to exist. That of course is plenty for Luffy who makes it his goal to find it.

Throughout this group of manga I see a growing trend. Where before most, if not all of the fighting was left to Luffy, Zolo and Sanji, now we are seeing everyone pull their own weight. This is most noticeable in Baroque Works. Here each character is basically matched with a Baroque Works agent and must fight mostly on their own. Though this we get to see the characters develop and we see their strengths and weaknesses.

As I near the current halfway mark of this manga series it is nice to see that it still continues to be fresh and unique. There are times where you are not sure the heroes of the story are going to triumph or not. The fights that Luffy is getting into are certainly increasing in difficulty, especially vs Sir Crocodile.

I look forward to continuing this series and while I want to see how it ends, hope there are many more books to come.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable by Mark Dunn, 205 pages

Ella Minnow Pea is set on the fictional island of Nollop, an antiquated place off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop is named after (the presumably fictitious) Nevin Nollop, also known as the guy who came up with the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," a sentence that uses all 26 letters of the alphabet in just 37 letters. The inhabitants of the island have embraced Mr. Nollop's obsession with the English language, and erected a statue of Nollop, complete with tiles spelling out his sentence, in the town square. But when the tile with the letter "Z" falls off, the island council takes it as a sign from the long-dead Nollop that the letter should no longer be used, and spells out harsh punishments for those that dare utter or write that 26th letter. As the book continues, more and more tiles fall, with the same reaction from the council.

This book is exceedingly clever. The story is told through letters sent between the titular character Ella and her cousin Mittie (as well as a few other characters) and as the tiles fall, fewer and fewer letters are used in the missives, and so, in the book. For that reason only, Dunn probably had a lot of fun and a lot of frustration writing this book. Aside from the "progressively lipogrammatic" element, Dunn also manages to create a great story exploring censorship, authoritarianism, and even religious zealotry in a rather short novel. People who love words and language, as well as those with a mischievous streak, will enjoy this story.

Friday, April 18, 2014

En Route

En Route by Joris-Karl Huysmans, translated by C Kegan Paul, 463 pages

This is Huysman's sequel to La Bas, continuing the story of the semi-autobiographical protagonist Durtal.  Horrified by the events which formed the climax of La Bas, Durtal turns to the Church for spiritual succor, only to find himself repelled both by the mediocrity of the faithful and his own base appetites.  He drifts through an exploration of the churches of Paris, but it is only during a retreat at a Trappist monastery that he is forced to wrestle with his demons.

This is not an ordinary novel - there are no external conflicts or dramatic events (even La Bas had the affair between Durtal and Madame Chantelouve).  The conflict is entirely internal, within Durtal's mind and soul.  The author's Puginesque aestheticism and obsession with the "pure spirit of the Middle Ages" is also sometimes off-putting.  En Route is, however, for those who appreciate its subtleties, an arresting story of grace and redemption.

Far Far Away

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal, 369 pages

Jeremy’s life is taken up with studying and finding a way out of his hometown, Never Better. He is aided in his studies and throughout his life by a voice that belongs to the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who has been wandering the earth since his death. Jeremy’s mother abandoned her family when Jeremy was still young and his father has been unable to pull his life together since that time. Now Jeremy and his father are facing foreclosure and will lose the store and home that Jeremy inherited from his grandfather. Now, since Jeremy was accused of breaking and entering, most of the townspeople are avoiding him. He has one friend left his age, Ginger, whom he has always admired and maybe likes him back. Ginger has been trying to help him figure out a way to pay back the bank and keep the store but their efforts may only lead to a larger disaster than they could have anticipated. A really good coming of age and mystery story, with the supernatural factor thrown in, I really enjoyed it and think that a lot of teens would also.

I Capture the Castle

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, 343 pages

Cassandra and her family are living in a castle in England while they wait for their father to begin writing again. Unfortunately they have been waiting for several years with no signs of that happening and in the meantime, they barely have enough money to keep food on the table. When the young Cottons, the heir and new owners of the castle, appear, it could be a dream come true, if Cassandra’s older sister, Rose, could marry Simon Cotton, the heir. Cassandra is telling this story through her journal entries and it is a pretty good romance, historically set, since it was first published in 1948. I wasn’t a big fan, maybe because of the subject matter which only sometimes interests me, but it was well written someone who likes the genre better would probably enjoy it more than I did.

Young Miss Holmes Casebook 1-2

Young Miss Holmes Casebook 1-2 by Kaoru Shintani, 384 pages

Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Christie, is the 10 year old daughter of Holmes’s sister and is nearly as brilliant as he is. She often visits him and can solve cases that he is working on as quickly as he does. This casebook encompasses several stories that Christie either helps with or solves on her own. For example, in the second story, The Problem Of Thor Bridge, Christie decides to pay her respects to her neighbors because the lady of the household has been found murdered. Upon arrival, she runs into Dr. Watson and her Uncle Sherlock and helps solve the mystery of what happened. This is a manga style graphic novel and the stories were pretty good. Christie is a likeable heroine and readers will appreciate the fact that she can outsmart most of the adults around her. Teen fans of manga mystery will probably like this series.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Altered by Gennifer Albin, 390 pages

Altered is the second book in what I assume will be a trilogy centered on 16-year-old Adelice Lewys, a girl who has the ability to create, destroy, and manipulate people, space, and time using the fibers that make up the universe. She's not the only person who can do this, but she is the best, and one of very few who can do so without the help of a loom. Once she figures out (in the first book, Crewel) that the sparkling, beautiful world of Arras isn't what it seems, she busts through the weave into the dessicated shell that is Earth, which is where we find her in Altered.

Just like all middle books in a trilogy, Altered moves the story forward but doesn't really have many resolutions. More intrigue, more questions, fewer answers. This is a typical YA dystopian novel: girl with awesome powers fighting The Man, yet unsure if she can trust the rebels, and, oh yeah, she's stuck in a love triangle. Yeah, there are a few things that make this different (the triangle involves two brothers, there's a time-warp element (but not in the fun, Rocky Horror way), and, oh yeah, the whole fiber-arts thing), but really, it's just another dystopian YA series. Adelice is kinda meh; I'd put her somewhere around the midpoint of the Katniss-Bella Scale, possibly leaning toward the Bella end. Oh, and the names in this book DRIVE. ME. NUTS. There's a guy named Erik, which is normal enough, but I've kind of had it with odd spellings and exotic names for no good reason. (Seriously, part of this is set in post-WWII America, and nobody cares that there are people named Jost and Jax and Deniel and Falon running around?)

Anywho... if you're crazy about fiber arts and just can't get enough of love triangles set against an action-packed background, go ahead and read this. Otherwise, stick with the Hunger Games and Divergent.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

People of the Book

People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks.  372 pages. 2008

      I knew I was going to enjoy this book when I saw that Geraldine Brooks dedicated this novel to librarians everywhere.  This is a story that follows an Australian book conservator who is charged with working on what is called the Sarajevo Haggadah (an illuminated Hebrew codex).  As her work progresses, the mysteries begin to unravel, and we are shown glimpses of where the book has been.  The jumps from the past to present are nice, and help push the narrative along. 
       The characters can be compelling and are memorable, as well as Brooks's description of the Inquisition and the expulsion of Jewish people from Spain.  In each period of the book's history, someone was able to make the necessary sacrifice to preserve it, and I had to say that I enjoyed those parts the most.

The Faraway Nearby

The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit  259 pages

      This is Rebecca Solnit's follow up to The Field Guide to Getting Lost, which I also just recently finished.  This book felt a little heavier, as it deals with a myriad of issues that all of us go through in life, beginning with her discussion of her mother's Alzheimer's disease.  Solnit is able to weave her personal experience with astute observations of the world around her. The main theme has to do with the idea of storytelling, and some of its various manifestations in the world.  The prose is lyrical, and  ties together themes in refreshing ways for those who have not read her work before. I can't say that this book is better than A Field Guide, but it resonated with me quite a bit.  When she writes about art, and the act of reading, I would have underlined an highlighted the book like a madman if it wasn't a library copy.

Madness, Rack, & Honey

Madness, rack, and honey : collected lectures. Mary Ruefle. 326 pages.
      The title of this book caught my eye when I was looking up lists of poetry books on Goodreads. The book turned out to be something I want to have in my own personal library at home.  Mary Ruefle is an accomplished American poet who teaches and is sometimes required to give lectures although she dislikes public speaking.  Her solution to this problem is to read these lectures straight off the page. 
       The most surprising thing about this book is that while it concerns itself with poetry, it isn't always about poetry. It is a book that is about the creative mind of ideas, notions, ways to think about poetry, writing, living.  It is not another dry instructional book about how to write poetry, which is a gift to a world over saturated with such things.  Read it. Lovely in ways I have a hard time trying to describe.

The Days of Anna Madrigal

The Days of Anna Madrigal, Armistad Maupin, 270 pages

         The Days of Anna Madrigal is the ninth and final installment of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City Series, which began in 1978.  Even if you have not read the aforementioned series before, this is still a lively book with a lot to offer the reader.  Maupin initially published Tales of the City in serialized form in The San Fransico Chronicle, one of the first examples of gay characters viewed as equals to their straight counterparts of its kind.
       This is a fast read that is humorous and endearing for the reader.  I would have to say that its target audience is probably for readers over the age of thirty, but still entertaining to say the least.