Monday, June 6, 2016

The Temporary Agent, by Daniel Judson

Our hero is Tom, a former Navy Seabee who apparently has a special forces operator level of fighting skill. He was severely injured in Afghanistan and owes his life to a Marine, Cahill. Tom works at a job for which he's overqualified at a low wage, in some sort of fugue. He's dating a very smart capable lady who is also underemployed, a waitress at a diner.

Out of the blue, Tom is contacted by his former CO and asked to find Cahill.

All sorts of plot confusion and mayhem result.

The plot is very interesting. The writing is okay but sometimes awkward; since Mr. Judson is an award winning novelist and this isn't his first try, I assume it is a deliberate device.

I'd read another of Mr. Judson's books, but I'm not rushing to browse Amazon to find one.

Harmony Black, by Craig Schaefer

Our hero, Harmony, is an FBI agent who is also a witch. Consequently, she works for a secret sub-section of the government (Vigilant Lock) which addresses occult threats, eliminating the problem without the exposure a court of law would draw.

She has, of course, a troubled past: her sister was abducted by a bogeyman when Harmony was a child. So, of course, she faces this same villain now that she's in this FBI program.

This was surprisingly interesting: well written and enjoyable. While some of the plot was predictable, it was still a fun read.

Infinity Lost, by S. Harrison

Often when a book is free for Amazon Kindle it is the first of a series. The idea is to suck you in so you'll pay for the subsequent volumes. This is a smart model -- if the first book is good enough. I will not be buying volume two.

The book is choppy which seems deliberate. We follow the story of Finn, the daughter of the richest man on earth, a brilliant technologist whose products are used by literally everyone. Finn never sees her father and is raised by teachers and nannies. She has memories or imagined experiences which imply something strange about her upbringing. At age 17, away at boarding school, a class trip to her father's research headquarters leads to a major crisis.  We won't know what happens until volume two or three -- which is to say, never.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Private Paris, by James Patterson

I saw this at my local public library and recalled that I didn't mind reading another of Mr. Patterson's series recently. Hit with an overabundance of rainy days, I figured it would be good to pick up more light reading.

This turned out to be a good decision. This series has more action and less romance than the NYPD Red books I'd just read. I'd describe Mr. Patterson's books as interesting enough to be a TV show and about that deep; this is meant as a positive. It also turns out that I'm late to the party: Paris is number 10 in this run.

The concept of the "Private" titles is that there is a worldwide private investigation and security firm called Private and run by hero Jack Morgan. In this episode, Morgan's visiting his Paris office where he and local office chief Louis Langlois get caught up in two mysteries. One is a case of apparent Muslim based anti-France terrorism and the other a missing persons job.

If this rain keeps up, I'll read more in this series.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Pilgrim, by Lee Kravitz

Mr. Kravitz yearns for a spiritual life and to be a member of a community of like minded believers. This book outlines his journey across a variety of beliefs (Quaker, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish).  It was not a great book.

Here's what I learned. His wife Elisabeth comes across as selfish (faced with Mr. Kravitz' allergic reaction to her pets she tells him learn to live with the discomfort or find another girl) and judgmental (she hates all Republicans; heaven forfend they might have a useful thought). Mr. Kravitz's journey treads a narrow path in that he can't include his spouse who is committed to her atheism and seems to look at his quest for spirituality as a behavioral defect.

Mr. Kravitz' desires seem reasonable. It was exhausting that it took him so much effort over such a long time span to figure out what works for him. I'm happy he finally did.

While the book was interesting enough that I kept reading -- in fact, for at least the first half I was trying to figure out what the book was actually about -- my overall view of it is, meh. The subtitle is killer, "risking the life I have to find the faith I seek," but disingenuous, as there was no risk whatsoever. And no real dramatic tension.  My recommendation: do not bother reading this book.

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead

I wasn't a big fan of Mr. Whitehead's novels, Zone One and Intuitionist. So why did I imagine that this would be any better? Chalk it up to (uncalled for) optimism.

This is autobiographical; it covers Mr. Whitehead's participation in the 2011 World Series of Poker tournament. The big problem with this book is that is seems to reveal the author's genuine personality. Yikes. Mr. Whitehead refers to himself as a native of the "Republic of Anhedonia," and that pretty much says it all. Anhedonia is the inability to take pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences.

Oy, no wonder he refers to a recent divorce. Mr. Whitehead, it seems, is not so much of an optimist. Given my experience with his novels, he probably wouldn't have spent the $3.28 (with free shipping) for a used copy of this book. I kind of wish I hadn't either. Oh well.

Mr. Whitehead's writing is occasionally interesting and there are enjoyable moments in the book. They are few. Spoiler alert: he doesn't win the big payout at the tournament. No surprise: not having built up a ton of relationship capital with his reader, I don't really care.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, by Scott Adams

This is a self-help book from the author of the Dilbert cartoon. I find Dilbert enormously funny, probably because I worked for many years in a large company that gave me cause to resonate with so many of the silly situations at which Mr. Adams pokes fun. But this isn't meant to be a humor book (although it is amusing at times); it is meant to be taken seriously.  I'd say it is more interesting and helpful than not.

The key notions include being selfish enough to take care of yourself and your finances well enough that you're then positioned to take care of others. Mr. Adams spends many words explaining his use of selfish in this context; it isn't grabbing the last donut in the box. His ordered list might look like this:

  1. Eat right to maximize energy; exercise to further improve your energy. This will allow you to be more productive, creative, positive, etc.
  2. Improve the odds that you'll have good luck. Mr. Adams provides many examples and the net is, develop multiple skills. You needn't be great at any of them, but having a bit of capability across a number of domains is a game changer at generating luck.
  3. Perhaps just to set up some tension and controversy, Mr. Adams asserts that goals are for losers, winners use systems. He explains the notion of systems in detail.
  4. Most of the auto-biographical content describe his many failures and motivates the notions that failures are okay and that you have to learn from them.
In one part of the book [p111ff], Mr. Adams discussed cognitive traps that allow folks to be taken advantage of or sub optimally negotiate. He provided a list, but didn't explain any of them in detail. This is very unfortunate; while it would have added a very long chapter to the book, it would have been worthwhile.

This is light reading with good advice and some humor. Not an academic treatise, but probably useful because it is so accessible and easy to read.

NYPD Red 4, by James Patterson

I was still looking for light reading, and this sequel to "NYPD Red 3" was available, so here we are.

This book has more plot twists than the prior, so much so that I won't even bother getting into it.

The relationship between the two detective heroes, Zach and Kylie, turns out to be a dominant theme in the book. It reminds me of television detective series like Moonlighting and Castle, where solving the mystery was an equal partner to the relationship tension between the lead characters.

Still, it was a fun light read, and I will keep reading the series as long as the library stocks the books.

Monday, May 23, 2016

NYPD Red 3, by James Patterson

I jumped in to the third installment of this series only because it is the one my spouse just finished reading and I was looking for some low effort entertainment.

The concept is that NYPD Red is a police unit that handles very politically connected situations. In this book, a billionaire who can affect the mayor's campaign financing is the key. Alden's son has gone missing, Alden doesn't care to report this to the police, and the plot thickens.

Our heroes are Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald.  Zach is romantically involved with police psychologist Cheryl, and worries about how she perceives his relationship with Kylie, which whom he'd previously had a serious relationship. Kylie's husband is in rehab and their relationship is tenuous.

I enjoyed the plot. A bit more "romancy" than I'd prefer, but not enough to drop the book.

Friday, April 22, 2016

What to Do When It's Your Turn, by Seth Godin

Do you remember the book, What Color is Your Parachute? It was big in the late 1970s. This book is, to me, a more mature version of it, updated for the times, and more crisp. (My comments on the 1979 edition, not the latest update.)

It is, however, otherwise difficult to describe. It isn't about anything precisely, it is just supportive of the reader taking chances and risks, and following their passions. I recommend it to my class of college seniors and juniors. I'm just not sure they get it.