Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Best of List

Once again in 2011, only five books made it on to my best of the year list.

Best fiction of the year:

* The Informationist, by Taylor Stephens
* Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield
* Topic of Night, by Michael Gruber

Best non-fiction of the year:

* Jesus on Death Row, by Mark Osler
* On China, by Henry Kissinger
As usual, I like to keep track of the numbers -- just because.   I expected to have read more books in the latter part of 2011 but a move late in the year caused almost all of my reading queue to be boxed up, and my reading time to be consumed with packing and unpacking.   In 2011, of the 116 books I read, fiction outweighed non-fiction at 67 to 49.   But I'm expecting lots of reading time in 2011; I've promised myself to make it through the stack of books in the box before taking on any new titles!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keeping Pet Chickens, by Paul, Windham, and Stahlkuppe

This cute little book has excellent photos, but few of them as it is quite thin.   There is a narrow purpose for which I think this book might be very good:  if you are considering raising chickens and want to inch your way forward slowly as you determine if it will be fun for you, this, early on, provides just enough information to be a gate.   It explains enough so that you will have sufficient understanding to say either, "nope, not for me," or "okay, I'm game, now let's get a real book and learn some more."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" is one of my favorite novels ever.   Apparently this is true for many people, whose reviews of "Reamde" tend to the negative only so much as they compare this latest novel to his prior work.    But this is not a problem for me:  this is a terrific novel.

There are two primary heros:  Richard, who got rich smuggling marijuana between Canada and the USA and then went straight with a massively multi-player online role-playing game called "T'Rain."    And, Zula, Richard's adult niece, who demonstrates considerable resourcefulness under pressure.   Several secondary characters are well described.

The plot, as is typical of Stephenson, is complex and multi-layered.  Chinese game players (for profit) have hacked the game such that files on a player's computer get encrypted.  They require that one make a $73 payment (inside the game structure) to get the decryption code.   The game structure allows virtual currency to be converted to real world currency, so with enough players paying, there's big money to be made.

Russian mobsters get involved when some of their files are affected.   And from there, there's too much risk of plot spoilers to say more.

Bottom line:  ignore the reviews that say "I liked his other books better," and read "Reamde."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kosher Chinese, by Michael Levy

This book's subtitle is "living, teaching, and eating with China's other billion."   It is the experience of a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to teach English in Guiyang.

The opening line of a book sets the tone.   I feel very kindly towards Mr. Levy, who wrote:  "I strongly believe there is no species of millipede I will ever find palatable."

But it is very difficult to cross over from an interesting (check), amusing (check) travelogue to a brilliant one (not so much of a check).  Perhaps Peter Mayle did it with A Year in Provence.

Still, this was a fun, cheerful read.   He portrays the Chinese people in a lovely but not apparently unrealistic way.

I recommend it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Time of My Life, by Patrick Swayze & Lisa Niemi

I'm not a huge fan of biographies, at least not of biographies of performers.   I'm more the Winston Churchill or Einstein biography fan.    But this book was in the house.  And besides, who doesn't love Dirty Dancing?  And Mr. Swayze was fantastic in one of my favorite movies, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

So I read it and was pleasantly surprised:  it is well written and interesting -- well as interesting as it can be to read about the life of someone you don't have any particular tie or interest in.    And Mr. Swayze does seem to have been as straight up a good guy as he seemed to be (something that isn't guaranteed when it comes to Hollywood types -- but one of the points of this book is, I believe that Mr. Swayze and Ms. Niemi are far from being real Hollywood types -- and yes, that's a compliment).

If you're a fan of artist biographies, or of Mr. Swayze or Ms. Niemi, then this is probably a delightful read for you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Foundations of Financial Management, by Stanley B. Block and Geoffrey A. Hirt

Yes, yes, I am aware that this is hardly what one would call a typical leisure book.   But I found it in the house (presumably a text book that one of the kids was unable to sell back to the college book store) and thought it might be fun.    Since it is a text book, I took some liberties -- that is, I didn't do the homework problems, and I skimmed many of the sections that were quite familiar to me, or overly burdened with detail that I studied long ago and wasn't interested in repeating.

Overall this is a surprisingly pleasant book.   There are many examples using well known firms and their data, and many (mostly) topical sidebars (even for this 2005 edition).

The transparencies used as graph overlays to help explain annuities and present value were great.

One complaint though:  very early on in the book, at page 11, the authors damaged the credibility of their subjective comments (although I continued to trust their statement of accounting fact).   They gave an example of two alternatives for the financial manager of a firm to consider in orchestrating earnings per share (EPS).   In alternative A, the EPS would be $1.50 in period one and grow to $2.00 in period two.   In alternative B, the EPS would be $2.00 in period one, dropping to $1.50 in period two.

The authors pointed out that the total earnings are equal.  They asserted that alternative B is "clearly superior because the larger benefits occur earlier."   Bah humbug!    Imagine what happens to a publicly traded firm who's EPS drops by 25% from period to period.   It would be a disaster and the financial manager who took this advice would be apt to find herself an unemployed former CFO.

(Newer editions are available.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First Lessons in Beekeeping, by Keith S. Delaplane

My caveat to this review is that I've never done beekeeping -- so it is possible that, were I an experienced beekeeper, I would have a different view.   But as a novice:  this book rocks.

It is complete, clearly written, provides ample detail.   I learned more than I'd expected to -- in fact, more than I expected I'd want to.     I couldn't be more pleased.

What surprised me the most on this topic:   beekeeping is like any other livestock activity -- meat goats, cattle, etc.   Just smaller, they fly, and they sting.   The care and feeding of the livestock (bees) includes dealing with supplemental feed, diagnosing herd ailments and treating them, and the like.    They take up less space, but do need to be further from public gathering spots.   Feed is cheaper (compared to meat on the hoof), but you don't wear a mesh veil to avoid getting stung by your goats.

So for those of you who, like me, imagined that beekeeping would be very simply scraping out some honey a few times a year, think again!   

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Accidental Historian: Tales of Trash and Treasure, by Monte Akers

Another book from the Texas Book Festival, and another really interesting author who I had the pleasure to hear speak there.

Unlike the Utley - Beeman or Baker books, Mr. Akers' isn't so much an authoritative history as it is a collection of stories.   Many are autobiographical, some emphasize some historic events or more likely people, and all are amusing.

Among the topics: civil war re-enactments, buying historic artifacts, and then there are just plain old stories told over drinks.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gangster Tour of Texas, by T. Lindsay Baker

At the Texas Book Festival, I enjoyed hearing the author read a chapter from this book.   As a consequence, the voice in my head as I read this text was his -- his soft Texas accent, his cadence and word emphasis.   It made the reading altogether more fun.

This is a very different sort of book from another local Texas history text I've just read, in that this one, instead of celebrating heroes, tells the stories of villains.   Just as the title indicates.

The downside of this is that I'm personally quite a bit less motivated to take a road trip to see where bad guys did their thing.

But the stories were captivating.   This is a fine example of history telling come alive.

There are two other great things about this book.  First, at the conclusion of each chapter, you'll find detailed instructions about how to find each of the sites mentioned, including detailed little maps.   And second, each chapter ends with a "Judge the evidence for yourself" section providing the detailed references for the story told.

This is a fun book even if you're not crazy about crime stories, because it tells tales of the very early 1900s in story form and is quite well written.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

History Ahead: Stories beyond the Texas Roadside Markers, by Dan K. Utley and Cynthia J. Beeman

The best history books not only reveal the past so as to help us learn from it but also are fun to read.  This book meets that mark.   It is a "micro -history" in that it tells the smaller stories, tales that might otherwise go unknown.   And some of the fun comes from the design:  the material is entirely based on roadside historical markers in Texas.    This means you can not only read about events but also plan your road trip to the specific marker site; this is cool!

Just because I refer to this as a micro - history does not mean the stories are insignificant.  The story of Bessie Coleman, who in June of 1921 became "...the first black woman in the world to earn a pilot's license," or of Carl Morene, who was perhaps the least likely person to bring organized music instruction to Schulenburg High School in the 1930s and '40s, are inspirational, touching and meaningful.

Similarly, reading about Margo Jones -- perhaps my theatre friends know the name, but I'd never before heard of her -- was interesting, given that her work in the first half of the 20th century may have played a big role in my ability to see live theatre in a variety of venues today.

Nearly every chapter gives a similar example.   This is a very enjoyable read.

But, not without flaw: editing in chapter 19 allowed reference to Margo Jones' 1942 encounter with Tennessee Williams to be described on page 272 and again on page 273 as though it hadn't previously been mentioned. This would be easy to correct in a following edition. [The page references are from my hard copy first edition, which I acquired at the Texas Book Festival, having had the good fortune to also hear the authors speak at one of the sessions.]

All in all this is a book worth owning -- most particularly, but not exclusively, for those living in Texas; it warrants a read.

The Joy of Compassion, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

This text is one of the books contained in the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive starter pack collection.   It is the only one not written by (or a transcript of) Lama Yeshe himself, instead reflecting the work of Lama Zopa who was Lama Yeshe's teacher and co-founder of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition.

The difference in authorship is important:   this is the only book in the collection that I did not enjoy.   Lama Zopa does not speak with the intimate, friendly, caring and open style of Lama Yeshe.

So I'm not going to say much about the book at all except that Lama Zopa points out the importance of looking beyond oneself.  That meditating alone is insufficient to improve your post-death prospects.  For many of us, our pre-death prospects are at the forefront of our interests, this may not matter very much; Lama Zopa is worried about your consciousness moving to your next life.

Fortunately, the interests of your after deal consciousness and your pre-death lifestyle coalesce:  in both cases, acting with compassion, practicing Dharma, is of value.

[Wondering what Dharma means, even after you read the material in the link above?  Try instead the definition of mitzvah, here quoted from Wikipedia:  "...Hebrew mitzvah, as with English "commandment," refers to a moral deed performed as a religious duty. As such, the term mitzvah has also come to express an act of human kindness. The tertiary meaning of mitzvah also refers to the fulfillment of a mitzvah."]

As Lama Zopa says, "Cherish sentient beings first; put enlightenment second."

Instead of this book, I recommend "The Peaceful Stillness of the Silent Mind," by Lama Yeshe.   It can be downloaded for free or purchased from the Foundation or from Amazon (in Kindle format).

Induction (Among Us), by Ploni Almoni

First I must point out that this book is rated R (or even perhaps NC-17). Don't get me wrong -- it is not "erotic fiction" (or whatever other euphemism you prefer for porn), but it does include a substantial number of sexual encounters. Were it a movie, it would be only a bit more risque than many current R -rated movies and I certainly could imagine it as a (strongly) R -rated film. But, importantly, if this sort of content bothers you, you won't want to read this book. Period. No exceptions.

With that out of the way, let's jump to what makes this book work really well. It is the story of RW, a college history professor and computer geek - the sort of person you could easily picture in your mind. Even his hobbies are geeky. One of the strengths of Almoni's writing is the character development. RW is a normal guy -- well as normal as you'll get in a novel like this.

I like this idea of Almoni sticking to a credible line -- well, given that this book involves aliens among us, with rather unusual powers and needs, credible might not be precisely the right word. What I mean is that when RW acts, he acts in a way that is believable.

It is difficult to describe the plot for fear of spoilers. Let's put it this way: RW is doing his usual stuff, hanging with his girl friend (Misty), playing around with his internet hacking hobby, when suddenly his world is turned upside down. He has to work through the resulting issues, evade some bad guys and ultimately figure out how to accept things about which he'd been happily unaware. The reader goes along on this journey with RW, alternately freaked out, exhausted, and overwhelmed, yet still moving forward.

There are a number of internet and computer machinations which play a key role in this book, but Almoni clearly has a tech background because everything he describes is reasonably believable; the reader doesn't have to buy into anything wacky, and if you're a computer professional you won't be annoyed. Similarly, the descriptions of Texas locations and surrounding areas are full of little details that support and help draw the reader into the story.

Although I'm conservative enough to prefer less and fewer of the sex scenes, they actually are integral to the plot and it would be difficult to eliminate them completely; this is a matter of personal preference that almost cost the review one star. But it is such an enjoyable book that I decided to evaluate it without over- weighting this particular prejudice of mine.

There's something for everyone in this novel. If you're about science fiction, fantasy, or whatever term is appropriate for the "aliens among us theme," then you'll delight in the language of the "Thok'h Thirrah," their sea -based headquarters, and their politics. If, on the other hand, you're looking for something suspenseful that keeps you turning pages even when your lunch break is over, Almoni delivers that as well.

In fact, it is the combination of my personal interest in the main character and the suspense of the situation he's in that is the basis for the title of this review: you just know that there has to be more, that we'll find out what happened to Misty and how RW evolves through his situation.

I expect that most readers, when they get to the last page, will similarly yearn for the next book in what promises to be a terrific series.

[Full disclosure:  I know the author and have previously provided comments on earlier drafts of this novel.  This has not affected the objectivity of my review.]

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True, by Richard Dawkins

Let's get the net-net out on the table right away:   this is an extremely good book.   Maybe even an important book (I'll get to why in a bit).

The problem is, Prof. Dawkins has written this book for an extremely broad audience, including a young adult (say maybe 8th grade and up) audience.   As a consequence, some of the writing -- while commendable for being so straight forward and clear -- can be a bit overwhelmingly simple.

Okay, back to the book.   Prof. Dawkins gives the clearest, simplest explanation of evolution that I've ever read; it is outstanding.   He also dispels odd myths of all sorts.

Let me posit that not a word Prof. Dawkins writes is scientifically incorrect -- you couldn't disprove a word of it.   A problem for some folks might be that they might not like all of it, based on their personal buy-in to specific myths.  

For example, if you're into a creation myth (such as one from Tasmania, where people were initially created by gods, but they had tails and no knees until another god gave them knees and removed their tails), you might decide to not prefer the science.

I suppose for most readers, the more likely creation myth that Prof. Dawkins would seek to portray as merely a myth is the Adam and Eve story.

Recently the US Republican Party has been holding debates with the lead candidates to gain the Party's nomination to run in the general election in a year or so.   One of the more worrisome aspects of those debates is the tendency of some Republicans (Jon Huntsman excepted, as he openly says that he does believe in science, probably dooming his chances to gain support from the Party) to dismiss science and prefer to make their decisions on faith.   (One hopes they're just pandering to the Tea Party faction and not actually sincere, but I'm not confident that's entirely the case.)  

Given this situation, a book that promotes science (not just evolution, but some astronomy, etc.), that is easily understood by any age audience, is a welcome thing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jonathan Edwards on Worship: Public and Private Devotion to God, by Ted Rivera

If you're unfamiliar with Jonathan Edwards (hint:  a US minister during the first half of the 18th century) then you are absolutely not in the target demographic for this book.   And yet, Mr. Rivera has managed to make Edwards interesting and the messages of his views of worship relevant.   There is, however, no introductory chapter, no "Jonathan Edwards for Dummies" section; we just jump right in.   The good news is that the writing is clear and the flow is interesting -- interesting enough for even me to follow.

Interesting, you wonder?   Well yes.   It turns out that one of Edwards' sermons, "mercy and not sacrifice," is pretty interesting.   He point, based on Matthew 12:1-7, is that moral duties to mankind are more important than external acts of worship to god.    Edwards sees it that a man who performs these duties as worship to god in action.  Holy cow:  perhaps Jonathan Edwards was a pre- Reform Jew who just wasn't aware of it yet!   Or, perhaps he was a Buddhist but didn't have the vocabulary nor freedom of awareness to appreciate it!   In either case, locked by family history, circumstance and geography in his Christian practice.   Then again, maybe he was just a big-thinking Christian, who today would believe in science and read The Christian Century (or join in its founding had he lasted another 130 years -- well then again, maybe he was just a bit too Puritan for that).

Let's not get too excited though.  Edwards' sermons were two hours long, and he was said to speak in a high-pitched monotone.   He even counseled parishioners that it was poor form to sleep during services.   Yikes.

So there is plenty of interesting stuff in this book even for the laity.   But let me criticize it as well.   What's missing, to my eye, is a discussion of the relevance of Edwards' views today.   Mr. Rivera tees up a number of great questions in his conclusion, including:   "What would he have to say about ministries aimed at promoting financial prosperity?  What would he think of the use of humor... in preaching?"   It would have been terrific to read Mr. Rivera's take on the answers to these questions.

How cool might it have been to extend the thoughtful analytic view of Mr. Edwards with a connect-the-dots-to-today chapter?   Then again it seems that Mr. Rivera had a very targeted audience and very focused topic in mind for this book, which I imagine is more a textbook at an advanced seminary class than it is the monthly neighborhood book club reading.

My sense is that when it comes to Jonathan Edwards, one won't be finding any popular texts on the topic no matter what the slant.   I might be wrong; Gerald McDermott wrote "The Great Divider:  Jonathan Edwards and American culture" which I would like to read -- but not so much as to buy a paid subscription to Books and Culture.

Finally, in full disclosure:  I had the distinct pleasure of working with Mr. Rivera over a period of years during his secular time as an expert on software quality, client satisfaction, and as an expert in agile software development methodologies.   In fact, he's so much an expert at educating and motivating teams to adopt tailored, high value agile development techniques that I'd recommend him as a consultant even today -- if he could be pried away from his second career as a minister and religious educator.

By the way, find below a link to another of Mr. Rivera's books as well, "Divine Direction:  God's Two Great Commandments."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Complete Guide to Chip Carving, by Wayne Barton

Mr. Barton is the go to guy for chip carving technique.   Do an internet search on the subject and you'll find his books, and his website, at the top of your results.    This book is supposed to be the introductory text of choice.   The reviews on Amazon are all 5-star.

So maybe I'm just destined to be the slow student in the class, blaming the teacher.   But I don't share the enthusiasm about this book.

The good news:  introductory chapters cover everything from how to sharpen your carving knife to how to hold it.   And, when you get to the chapter on rosettes, there's a partial page of guidance on how to lay things out.

So why the grumpy review?   Because that's the extent of the layout guidance.   For example, in the section on borders the photos show the layout lines of intersecting sine curves against which one can carve a really nice border.   So, again admitting I'm the slow kid here, how do I lay out those cool sine curves?  I tried a few different approaches but didn't get anything like I wanted from my compass.   This is an example of where a bit of detailed setup guidance could go a long way.

In fact, the bulk of the book after those how-to chapters consists of pretty examples of chip carving excellence.  But apart from a single page of advice on how to lay out rosettes, you're pretty much on your own for figuring out how to duplicate any part of these great examples on your own.

So as a catalog of really cool carving examples, it would get 5 stars.  But since the introductory chapters do set it up as the how to book for beginning chip carvers, the absence of real layout guidance makes this at best a 2- star book for me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Country Driving: A journey through China from farm to factory, by Peter Hessler

First off, a confession and a complaint.

The confession:  I couldn't make it through the book.   I was very interested in the first section, which was about Mr. Hessler's initial drives across China.   The second section, about his home away from the city (Beijing) in a peasant area, was largely interesting to me.   But by the third and final section, about a factory village, I'd lost all my interest.   Now in fairness I did skim through the remainder, reading a few pages here and there.   But that was sufficient.

Based on the uniformly positive reviews of this book I can only assume the failure here is my own inability to focus.

So now the complaint.   If you're reading a book about a remote place, and specifically someone's road trips across that remote place, don't you think you're entitled to a map?   But the first map (it is generous to call it that) didn't appear until after the 122nd page.   And it didn't show any of the routes of the first 122 pages at all.  Or maybe it did.  Hard to tell.

I really should say more about this book, at least facts about it.   The prior sentences presumably convey my assessment.    So here we go:   Mr. Hessler is an American journalist who'd been living in China for some time, and speaks the language.   Living in Beijing, he decided to get a driver's license (no small task in China), rent a car and travel along a Great Wall -oriented route, trusting the inadequate drivers maps as a general guide.   This book documents these travels (in the first section), as well as his experiences in part-time living with a small village population a couple of hours outside of Beijing (the second section), and hit visits to a factory region in the south, near Wenzhou (in the third, and as previously confessed, largely unread third section).

There are, it turns out, multiple versions of this bookavailable.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales, by Penn Jillette

The first thing to notice about Mr. Jillette is that he is quite foul-mouthed.  Really can't seem to stop swearing.   He writes that he never swore in front of his parents, out of respect.   Would that he respected his readers nearly as much.

The title of this book represents a broad theme of the book but most of the text is a somewhat random set of anecdotes about Mr. Jillette's life.   They range from interesting to funny -- the story about how he dried off after a shower using a blow dryer (as there were no towels in the bathroom) made me laugh out loud.

The theme of atheism is supported by the usual arguments, and those are made far more convincingly by folks like Richard Dawkins.

Mr. Jillette starts some of his chapters with an atheist's take on each of the ten commandments.   They map pretty well to an Ethical Humanist's take on appropriate behavior; think of this as the atheist's social gathering, equivalent to a church meeting, and some (like the New York Society for Ethical Culture) have been doing this a long time (in the NYSEC case, since 1876!).

No matter what one's religious beliefs, if any, it is difficult to find fault with Mr. Jillette's list of good behaviors:

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me becomes, "the highest ideals are human intelligence, creativity, and love.  Respect these above all."
  2. Thou shalt not make for thyself an idol... becomes, "do not put things or even ideas above other human beings."
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy god in vain becomes, "say what you mean, even when talking to yourself."
  4. Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy becomes, "put aside some time to rest and think."
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother becomes, "be there for your family; love your parents, your partner, and your children."
  6. Thou shalt not kill becomes, "respect and protect all human life."
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery becomes, "keep your promises."
  8. Thou shalt not steal becomes, "don't steal."
  9. Thou shalt not lie becomes, "don't lie."
  10. Thou shalt not covet... becomes, "don't waste too much time wishing, hoping, and being envious; it'll make you bugnutty."
Hard to argue with Mr. Jillette's list of things to do (or not do), independent of one's religious convictions.
As an aside, I find it odd that Mr. Jillette chose to mirror the ten commandments with his equivalent guidance instead of the 613 commandments.   I suppose it would make his book too long.   Plus, both Christians and (non-orthodox) Jews like to ignore the 613 commandments of the bible and instead focus only on 10.  It is way easier of course.  One could comment that once you pick and choose 10 instead of 613 you kind of rule out your options for picking and choosing bible verses which condemn your favorite sinners (e.g., homosexuals), but hey, I don't want to throw rocks.

Also, even the orthodox Jews don't expect anyone else to follow the 613 commandments; in fact they expect non-Jews to only follow the seven Noahic commandments (what god told Noah to do when he was saved from the big flood, derived from the ten commandments of Genesis 9).   These seven are:  establish courts, don't blaspheme, avoid idolatry, no to incest and adultery, avoid bloodshed, don't rob, don't eat the flesh of a living animal.   The orthodox Jewish view is that if a non-Jew follows these rules, then they get a seat in heaven -- with a lot less hassle than their Jewish neighbor in heaven who would have had to strenuously follow 613 rules.   (This is presumably why Jews don't go door to door to recruit, it is a tough sell.)

But hey, Mr. Jillette couldn't ask much more of a sticker price for a book 63 times as long, and besides, who would read it.
One serious point in between the profane stories:  imagine a jury of Christians viewing the claim of a man charged with murder whose defense was that god told him to do it.   Mr. Jillette says there's no question everyone on the jury would consider the defendant nuts, because after all, who would expect god to talk to someone.   Yet these same folks believe god does listen to their individual prayers, perhaps even takes action to affect individual circumstance, and they believe that many biblical figures took direct orders from god which might seem weird (e.g., Noah), or even criminal (e.g., Moses) to others.  

This seems kind of extreme, but current news supports the argument.   Pastor Jeffress of First Baptist of Dallas made some headlines recently when he called Mormon a cult and non-Christian.   Presumably this is because they believe in some items that are "Noah, go build an ark" -style unusual.   It seems pretty clear what Mr. Jillette would make of this:   Pastor Jeffress finds Mormon claims of its bible version (the Book of Mormon) so unbelievable and fantastical as to be dismissed as a cult, and Mr. Jillette similarly finds the claims of the Christian (and Jewish) bibles to be so unbelievable and fantastical as to be dismissed as fairy tales as well.  

As mentioned above though, Mr. Dawkins says it best to theists:  if you don't believe in the god Thor or the god Zeus or the goddess Athena or the god Baal, then you and he are in nearly complete agreement -- he just also doesn't believe in the one (or for Christians, two or three) additional god that you accept.

To sum up Mr. Jillette's book:   if you like a set of rambling stories, don't mind incessant swearing, and aren't bothered by (or embrace) a strong dislike for religion, then you probably will enjoy it.   Else, not so much.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, by James Krenov

It must be me.  Everyone else thinks this book is great.  I do think Mr. Krenov is great.   But his book, not so much.  So it must be me.

Well what did I learn reading this book?

The first chapter is about wood as art.  At least I think that's what it is about.   The illustrations are clear:  if you pay attention to the grain direction you can make furniture that looks really great, and if you don't you can make furniture that looks, now that I've seen the comparisons, pretty yucky.    As for the text, let's face it:  I'm too much the barbarian to really understand it much.     It sounds the same to my ear as descriptions of modern art.

Don't hate me for this.  I've confessed my ignorance.   Be compassionate.

The second chapter is about Mr. Krenov's workshop, about tools and machines.   I didn't learn much here either.  Except that the photos of his equipment in use were scary in the sense that someone with much less experience than Mr. Krenov (and isn't that most people?) might think they too should eschew all sorts of safety precautions.  Probably most people shouldn't do that.   I accept that Mr. Krenov could but it isn't clear what sort of message he was sending about this.  Perhaps he didn't consider it an issue.

I did like his idea of using the springs from cheap ball point pens to construct his wood bench dogs.

Then we got into planes.   He explained how to build a wood plane.   The instructions are not for neophytes like me.  (Not to mention not for barbarians like me.)  For example:

"If you can't find suitable breakers, it is not difficult to make them. Simply obtain some mild steel (or even iron) the same width as the plane irons you have, and make the breaker as the sketch and photo show."

He lost me at "obtain some mild steel."

(Remember, if you hate me for this, you might feel badly about yourself tomorrow.   Do you also aim your car at innocent squirrels?)

The third chapter is titled, "Details of Cabinetmaking."  This was pretty interesting, and illuminating both about the craftsmanship that Mr. Krenov represents as well as about myself.   I'm no artist.   At this point in my woodworking development, I'd be happy to be a competent apprentice.   All of Mr. Krenov's work is artistry.   His "unconventional runners" which extend outside the drawer to become pulls are amazing.

So how to sum up this book?  First of all, it is audience -specific.   All the really talented woodworkers stopped reading at the first paragraph of this post and will spit at the mention of my name.   The rest of us (if I'm not alone) can get some very positive use from this book:   an appreciation of the art of wood selection and respect for the medium, and some photographs of really cool cabinetry.

Is there a James Krenov book for me?   Maybe I will try "With Wakened Hands: Furniture by James Krenov and Students"as it promises to be more of a catalog of beautiful work.   And one day perhaps I'll achieve illumination and some of what he wrote in this text will click with me.   Hey, even barbarians can dream.

(Um, still though, I have to call this a miss.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Just Run, by Chris Culver

I was really impressed by Mr. Culver's writing in his first book, "The Abbey."   It also struck me that the 99 cent Kindle price for it was really low considering it is a first rate detective novel -- as good or better than most of the name writers who charge far more for their work.    Presumably the attractive pricing is a means by which Mr. Culver could build up a readership.

When I saw that his second novel, "Just Run," was similarly priced, I was surprised but delighted at the bargain.   This one is even better than his first.

The heroes of "Just Run" are Renee Carter, a female professor caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Trent Schaefer, a somewhat mysterious detective who investigates a situation in which Renee's entangled.

It is difficult to say more without spoiling the fast paced and engaging plot.   The character development is strong, the story line focused, believable, interesting and compelling.

I've become quite the fan of Mr. Culver's writing and look forward to his next book.  According to his blog, at, it will feature the detective and law student main character Ash Rashid who was so interesting in "The Abbey."

For this 99 cent strategy to work, there should be hundreds of positive reviews for Mr. Culver's books, with massive sales to encourage and support him to keep writing.    I don't know how volume marketing of novels works through Amazon, but I wish him the best on this as I want to keep reading his work for years to come.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Abbey, by Chris Culver

If you like the detective story / mystery / suspense genre then you should buy this book.   There's no reason not to, it is just 99 cents on Kindle.   And you can read Kindle books with free software on virtually any device, your PC or Mac, so there's no obstacle.

Why do I say this?   First of all, it is mind-boggling to me to see a first rate novel sell for this price, considering the crazy price point of other, more well known authors get even in Kindle format for books that are as good, or often not as good.

Here's what makes Mr. Culver's novel interesting:  good plot line that keeps you interested, excellent character development, and a very interesting hero who is an every-man.  Hardly a hero type.  Not particularly flawed, just as much as anyone else.  Well, perhaps he drinks too much, especially for a practicing Muslim.

As a loss-leader approach it is successful -- I'm eager to read Mr. Culver's next novel even if it was at a more typical (i.e., way higher) price point.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Wired, by Douglas E. Richards

This is a very strong book, sold on Kindle at an absurd 79 cents.   It has quite a bit going for it:  a very interesting plot, plenty of suspense, and a back story that will have you thinking:  what would be the consequences of extraordinary intelligence, and of immortality, on society?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sensei, by John Donohue

This novel is written well and builds a strong sense of interest in the main character, Connor Burke -- a history professor and martial arts enthusiast.   It introduces Connor's family, particularly his brother Mick, a detective with the NYPD.

There are many dojo scenes but the writing is thoughtful and measured; this is not a rough caricature of the genre.

At the moment, this is available for free formatted for the Amazon Kindle.   A crazy approach to marketing, I hope that it works for Mr. Donohue.   For myself, I plan to read more of his books featuring these characters; I expect the next one will be "Kage:  the Shadow." Kage: The Shadow

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Run, by Blake Crouch

This apocalyptic novel is almost fantastic.   The story is gripping, some of the gory scenes are readable with minimal cringing, the character development is excellent.

The only barrier to this book making my top ten list is the sudden acceleration at the ending.   A few more pages there, a bit more texture would have made it perfect.

As is, this is a terrific novel.   It is borderline horror, borderline sci-fi.  Said differently, it is horrible yet imaginable.  Maybe that's what makes it captivating.

The Detachment, by Barry Eisler

Again a novel featuring a recurring character, in this case John Rain:  spy, assassin.   Mr. Eisler blends a deep and well thought out cynicism about American politics with an interesting - even captivating - story line.   There's plenty of bloodshed and an equal amount of skepticism about everything the government tells us, but not once (unlike say Brad Thor's work) does it sound preachy or inappropriate to the novel.

The Informationist: A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel, by Taylor Stevens

This is a quasi- private detective novel, a thriller that features a woman who inevitably will draw references to Steig Larsson's works.   From the Amazon reviews it seems one either loves it or hates it.   I'm in the likes it a lot category.   It was interesting, different from the norm, and kept my attention through the end.

Buried Secrets, by Joseph Finder

This is the latest entry in Mr. Finder's books featuring Nick Heller.   This is a private detective novel, true to the genre.  Nick Heller is the private eye who, in this novel, solves a kidnapping case for an old friend.

It is very well written, well paced, interesting and kept me going right to the end.    Recommended.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Portrait of a Spy, by Daniel Silva

This is the most recent in Mr. Silva's series of spy novels featuring the hero, Gabriel Allon, a sometimes art restorer and sometimes agent in the service of the State of Israel.    It is quite a good read, one of the best in the series, with credible situations and many references to current affairs in the mid-east.

I recommend it as an enjoyable novel in this genre.

The only problem, and it is not very pronounced in this book but promises to become a more noticeable issue over time, is the aging hero.   Mr. Silva shares the dilemma with many other successful franchise authors:  those who have built a career of many years, even decades, on the exploits of a wonderful hero.  At some point the dashing hero grows up.   The 60 year old spy isn't going to do things the same way as the 35 year old ubermensch.   I hope that Mr. Silva addresses this in an interesting fashion -- as opposed to pretending that time stands still for his hero.   I look forward to his next novels to find out the answer.

The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class, by Bernie Sanders

Senator Sanders (Vermont) delivered an eight hour speech to the Senate on December 10th, 2010.   A vote was coming up on a tax agreement.   Senator Sanders was very much in opposition, more on why in a moment.   He ended up publishing his speech as this book.

The book itself is considerably redundant, as the Senator points out in his introduction, because he wanted to ensure that folks who'd intermittently tune in to listen to him would get the key points.    It is still very readable.   In fact, being a speech aimed at the US Senate, it features clear speaking and is a very fast read.

So what was the reason for Senator Sanders' consternation?   I'll quote some statistics from his book which he asserts come from credible US government sources.   First though, what was in the bill that was so objectionable?   It was these items and that they are funded by increasing the already high deficit:   (a) Income tax breaks for the top two percent of US tax payers;  (b) continuation of the 15% tax on capital gains and dividends;  (c) continuation of the $10 million exemption on estate tax for couples and limit of 35% on the tax itself.   And a few other items.

What bugs the Senator?   Through President Bush's eight years in office the wealthiest 400 Americans increased their wealth by more than $380 billion.   Nearly a billion each.   So why give them more tax breaks?  "I would say to my colleagues in the Senate, we do not have to worry about these guys.  They are doing just fine.  They do not need an extension of tax breaks."   Also that, "President Bush gave our $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.  Where was the offset?  There was none.  He gave them tax breaks.  That is it.  It adds to the national debt."

Also that in 2009 Exxon Mobil made $19 billion but paid no federal income taxes.   That "Bank of America got a huge payout from the American taxpayer, paying their executives all kinds of fancy, huge compensation packages -- got a refund check from the IRS according to their SEC filings."

And to juxtapose this with the notion that "Oh, my word, in order to deal with our deficit, we are going to have to cut back on Medicare and Medicaid and education."

That you can't have jobs without an educated work force.  But we have "...more people in jail than China and more people in jail than any other country.  So what we end up doing, which seems to be not terribly bright, is spending perhaps $50,000 a year keeping people in jail because they dropped out of school.  They never found a job.  They got hooked on drugs or whatever.  We pay to put them in jail rather than investing in childcare, in education, in sustaining their families."

On this notion, the Senator points out the elimination of the Pell grant (which makes a big difference in helping folks fund college) as a major league counter productive move.   Given that this is done in order to pay for the revenue hit on the tax breaks.   "... the few thousand people in this country--or few tens of thousands, I don't know how many who make more than $1 million a year--are not going to lift this country out of a recession.  It is going to be the middle class.  And if we don't help them get ahead, if we don't help them get training, this recession will go on for a long time."

Senator Sanders also points to what seems a break in common sense, when firms like GE are focused on outsourcing as much as they possibly can to China, costing thousands of US jobs, yet get a $16 billion bail out from US taxpayers.   His implication: they can outsource if they want, but then why coming whining to American taxpayers; why didn't they get a bailout from China?

There was a bit of singling out of specific business leaders whose firms received taxpayer funded bailouts.   "Jamie Dimon... [JP Morgan Chase] ... got a $29 billion bailout from the Federal Reserve, will receive a $1.1 million tax break.  Trust me, Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase is doing just fine.  Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, the bank that got a $50 billion bailout, would received $785,000 in tax breaks.  Ken Lewis, the former CEO of Bank of America-- ...$45 billion bailout... would receive a $713,000 tax break. ...The CEO of Morgan Stanley, John Mack ... $10 billion bailout, would receive a $926,000 a year tax break."

He contrasts this to his failure, earlier in December 2010, to get the Senate to approve a one-time payment of $250 to seniors on Social Security and disabled vets.   "People making $14,000, $15,000 a year desperately need a little bit of help.  We couldn't get one Republican vote.  But when it comes to the CEO of a major bank who is already a multimillionaire--we are talking $6 million, $7 million, $8 million a year in tax breaks--that is not what we should be doing as a nation."


Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Blog for Woodworking Books

I posted this to my Google+ account today because it is the nexus of my social networking with other woodworkers.

"Since December 2007 I've been blogging about every book I've read at "Books I've Read" -- but the eclectic variety of my reading choices makes it difficult to isolate woodworking related entries.

My new blog is called simply "Books on Working Wood" and can be found at

To prime the pump, I revisited all of my general book blog's entries on woodworking and edited them into "Books on Working Wood," keeping the original dates of those entries.

The wood books blog mirrors the progression of my interests about woodworking. One side effect is that the older the post, the more likely the book is targeted at novices. (After all, today I'm at least an intermediate novice!)

Books that I once thought were a brilliant introduction I might today see as missing depth or real content. But at the time they may have provided important illumination for my journey. 

I've tried to make my views on each book quite clear with a simple hit or miss designation.

If you're interested in books about woodworking, please take a look -- and please comment with your views on the books I've read. Probably that's best to do as a comment on the specific post. Also, it would be great to see folks suggest books I've not read, right here on Google+ -- presumably others will benefit."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Adrenaline, by Jeff Abbott

This terrific spy / action novel introduces a couple of characters who I anticipate will be the heros of a series of follow-on books from Mr Abbott.   I'll be certain to buy them.

This book:  deception, a CIA agent who plunges into a search for the wife who betrayed him, plenty of nasty bad guys who tend to get their just deserts.   Any more would give away too much.  

If you like the genre, then my guess is that you'll really enjoy this book.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Woodwright's Guide, by Roy Underhill

I had high expectations for this book.  Famous for his PBS show, The Woodwright's Shop, Roy Underhill is the master of traditional American wood working techniques.   The notion is this book is "working wood with wedge & edge" -- in other words from cutting the tree to working the wood into a piece of furniture.

So what went wrong?   Most of the material is interesting, especially the early sections that cover skills that are foreign to my experience -- such as felling trees.   But there's no material on the different cuts of wood (e.g., radial, quarter sawn).

Things go downhill fast.   The good news:  Mr Underhill covers each successive tool in the progression to finished product.  The bad news:  the illustrations are terrible line drawings.    Contrast this to the wonderful photographs in Jim Tolpin's books.

The descriptions are of varied quality; many are cursory.   The section on how to use a framing square to set angles was completely incomprehensible to me -- and I'm not afraid of math.   It felt as though Mr Underhill could check off the list, "yep, I gave some info on how to do that one, what's next" as opposed to fully explaining things.

I did take some good out of this book -- primarily the names for tools that I'd never before fully understood, like the beetle, devil, or travisher.

All in all though, I'm not about to bother with another of this author's books; still like the TV show though, and I might check out his school if I find myself in North Carolina.

The New Traditional Woodworker, by Jim Tolpin

This is a delightful book about the notion of working wood, not machining it.  In other words, minimizing the use of power tools so as to have more fun building with wood.   Half the book describes hand woodworking tools, importantly within the context of how Mr Tolpin's shop is set up.  So there's a feeling of reality and relevance.   Even for someone with a bit of experience, this section is interesting reading.

The other half of the book describes in detail how to build several woodworking jigs -- appliances that make it easier to work effectively and efficiently.   If only every author of a woodworking projects book would be as thorough, complete and clear in their explanation as Mr Tolpin is!  I am eager to build some of his jigs.

Everything about this book was fun.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Island of the Sequined Love Nun, by Christopher Moore

The title of this novel should clue you in to the notion that the author's a goof ball, the plot is wacky, the characters bizarre, and the goings on supernatural.    All in all, great fun!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie

This is a very good book made better by the surprise of how good it is.   (The author is a television actor and I was appropriately cautious about my expectations for his novel.)

It was a bit of a rough start, the hero inelegantly demonstrating his snarky personality in the first chapter or two.   But it all came together soon after, with a compelling plot and fun dialog.

Bravo.  Mr Laurie is quite accomplished.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Becoming Your Own Therapist, by Lama Yeshe

I've commented on other of Lama Yeshe's books, so rather than repeat links here, I'll simply point to the blog post for the previous book of his that I've read.

This collection of lectures is not, for me, as strong as his others.   But it is still enlightening, in that it positions much of the discussion about gaining personal insight through meditation and self awareness in the context of mental health.

Lama Yeshe also makes several comments about religion, positing that Buddhism is not a religion.  This excerpt gives you a sense of his thinking:

"When we study Buddhism, we are studying ourselves, the nature of our own minds.  Instead of focusing on some supreme being, Buddhism emphasizes more practical matters, such as how to lead our lives, how to integrate our minds and how to keep our everyday lives peaceful and healthy.  In other words, Buddhism always accentuates experiential knowledge-wisdom rather than some dogmatic view.  In fact, we don't even consider Buddhism to be a religion in the usual sense of the term.  From the lamas' point of view, Buddhist teachings are more in the realm of philosophy, science or psychology."

A New Culture of Learning, by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

Here's the fast path to losing all credibility:  find yourself quoted as saying "Brilliant.  Insightful.  Revolutionary." about this book.   As Marcia Conner did.   Now I don't care about what else Ms Conner wrote or did or does or will do, because she has no credibility.

This book isn't brilliant.   It certainly isn't insightful.  And revolutionary?  Please.

Here it is in a nutshell:    there is a type of collaborative learning that is helpful to students.   If you work together on a project, you might learn from each other, be motivated to do independent research.   Technology facilitates this.   Especially multi player online games.

So this is new news, that teams working together can learn from each other and generate valuable insights?

Perhaps there is a nuance of this book that I've missed; one so extraordinary as to make all the difference.  But I wouldn't bet on it.

The Present, by Spencer Johnson

Perhaps because I'm both experienced (hmm, is that a euphemism for old?) and by nature cynical, I tend to cast a doubtful eye on business books told in parable form -- as this one is.   But, because it was a gift from someone I respect, I read it.

The good news, and bad, is the simplicity of the message:   live in the present, learn from your past (but don't dwell on it), prepare for your future (but don't obsess over it).   Well, it sounds better in the book.

If you can get past the style of presentation and the simplicity of the message, it is actually quite good advice.

I couldn't help but draw a parallel to one of Buddhism's eightfold paths to full actualization:  right mindfulness, or attentiveness to the present.

Bottom line:  I would carefully recommend this book.  Carefully meaning not to cynics (and they wouldn't read it anyway) but certainly to folks starting out in their careers.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Starting Strength (2nd Edition), by Mark Rippetoe & Lon Kilgore

This is an excellent and credible introduction to high quality barbell training.   The authors explain why weight machines are a poor choice (in brief, because they isolate muscles whose use in real life is not in isolation). They explain a core set of weight training exercises in great detail, particularly the squat, chest press, and dead lift, along with ancillary exercises (such as pull ups and chin ups).

Unfortunately for me though, I don't expect to get much practical benefit from this at the gym.   I'm not very adapt at proprioception nor am I a visual learner of physical topics, so in spite of the detailed explanations and great photos and diagrams, I'd be uncomfortable doing many of the exercises (the dead lift for example) without coaching.   Meanwhile, the authors imply one ought be cynical about the quality of coaching available at most gyms.   So what to do:  give a prospective weight trainer a copy of the book and see if that helps?

On China, by Henry Kissinger

Rarely have I turned the last page of a book and, without any conscious thought say, "phenomenal."  That was my reaction to Dr Kissinger*'s recently published broad and insightful text on China.

At 530 pages this book may look intimidating, but the writing is clear, captivating and compelling, and although it may take a few days to read, this is hardly a dense or unfriendly text.

Dr Kissinger takes us through 40 years of US diplomatic history with China.  But this is not just about the history (fascinating as it is); understanding the background that led China to its current status is extremely useful as a going forward exercise.

I recommend this book without reservation to anyone who does or anticipates doing business with China, to anyone who wants to understand the pre-eminent diplomatic focus that faces the next generation or two of Americans, and to anyone who believes it is important to learn from history.

To that last point:  in his introductory chapter, "The Singularity of China," Dr Kissinger provides the cultural context with which to consider interactions with the Chinese.  In so doing, he also points out a glaring flaw in American foreign relations, one that continues to unnecessarily take a toll on our military and our economy.   (It is important to point out that I'm connecting these dots; the author didn't and there's no indication it was his intent.)   It is this:  when we think about interactions with other governments, we use chess as the metaphor.  "[chess] is about total victory.  The purpose of the game is checkmate, to put the opposing king into a position where he cannot move without being destroyed."

In contrast, "China's most enduring game" is wei qi, approximately pronounced way chee.  "The wei qi player seeks relative advantage.  ... wei qi generates strategic flexibility."   Dr Kissinger relates this thinking to Sun Tzu's guidance on strategy:  "A successful commander waits before charging headlong into battle.  ... a doctrine less of territorial conquest than of psychological dominance..."

Consider this in the context of the continued US presence in both Iraq and Afganistan.

Back to China.   A more direct issue is the conflict between America's belief it has the moral imperative to tell other nations (and thus cultures) how to run their sovereign nations, and China's irreducible commitment, born of its history of interaction with British and other colonial interests in the past couple of hundred years, to not be bullied by other nations.    As Dr Kissinger paints it, an unfortunate event such as Tienamen Square (where in 1989 protesters were forcibly, i.e., violently removed, and more importantly, in view of the cameras of the world press) is viewed by the Chinese government as only that:  an unfortunate event.   In the eyes of the US, it is viewed as a fundamental failure of human rights.

As a consequence, Americans tend to engage in social re-engineering diplomacy, trying to tie trade agreements to changes in China's internal structure.   China's view is to simply reject meddling in their domestic affairs as meddling, and to point out that the US doesn't have its own house in order with regard to human rights.

So if you were a Chinese government official, you'd observe the unprovoked US invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan (especially now that we know the weapons of mass destruction story was untrue) and translate Congress' hard line oratory as a literal risk of war.   Consider Liu Mingfu's "China Dream:  the great power thinking and strategic positioning of China in the post-American age," just briefly referenced by Dr Kissinger.    Colonel Liu (as I understand it) suggests that war can be avoided if the US can stifle its hegemonic aspirations.   (One must rely on English language analysis of Liu's writing, see perhaps Cheng Li's "China in the Year 2020: three political scenarios," at the Brookings Institute, or Christopher Hughes' "In Case You Missed It:  China dream," in The China Beat.)

To China, appearances matter, and events as simple as President Obama meeting with the Dali Lama can be viewed as attempted interference with China's domestic policy.

To put this into context, imagine a group in the US, proposing that a part of the country secede from the Union.   How would President Lincoln have interpreted a cheerful meeting in Beijing between Jefferson Davis and the Chinese head of state?   Yes, I know:  the Dali Lama is the very image of pacifism, and recently retired from his role as the head of Tibet to focus entirely on his religious leadership role.  But to the Chinese government, the parallels may be considerable.

My only complaint about this book is that the epilogue seemed too brief and too imprecise:  Dr Kissinger imagines a "Pacific community" (for example, see Lee Kwan Yew's comments) but doesn't clearly articulate the implications, including national self-interest values (to the US).  

All in all though, a small complaint about an extraordinary work from one of the finest minds of American diplomacy in action.

*Many readers may be unfamiliar with Dr Kissinger; please click on the reference link.  In short, Kissinger escaped Germany to the US where he served in the Army, got his PhD at Harvard, and in 1973 became Richard Nixon's Secretary of State.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Split Second, by Catherine Coulter

The promise of this novel is an action mystery starring FBI agents.   I got that, along with two unanticipated extras:   first, it borders as close to a romance as a murder mystery can.  Second, it introduces a para-normal sub-plot.    Can't say more as I don't want to provide a spoiler.  But neither development thrilled me.   Pleased I borrowed this one from my public library.

Carte Blanche, by Jeffery Deaver

"Carte Blanche" represents the re-birth of British spy James Bond, 007.    Mr Deaver took Ian Flemming's iconic hero (and the hero of a dozen movies to date, another coming in 2012) and resurrected him as a current day spy in his mid-30s.

This is a good thing: the 007 concept is great for the spy genre, and Bond had might as well be remade as current; after all, that's what the movies do.

Now to this novel:  well, not so great.  As the first re-make of the Bond series, I was motivated to read it.  But it really wasn't compelling.   Maybe a C+ or perhaps B-.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan

This is a pleasant surprise:  a very well written dramatic novel cloaked in a werewolf's story.    The hero (if you can use that description for someone who eats an innocent stranger once a month) learns he is the last werewolf on earth.   He's chased by some who want to eliminate his kind, others who want his passing to be an dramatic event, others who want to use and abuse him.

BTW, this is clearly an NC-17 book.  It turns out that while vampires in literature (include their appearance in Mr Duncan's novel) tend toward fine wines and music, werewolves have less imagination but a heck of a sex drive.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Buried Secrets, by Joseph Finder

It has been a while since I last read one of Mr Finder's novels and I'd forgotten that I didn't enjoy it.   But this novel is solid.   It helped that I recalled some of the back story as this book continues with the exploits of its hero, Nick Heller.   I expect that even without the familiarity the story would be understandable; Mr Finder handles this continuation / back story reference far better than some other (failed) authors.

Nick is a private eye with a mysterious, spy oriented background.   He helps out a friend of his mother's whose daughter has been abducted.

As mentioned, a solid story - say a strong B.