Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Bricklayer, by Noah Boyd

This is a solid thriller, in the style of Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" novels (but not quite as good).   I started it because I wanted a light-weight novel during a flight delay, and for this it was excellent.   I will read Mr Boyd's next entry in this series.

Do the Work, by Steven Pressfield

I read the free Kindle download of this book (for a limited time, courtesy of GE and the Domino Project) because it was recommended by Seth Godin (a force in marketing).     I found Mr Pressfield's book to be a fast read, a bit superficial, but very upbeat and encouraging:   think of it as a sequence of tee shirt sayings!

Don't take that the wrong way, it is just the nature of the book.  Still, I like it and recommend it as advice to get going successfully on any project, be it hobby, artistic or business.

Although I expect that the optimal audience for this book will be folks who are imagining a new business start up or folks looking to start (or complete) a graduate degree.  Or maybe for someone who wants to start a new hobby or exercise program.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Genome, by Matt Ridley

The genome of the title is the set of human genes, packaged in 23 pairs of chromosomes.   If you've ever taken a biology class, you might faintly recall that genes are sets of codons, and that each codon has three bases chosen out of four possible bases:  adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine.   If you're like me, you're more apt to remember these as A, C, G and T.

If the previous paragraph has you yawning in boredom already, then thank me for for saving you from reading this book.   If, on the other hand, you're not so easily intimidated, then you're apt to be open to Mr Ridley's story.

The gimmick of Mr Ridley's book is to present each chromosome as a separate chapter (he shoved the X and Y chromosomes in with chromosome 7 to keep with his scheme of ordering chapters according to the size of each gene, so 22 chapters cover 23 chromosomes; I don't really know why he did this).    Then each chapter is written from the point of view of the specific chromosome (sort of).

This mostly works, and the story telling style helps keep the material interesting to non-scientists.

It is a good book, but it could have been much better:   I'd have imagined it as 22 essays, edited appropriately for a popular magazine (think Atlantic Monthly, not Maxim!), then collected into book form.   But I do feel slightly more comfortable tackling a Scientific American article on genes now than prior to reading this (but not Science which is always a challenge).

It was largely interesting and informative; thanks Jon for the suggestion.   Maybe this isn't the sort of book to read out by the pool on a warm spring day, but since that's how I read it, you'll understand my longing for better (crisper) editing.

Implant, by Jeffrey Anderson & Michael Wallace

An array of sensors inserted into soldiers' bodies, electrodes affixed to different parts of their brains, with a wireless communications device for bi-directional information transmission.   This allows headquarters to both monitor what the soldiers see and hear and, to the surprise of the test subjects, also control them.

The neuro-surgeon doing the implants is (obviously) beautiful, naive, and well-meaning.
Her husband is a scoundrel.
Her government bosses are (largely) evil.
African nations are (mostly) governed by bribe-taking coup makers.
Computer experts are like gods.  (Well on this list of the book's trite themes, I liked this one best.)
Callous CIA supervisors have hidden hearts of gold.
All's well that ends with the potential of a sequel.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ancient Awakening, by Matthew Laube

The sub-title of this novel is "The Ancient:  Book One."  Two things are obvious from this.  First, that this is in the para-normal or fantasy space.  Second, that the book should end with enough dangling ends and surviving main characters to interest you in going to the next volume.

I found this book, as previously confessed, in a surge of 99 cent Kindle downloads.

As for the book:  pretty good.   It was interesting enough and the writing was good enough that I'm willing to read the next in the series.

The Expediter, by David Hagberg

Thank heavens -- after two completely discouraging attempts at reading fiction, a novel that was well written.

Not to go overboard:  the plot relies on stretches of credibility big enough to span the Grand Canyon.   But that's okay, at least the writing is solid, as is the character development.  The plot advances well.

All in all a solid leisure read, a C+ or maybe even a B-.   This won't be on my (probably not on anybody's) top ten list, but it was a welcome diversion.

Wet Desert, by Gary Hansen

As posted previously, in my excitement to download inexpensive Kindle novels, I picked up more than one horrible, unreadable novel.   This is one of those failures.

Lest you, dear reader, wonder "why wasn't Carl at least bright enough to check out the reviews first," let me point out that as of this writing, Mr Hansen's unreadable book has 158 four or five star reviews on Amazon, and only 14 at three stars or fewer.  Only nine reviews were the lowest rating of one star.

The phrases used in those nine low reviews are dead-on:  "the characters were wooden and shallow," "dialogue is uninspiring," "Very plodding sentence construction," "the main story and side stories never come together."

Sigh.  What's a reader to do?  Go with the majority reviewers (who in this case prove themselves to have either far lower standards than I)?  If I do that, I will sometimes end up with a book like this one, and have to count the moments until I can reasonably stop the pain, just tag the book as unreadable and move on.

Crack-up, by Eric Christopherson

I tag my posts: biography, mystery, etc. One of my least often used tags is "unread." It means that the book was so excruciatingly awful that I just couldn't bear to finish it.

It is novels like this one that justify the tag.

But the fault is not only Mr Christopherson's. I am guilty of greed: the appeal of a 99 cent Kindle download was my undoing. I downloaded several of these in a fit of bargain hunting, but never again.

As for this book: horrible writing. Irritating plot. I stole a peek at the last page just out of curiosity, and saw that even the resolution was annoying.

Save yourself: if you see this author's books, even at a yard sale, run for the hills.

Now in fairness, a word in Mr Chrisopherson's favor:   as of this writing, a full 90% of the reviews for this novel on Amazon are positive -- either four or five star.   So full disclosure drives me to point out that I may just be the bizarre outlier on the curve and that the typical reader would actually love his writing.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

American Subversive, by David Goodwillie

This novel is about domestic terrorism in 21st century America, about yuppie disaffection, and is also a love story of sorts.   Alternating chapters describe things from the point of view of our two main characters (I'd almost called them heros, but thought better of it):  a young woman seeking a way to avenge her brother's death in Iraq and a blogger barely making his way through the day.

Interesting, and difficult to put down, but an unsettling and not very pleasurable read.

Run, by Michaelbrent Collings

At $18.59 for atoms and only $0.99 for electrons, how could I resist this Kindle book?   Ah, but I should have tried harder, for big discounts come at a price.   In this case, I paid with confusion, then annoyance.  

In fairness, it was sufficiently interesting to keep me reading to the end.   But sometimes, as Nancy Reagan said, it is better to just say no.  (Speaking of Mrs Reagan, this is worth reading.)

Swarm, by B. V. Larson

Although I don't generally read sci fi, I do love a bargain.   So when I saw this at a low price at the Kindle store, I couldn't resist -- less expensive than a magazine, it was apt to keep me busy on airline travel.

But wow!   What a great read!    This read quite a bit like my favorite sci fi writer's work, but it was instead written by Mr Larson -- whose books I will now seek out.

Life, by Keith Richards

I'm not a big fan of autobiographies in general and this one was okay at best. But I realize why the reviews are so positive and why my reaction is so modulated: I simply don't qualify to truly enjoy this book. I lack all of the three attributes of a very enthusiastic reviewer:

1. I am not a true Stones fan; I don't recognize album names, don't really know the other band members, and I'm not all that interested either.

2. I am not a guitar player; I have no clue what it means to tune a guitar in open G, 3- string. Oh, I'd like to understand this better, but suspect it may take years of study to get there.

3. I am not an illicit drugs expert; I never even heard of tuinal before reading this book.

I'm sure that if you qualify on any of these topics, you'll enjoy Mr Richards' autobiography far more than I.