Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning, by Hallgrimur Helgason

This is not a great book.   I got it at deep discount and would have been ahead on my savings had I not bothered to complete the read.

The plot:  an assassin leaves New York, ends up in Iceland, finds love and reforms.

The writing is not great; were the author American and not Icelandic, I'd say dreadful but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt and the ability to blame it all on a poor translator.   Realistically though, I believe the problems are far beyond translation issues.

Oddly enough, the last several pages were the best written in the book.   Still, it would be cruel of me to recommend this.

Even on discount.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vulture Peak, by John Burdett

It has been nearly two years since I read a John Burdett novel, and the last one didn't impress me as being up to his level of quality.   In this, his latest mystery featuring the unlikely hero Sonchai Jitpleecheep, devout Buddhist, pimp and police detective, Mr. Burdett has more than redeemed himself.

An excellent novel!   But to try to summarize the plot -- well, it is complicated, at the edge of convoluted. Worth reading though.

As an aside:  this is the first book I've read in Adobe Digital Editions; I borrowed the novel electronically from my public library.   It worked quite well, and was very readable.   Would have been more convenient to read on a Kindle though.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Asylum, by Claude Bouchard

One review (unfortunately read after I'd finished this novel) used the word "unreadable."   That's pretty close to my view.  Sadly, I'm so obstinate, I wasted my time reading this to the end.   The ending was almost predictable.  That I'd look back on this as a theft of my time was also predictable after the 10th page or so.   Oh well.

Just say no to this novel.

Sick, by Brett Battles

The concept of this novel is a massive conspiracy theory:   evil forces, attached to the government, seek to introduce a fatal illness into the world population.   This leads to a military officer (and our hero), Ash, and his family to become unwitting participants in a test.   Ash is extracted by a mysterious group of do-gooders.

There's very little resolution at the end of the novel.   It was at that point that I noticed the colon in the title: "A Project Eden Thriller."   Oh my, that explains it.   The novel was just an initial installment.

It was interesting enough to keep me reading.   And, if I happen upon a sequel while browsing the library stacks, I would borrow it to read.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Zero Day, by David Baldacci

This is a great novel.    But let me get one thing out of the way up front:  there's no question that Mr. Baldacci's book is a complete rip off of Lee Child's Reacher character.   I don't know if it was accidental, and I don't care, because it is a great book.

Of course, I have that view because I've also been a fan of Mr. Child, so the similarities don't cause any negative fall out to me.   Reviewers on Amazon aren't as kind.   So if you see negative reviews, I suspect they're more due to annoyance about the similarities in character and plot arcs, and less about this as a fun read.

If you like Mr. Child's work, you'll probably like this book too.   If you're not familiar with Mr. Child's work, you might even enjoy this book even more.

Okay, details:  the hero is an Army investigator.   A lovely woman deputy helps him.   He's a loner who makes unorthodox career decisions.   There are more plot twists than I anticipated.    The book is quite well written.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hit List, by Laurell K. Hamilton

I've read other of Ms. Hamilton's series about a vampire killer with a variety of para-normal abilities and a strange lifestyle.   I confess this with some trepidation:  hardly literature.    This most recent of Ms. Hamilton's novels in the "Anita Blake" series does little to improve my reputation, nor hers.

So the plot:  bad guy super special creatures are killing folks.  But really just to get the hero's attention so that the big bad vampire lady can kidnap her and take over her body.   Which she (spoiler alert!) ...

... fails to do at the end.   Although it is a bit unclear, since the ending is so choppy and abrupt that it almost makes the material prior to it well thought out and clear.   Oh, which it isn't.

Bottom line:  pretty poor entry in what was at best a marginal series.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Venom of Vipers, by K. C. May

This novel looks at the concept of an incurable disease affecting humanity.  A set of genetic scientists developed a modified homo sapiens that is immune, but can't multiply without assistance.   It poses questions about human rights being extended to quasi-humans.

That was the good news.   Now the bad:  the novel desperately needs an extra couple of opening pages to explain what was going on instead of throwing the reader into the middle of the story.   But more importantly, something -- and I'm not quite sure what -- needs to be done to make the characters slightly less annoying.   While the plot line held my interest to the end, I didn't care about the characters at all.

Still, it has received glowing reviews on Amazon; I might just be an outlier.

The Shop, by J. Carson Black

To cut to the chase, just say no.

This novel teetered on the edge of interesting.  Unfortunately, confused plot lines.  A lead character has a fear of water; it is presented in a way that makes me wonder if there was a prequel.  But, I don't care enough to even check for this.   Some characters are interesting and well developed.  The hero (fear of water woman) doesn't seem all that competent.   Overall, in need of serious editing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv

Mr. Louv's thesis is that depriving children of experiencing nature - whether it be fishing, hunting, building forts in the snow or tree houses, or just laying in a field looking at clouds - is a really bad thing.  It leads to attention deficit disorder, obesity, and a disconnectedness with the environment which will have lasting negative consequences.

The outlook is depressing.   Consider this:  "In the era of test-centric education reform and growing fear of liability, many [school] districts considered recess a waste of potential academic time or too risky.  'Lifers at Leavenworth get more time in the exercise yard.'" [p99]

What's the cause of this problem?   Mr. Louv points to insane litigiousness accompanied by ridiculous legislation in some areas and perhaps more worrisome, that we as a society are willing to tolerate the anti-common-sense nuttiness of some of this.  He points to regions in the US where rules prohibit kids from building tree houses, or playing in the grass.    

Some Girl Scout camps, it seems, don't allow real interaction with nature. "Liability is an increasing concern. 'When I was a kid, you fell down, you got up, so what; you learned to deal with consequences. I broke this arm twice,' says Narayan.  'Today, if a parent sends a kid to you without a scratch, they better come back that way." [p154]

Then there's the over-scheduling issue:  from school to after school study sessions, tennis lessons, soccer practice, perhaps a violin lesson, there's not much time to allow as free form playing in the wild.

Rabid environmentalists are painted as sacrificing human interest to save their favorite salamander, but that's not new news.  (Kids flying kites might get in the way of a bird.)   Just depressing.

We don't spend much energy in society or schools pushing kids toward nature.  We do spend energy on the opposite. "Public education is enamored of, even mesmerized by, what might be called silicon faith: a myopic focus on high technology as salvation. ... The problem with computers isn't computers -- they're just tools; the problem is that overdependance on them displaces other sources of education, from the arts to nature." [p137]

The big issue is probably the "bogeyman syndrome."    Can you let your child just go out and play, without knowing where she is?   What if she gets hurt?    

There are two dimensions to this.  The first is the scare tactic.  "Fear of traffic, of crime, of stranger-danger, and of nature itself." [p123]   As in many things hyped by the media and exploited by those with agendas, statistics, facts and logic tend to be ignored in the world of stranger-danger.   It seems as though about 200 kids are at risk of abduction each year in the US.

The cost of over- vigilance is with the sacrifice of age appropriate, fun and important activity for millions.   "One stranger abduction is too many, but in New York state [sic], only three children were abducted by strangers in 2006." [p127, from a NY State Criminal Justice Services report]   Of abductions in general, "by a wide margin, most of the abductors weren't strangers, but family members or someone the family knew."

Clearly any hurt child is one hurt child too many.   But bad things do and will happen, so it only compounds the pain to save kids from scary things by saving them from life itself.

Consider:  "Teaching kids intelligent caution around strangers is certainly important; how to say 'no' to potential child abusers is essential. But we need to create a balanced view of danger. The damage that has been caused when you have families teaching their kids never to talk to another adult in a society where you desperately need more communication -- what does that do to the kid?"  [p126]

An analogy is dealing with terrorism.   The saying is, if you give in to terrorism then the terrorists win.  Instead you should continue to {fill in the blanks -- fly, go to New York City, shop, sit in a coffee shop even in Haifa, etc.}.

Consider:  "The child psychologist Erik Erikson described the child's need, particularly in middle childhood, to establish a self beyond adult control, and the important role of forts, hideouts, and other special places near the home." [p124]

The second dimension:  nature is scary.  
"So where is the greatest danger? Outdoors, in the woods and fields?  Or on the couch in front of the TV? A blanket wrapped too tightly has its own consequences. One is that we may end up teaching our children, in the same breath, that life is too risky but also not real -- that there is a medical (or if that fails, a legal) remedy for every mistake."
"In 2001, the British Medical Journal announced that it would no longer allow the word 'accident' to appear in its pages, based on the notion that when most bad things happen to good people, such injuries could have been foreseen and avoided, if proper measures had been taken. Such absolutist thinking is not only delusional, but dangerous." [p132]
So should you read this book?   Yes, I believe so.  Even though it is depressing; it feels as though everyone is intent on preventing kids from having a real nature experience:  the litigation model, over-zealous environmentalists, PETA members who dislike fishing, headline -happy media outlets who of course sell more air time with horror stories than with joy, uptight adults who love an excuse to keep kids off the grass, school districts (driven to insanity by educational goals set up by nincompoops in state and federal roles) that are trapped between rocks and hard places.

It seems there's no end to the problem.   So read this book if it will help you become indignant about the topic.   And, there is a section in the back of the book that lists activities for parents and school activists.

Khrushchev's Shoe, by Roy Underhill

This book is about public speaking:   the title continues "and other ways to captivate an audience of 1 to 1,000."     The author is the woodworking world's Roy Underhill;  public television fans might recognize him as the host of the Woodwright's Shop.

There's no woodworking here.  Just logical advice, laid out clearly, with a few useful anecdotes and some stories.   A solid book, in the Shaker tradition of furniture making.   Simple, practical, useful.

But surprisingly little is said about Khrushchev but that he regretted becoming a spectacle.