Tuesday, June 21, 2016

the view from the cheap seats by Neil Gaiman

cover of the view from the cheap seats
I picked up the view from the cheap seats by Neil Gaiman when I saw it on the New Book table at the local library. Gaiman has always struck me as an interesting person. I loved the movie version of Coraline, and I liked the episode of Doctor Who that Gaiman wrote (The Doctor's Wife). the view from the cheap seats is a collection of non-fiction that Gaiman has written over the years. Some of the pieces are articles, others are speeches, and still others are introductions to books. Reading the pieces was like getting a glimpse into Gaiman's head, and it was a wondrous place. I realized that Gaiman and I had a good deal in common. He was an avid reader at a young age. Throughout the collection of pieces, Gaiman makes recommendations on various authors and books, and I added all of them to my reading list. I haven't read Stephen King in a while, but I will have to do that soon. Also, I have not read Diana Wynne Jones, but I have added her to my list. Although Gaiman likes horror, he also loves fantasy and fairy tales. Heck, he just loves a well-crafted story. And that's the genius of it all, because he's also an excellent story teller himself. If you like Neil Gaiman, you should read this book. If you don't think you like Neil Gaiman, you should read this book. Even if his fiction isn't your cup of tea, his insightful commentaries will win you over.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

cover of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
It's not often that a physics book makes the best seller lists, but Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli made the list. The book is a compilation of articles that Rovelli wrote these articles for the Sunday supplement of an Italian newspaper. An interesting fact about Rovelli is that he is one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory. Basically, loop quantum gravity tries to explain how quanta interact in a curved space-time. Every kid who has been to a science center has seen the spiral tube that illustrates how gravity works on a moving body. Kids toss a coin in, and the coin rotates around slowly sinking in to the tube. That curved space-time implies that a sheet-like effect. The mass of the Sun curves space around it. However, quantum theory also shows us that things also act like singular drops. Loop quantum gravity tries to explain both of these effects.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is exactly that: very short explanations of the elements that we understand about the general relativity, quantum mechanics and the Standard model. The lessons are very easy for the layperson to understand, and the 84 page book can easily be read in a few hours. There's not a lot of meat on the bone, but reading the book does whet your appetite to read more about loop quantum theory. I think that every person should broaden his or her mind by reading Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

cover of Smarter Faster Better
I have to admit that I have been very busy with my new job and my online class. When you throw in taking my nephew to reading tutoring every Saturday, you will see that I really have very limited time to do anything. Cleaning and yard maintenance have also suffered. The only thing that I kept up with was walking, and that was basically because i love to eat, and eating leads to weight gain! I have been doing some reading, mostly magazines and Philippa Carr. i am working my way through her series. I would write more about them, but the books are really very similar.

I did however, finally read a book. I found out about Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. The author and book were highlighted on a recent episode of episode of Freakonomics on How to be Productive. I know that it's a question that I hear from a lot of friends, who think that I'm productive. They ask me how I got to be that way. I don't think Smarter Faster Better is really about being productive as much as it attempts to show you the qualities that will make you successful, and perhaps a better boss. I know as I read through it my prominent thought was that some of my former bosses who were really good at demoralizing and demotivating the workforce should read the book. However, that would probably be a lost cost. Bad bosses never see their own incompetence, and they do have a habit of misconstruing what they read to believe it is a validation of their incompetence.

When Duhigg surveyed productive people and teams, he found that there were eight factors that seemed to be consistence across all the people. These eight were items that no one disagreed on. So it wasn't that it worked for one and didn't work for another. They worked for all. The factors are:
  • motivation with the locus of control being internal rather than external to the individual
  • psychological safety in teams
  • focus and how cognitive tunneling can be destructive
  • goal setting with SMART goals and stretch goals
  • managing others with agile thinking and a culture of trust
  • decision making by forecasting the future and Bayesian psychology
  • innovation through creative desperation
  • absorbing data by turning information into knowledge
Duhigg provides some good case studies to prove the point that he makes. For instance, he uses the story about how the production crew behind Frozen changed Elsa from evil to misunderstood. I know that I when I deal with my nephew and niece, I will try to change them feel that their successes were due to an internal as opposed to external locus of control. If you want to be a better worker or manager, or just read an interesting book, you should try Smarter Faster Better.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Black Opal by Victoria Holt

cover of The Black Opal by Victoria Holt
Boy, has my reading been slow lately! I have been in a weird mood, so I have been returning to the authors that are comfort reads. This time, I was looking for some Victoria Holt books that I have no memory of reading. I settled on The Black Opal, and it was a winner.

This book is different than some of the others because the love interest really doesn't make itself known until the last third of the book. Also, it's not one of those torrid affairs, but one of those gentle realizations. Carmel March is found under a bush at the Commonwood House, and is taken in my Dr. Marlaine and his shrew of a wife. It seems that the wife would rather send the baby to the orphanage, but Dr. Marlaine stands his ground and has Carmel raised with his own children. Carmel shares everything, but the Marlaine kids make her realize that she is not really one of them; all except for Adeline, who is not really all there mentally. However, when Uncle Toby visits, he makes Carmel his special favorite. Also, Lucien the eldest son at the near-door manor, The Grange, shows a fondness for Carmel. When Miss Carson comes to tutor the children, things change. She forms a relationship with Dr. Marlaine, and when Mrs. Marlaine dies, and Miss Carson is pregnant with the Dr. Marlaine's baby, Uncle Toby sweeps up to take Carmel to Australia. It turns out that Carmel is really his daughter with a local gypsy girl. Of course, there are adventures in Australia and the return of Carmel to England, with lots of suitors making themselves available.

All in all, the story is an enjoyable read. Carmel is not the usual strong heroine of the Holt books, but she doesn't wimp out either. She makes her final decision on a husband based on love, and the husband (no spoilers) is the strong, womanizer that is usual in Holt's books. There is a mystery, and everything is nicely wrapped up in the last 20 pages. As I said, it was an enjoyable read.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

named of the dragon by Susanna Kearsley

cover of named of the dragon by Susanna Kearsley
I have really been busy over the past few months with work and teaching, and I have not been able to finish a book. Of course, I think I was also running into a problem with finding something that I wanted to read. I would start some books, and then find myself losing interest. I wouldn't say that the books were bad. Let's just say that my personal mojo just wasn't finding a twin in the books. It's happened to me before: I would read a book and think blah. Then a year or more later, I would go back and love the book.

So enough rambling. The book that caught my interest was named of the dragon by Susanna Kearsley. As you might have noticed from some of the other books that I've read, I do have a thing for romantic suspense, especially when it has a woo-woo gothic factor. I LOVE Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels, Philippa Carr, and Mary Stewart, but those authors haven't published much lately (and in fact, all are, unfortunately, dead.) I've looked around for a currently publishing author who fits that romantic suspense mold, and I found it in Susanna Kearsley. One of her newest releases, which was originally published in 1998. I noticed that Kearsley's most recent books appear to be re-releases of earlier books, and I'm not sure what that is about.

named of the dragon takes place in Wales around Christmas time. Lyn Ravenshaw is a literary agent who lost her husband and her baby five years early. Lyn's current authors, Bridget, invites Lyn to go with Bridget for the holidays. Bridget plans on spending time with her current love, while also trying to seduce a new man, Gareth, who is a moody playwright. Well, Lyn has been having problems accepting her baby's death, feeling at fault because Lyn continued to compete in dressage events. Lyn has been haunted by dreams, trying to get to her crying baby, and she thinks that going to Wales might be better than spending time with family who want to take care of her. When Lyn and Bridget arrive at James Swift house, they find more than they bargain for. a woman, Elen, in the shared half of the house has recently lost her husband and is afraid that dragons are after her baby. When Lyn starts to have dreams about a woman asking Lyn to protect the woman's baby, Lyn starts to wonder if she is having a psychic experience. Will Lyn be Elen's baby's savior?

I've read seen reviews that commented on the slow pace of the book, and it does slowly build the tension. It does remind me of some of Mary Stewart's books because Kearsley spends a good portion of the plot on describing the environment and the characters. Even with that, I didn't feel that I got a good view of the characters, except possibly for Lyn and Gareth. That said, I really did enjoy the book. I was curious about where the book was headed, and the occult element was nicely done. At the end, you can say that it could all be explained by subconsciously noticing things...or you could agree with the psychic notifications. All in all, I enjoyed the book, and I need to read more of Susanne Kearsley's books.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Philippa Carr's Daughters of England Series

Eleanor Hibbert, aka Victoria  Holt, Jean Plaidy, and Philippa Carr
I have not had much time to read because things have been busy at work and with my classes. However, I am working my way through the Philippa Carr Daughters of England series. I just finished The Lion Triumphant, and am now starting the third book in the series, The Witch from the Sea. Both book are some what similar. Basically, the leading men are chauvinistic cads, who don't blink an eye at rape, womanizing, and misogyny. The women are supposedly strong, but at the same time, they seem to be very accepting of the treatment of the men. In The Witch from the Sea, Linnet falls in love with her rapist. I would imagine that Carr is just writing characteristics and situations that would be common at the time the novels are set: the early 1600s. The plots of both books have been engrossing, and I have been enjoying the adventures of Cat (in The Lion Triumphant) and Linnet (In The Witch from the Sea).

As I mentioned, Philippa Carr is the author of the series, and that is a pseudonym for Eleanor Hibbert. Hibbert was quite a prolific writer, using different pseudonyms for different genres. She wrote romantic suspense as Victoria Holt, historical novels as Jean Plaidy, and the romantic, suspenseful, historical Daughters of England series as Philippa Carr. I haven't read any Plaidy, but I am a huge fan of the Victoria Holt books. I have found the Daughters of England series to be equally entertaining. It's always good to have an author you love who is also prolific.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Markup

cover of A is for Arsenic: the Poisons of Agatha Christie
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Markup is a good Christie reference book. Ms. Markup covers the poisons that Christie used when she wrote her mysteries. As you may know if you have read anything about the biography of Christie, she started out during World War I by working in a pharmacy. She learned the chemical reactions of drugs and also learned something about how dangerous some poisons are. A is for Arsenic is not really about the books themselves, but about the poisons. For example, we learn how arsenic acts, and how is it used. We get some information about the mystery (or mysteries) where Christie used the poisons, but the poisons themselves are the stars of this book.

A is for Arsenic is an interesting ready, but I have to admit that I found myself skimming the book. Instead of reading this book as you would a typical fiction book, I think it would be great as a resource for the dedicated Christie fan, who could consult the book as he or she reads the mystery.