Sunday, August 24, 2014

Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer

Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer is a well-written, thought-provoking book
Although I love to read fiction, especially mysteries, that doesn't mean I don't like to read other things. I've noticed that others seem to think that people can only read one type of book, but I would think that would be a boring and bland diet. I just finished one of those non-mysteries today: Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics by Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer writes a weekly column for the Washington Post, and he's a frequent commentator on Fox News. I've seen him a few times with Bill O'Reilly. Things That Matter is a collection of short essays that Krauthammer has written over the past thirty years for the Post and Time.

I learned some things about Krauthammer that I didn't know before I read the book are that Krauthammer was paralyzed in swimming accident when he started medical student, that he was a practicing psychiatrist, and that he used to be a Democrat and a speech writer for then vice president Walter Mondale! I have to admit that I was struck because Krauthammer is the voice of conservatism. I know that I've often thought that liberalism is for the young and naive, because they have such a rose-colored vision of what the world could be. As you age, at least, as I aged, I found that my views became much more conservative. I think that with age comes wisdom and a greater understanding of how the world works. Basically, as I started to make money, I wanted to keep my money. Also, I learned that issues may not always be as black and white as I originally thought.

Krauthammer's essays are very well written and thought provoking. He broke the books into sections:
  • Personal
  • Political
  • Historical
In those essays, he talked about a wide variety of topics, contemporary and long past. Krauthammer's parents were Orthodox Jews, and he went to a Hebrew Day School, and I think that makes his voice even more poignant as he mentions the Jewish/Israeli situation in the world. Although Krauthammer is a passionate about his views, he also writes with a sane, calm voice. I think it would be sad if you passed up Things That Matter. I know that I read works by both liberals and conservatives because I want to get the full picture. I know that personal bias and viewpoints color a writer's work, sometimes even unintentionally. I found myself as I finished the book, admiring Krauthammer, and having a more enlightened view on some of the topics he mentions. Give his essays a try. Just read a few, and I think before you know it, you'll be reading the whole book.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab

Nick and Testa's science project mysteries are winners. First in the series is High Voltage Danger Lab
When I was a kid, I used to love books with mystery, magic, and adventure. i would browse the shelves of the children's section of my local library, looking for titles or covers that would catch my eye. Yeah, yeah, you can't judge a book by its cover, but you don't know until you read the inside. Anyway, as I was in the library with my nephew, I started browsing the shelves. The nephew has no interest in reading, so I was just amusing myself. That's how I noticed the Nick and Tesla adventures. So far, there are three that are available and all are newly published. I started with the first book in the series, Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab. Nick and Tesla are 11-year-old twins, who have been sent to spend the summer with their Uncle Newt, who lives in California, while their parents go go Uzbekistan to study soy beans. Uncle Newt is a weird, mad scientist, who seems like the last person who should be watching children for the summer. But Uncle Newt has a lab, and he tells Nick and Tesla that they can use it all they want. After making a bottle rocket, the pair set it off, where it lands in the yard of a haunted looking mansion. The mansion may be haunted, but it isn't empty. There are two men there who are supposedly doing construction work on the house, two very nasty Rottweilers, and a little ghostly girl who warns Nick and Tesla away. As Nick and Tesla try unsuccessfully to recover the rocket and Tesla's pendant that can off as the rocket whizzed by, they become embroiled in the mystery of the house.

The reason this book series caught my eye is because of the bright, colorful covers. What is really cool about the books is that they contain instructions on how to build the gadgets used in the books. In Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab, the reader can learn how to make:
  • a low-tech bottle rocket and launcher
  • a mints-and-soda fueled robocat dog distractor
  • a semi-invisible nighttime van tracker
  • a Christmas-is-over intruder alert system
  • a Do-it-yourself electromagnet and picker-upper
The instructions are easy to follow, although they will require some help from an adult. In fact, I know that I want to try some of them with the nephew to see if i can encourage an interest in science and reading. The authors are "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith, and they do an excellent job of melding mystery with science. The series also has a website, where Science Bob demonstrates the projects in the books. The website and the books are really cool, and I highly recommend them for the budding scientist in your household. I wish that there were books like this when I was a kid!

Other titles in the series are:
  • Book 2: Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage
  • Book 3: Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle
  • Book 4: Nick and Tesla's Super Cyborg Gadget Glove--available October 7, 2014

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Death in Disguise by Caroline Graham

Death in Disguise is an entertaining Inspector Barnaby mystery by Caroline Graham
I read the third book in the Inspector Barnaby series, Death in Disguise. The book starts with an inquest into the accidental death of William Carter. He died while falling down the stairs at a local commune, with a bunch of folks practicing various New Age beliefs. They are lead by Ian Craigie, the Master. Months later, Sylvie Gamelin, is a member of the group, and she is going to turn 21 and come into her trust fund. Sylvie now goes by the name, Suhami, and she has decided that she will give her trust fund to the Master and the commune. The Master has invited Suhami's parents down to the commune, and Sylvie's father, a rich, powerful, jerk of a man named Guy, decides that the Master is a fraud. When the Master is stabbed to death in a darkened room where the whole commune, and Guy Gamelin and his wife, Felicity, have gathered to watch May Cuttle have a regression to a previous life. Of course, Barnaby and Troy are called in to solve the case.

This was an enjoyable book. The story was somewhat similar to the series depiction. There were some added characters in the book, and two of the later deaths in the book were different in the show. Gavin Troy is extremely different between book and television series. As I mentioned, he's married in the book, and in this one, he is a new father to a baby girl. Also, Troy is definitely not PC in the book. Graham has Troy express rather negative and outdated views about women, homosexuals, and people with mental disabilities. I can understand why the TV Troy is so different. The character's view in the book would never be okay with the viewing public. Even though I knew whodunit and why, I still enjoyed the book. Graham does a great job with giving the reader insight into how her characters think and feel, and she throws in some unexpected humor by making fun of the characters. All in all, Death in Disguise is an entertaining mystery.