Monthly Archives: July 2012

How to Become an Intellectual by Nick Kolakowski

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First of all: If you saw the title of this book and saw the word “Maxim” and immediately thought “oooh, a book about hot chicks”, this book probably isn’t for you. But you might be well advised to read it anyway. Girls dig guys who know stuff.

I’ve been enjoying Nick Kolakowski‘s cleverly written tongue-in-cheek articles on The Huffington Post and when I learned that he had written a book in a similar style, I was interested. I mean, a “how-to” book on how to be smart (or, to at least SOUND like you are)? I’m in! Who needs to get a PhD in classical literature or travel the world when you can just APPEAR to have done so?

Honestly, this book was/is a lot of fun to read and it’s one that everyone who has visited lately and seen it lying around has picked up and gotten a huge chuckle out of it. BUT….it has also ignited some interesting and real conversations about all sorts of topics. I have to say, it’s been a true pleasure to talk about something other than Big Brother XIIIVIX or The Real Housewives of Calcutta for a change. Not that I have dumb friends, oh heavens no! I’m only suggesting that sometimes, there are certain people who take themselves WAY too seriously while there are others who it certainly wouldn’t hurt them a bit to pick up a book instead of the remote.

While How to Become an Intellectual: 100 Mandatory Maxims to Metamorphose into the Most Learned of Thinkers was written as smart humor (Mental Floss magazine anyone?), the truth is, there is a lot of valuable information to be found, some good advice and you might really learn something (I did!)

Personally, I found it to be similar to the “for Dummies” line of books, except for smart people. Because in the end, some people will “get” this book and others will not. How to tell the difference? Protip! – A good sense of humor is a pretty accurate indicator of IQ. 😉

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77 Days in September by Ray Gorham

I rarely buy ebooks, especially those that are self-published. The reason being, the editing is usually poor, if done at all. But, I took a chance with 77 Days in September and not only purchased it, but paid $3.99! So I was really hoping it would be worth it.

I was pleasantly surprised. The plot was what I was looking for (end of the world/apocalyptic type), the characters were mostly likable and the story-line, though predictable, was interesting. It’s one of those books that makes you take a moment to think about how prepared you would be if there was some sort of disaster.

The book takes off quickly and moves along at a good clip. There was only one type/grammatical error that I could find and that was the use of “your” instead of the correct “you’re” when Hector was taunting Kyle about Kyle’s wife thinking Kyle was dead. The sentence was Your wife’s probably busy sleeping with the neighbors for food, and I bet she’s got the pantry stocked. Probably thinks your dead or something.” I noticed it mostly because it’s one of my pet peeves 🙂

I appreciated Kyle’s loyalty to his wife in the story between he and Rose. It’s something that I’ve found is very rare in most books and I really developed a higher opinion of the author because of it. I also appreciated the lack of foul language in the book. I don’t know why authors feel the need to cheapen their works by having most, if not all of the characters swearing in every other sentence. It’s distracting and frankly, sounds stupid. There are instances in certain books where it just fits with the character and the story, but for the most part it just muddies up good dialogue and cheapens the entire book. So thank you Mr. Gorham, for rising above and relying on your writing abilities to tell the story.

The only part of the book I didn’t like was the weird conversation that Jennifer had with Carol about Doug’s behavior towards her (Jennifer). It just seemed way out of left field and didn’t really make any sense considering the type of person Jennifer was and the type relationship she had with her husband. It might have worked better if the author had built up to it a bit with Jennifer “loosing it” in other parts of her life. The scenes with Doug were just weird and unlikely – she needed to either be submissive or beat the crap out of him.

Am I glad I read this book? Absolutely. Do I think it was worth the $4? Sure, why not? I read a lot of books of a huge assortment of genres. Books by established authors, new authors, self-published and I’d rate this closer to the top of the self-published group. I’d read more books by this author and think he is pretty solid, well on his way to a successful career, if that’s what he wants.

And for my favorite lines in the book:

“We’ve been so conditioned to think that the government is always going to be there to fix things that we just expect everything to work out. But now that the government can’t take care of us, we’re almost too helpless to do anything for ourselves.”

Amen, brother. I don’t think people understand how important it is to be able to take care of yourselves and your family/friends/loved ones in an emergency. This country was built by strong, self-reliant people and we should honor those people as well as those who have fought to maintain our great land by helping prepare ourselves and do our part in being responsible, self-reliant citizens. 77 Days in September is one of many stories of what could really happen if a major disaster struck. And the people who will survive, like those in the book who survived, will be the people who realize that.

 

 

 

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 This is the first book I’ve read by this author, I almost didn’t choose it but I am so glad I did. While I read all sorts of genres, I always come back to thrillers. This is one of those stories that is personal feeling, it’s very easy to put yourself in the mind of the main character Catherine/Cathy.

Catherine is a young woman living in northern England. She has a group of friends to whom she is close and they spend a lot of time going out to pubs and partying. She lives a carefree, single lifestyle, drinking a little too much and often times waking up finding herself next to a man she doesn’t know.

Until she meets Lee. Suddenly, she is swept off of her feet by his startling good looks, take charge personality. Her friends are smitten and a bit jealous. But then, things begin to change and that’s where it starts getting scary.

This book is told in first person and goes back and forth to the current life of Cathy and the former life of Catherine. Cathy is Catherine 3 years later. Cathy is nearly paralyzed by severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, spending hours every day checking her windows, doors and apartment for signs of tampering, wandering in long, circuitous routes home each day so she can’t be followed, suffering from long bouts of insomnia. She is no longer the Catherine of the past because something horrible happened to her….and to Lee, who is never far from her mind, to change her life forever.

This book was so scary, it reminded me of an old Alfred Hitchcock movie or something where the terror isn’t blatant and spelled out, it sort of just creeps up on you as you begin to realize what’s going on, why “Catherine” is now “Cathy”. You can feel the loneliness, despair and mounting terror as the story goes on. Cathy is a likable character, someone who at first appears weak but quickly begins to show her strength. The story is set in a town called Lancaster, in the northern part of England and in London. The author is obviously British, but she doesn’t use a strong British English writing style that make the book seem foreign. I loved her writing style, the way she was able to build suspense and keep me interested and kept me guessing until the last sentence of the book.

If you’re looking for a dark thriller, you’ll love this. I can absolutely see this book made into a movie that would have me watching with one hand over my eyes.

 

 

 

The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis by Elle Thorton

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 The Girl Who Swam to Atlantis

This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. The author writes with such a tranquil voice, even when discussing the difficult subject of racism and civil rights in the south in 1957.

Gabriella Winter, the daughter of a U.S. Marine general and a mentally ill and absent mother, is 12 years old in the summer of 1957. One day, she spies a young black man behind the river of her house. When he appears later in her house, she is shocked to learn that her father has hired him to be the steward of their household. Hawkins is his name and they become fast friends. Hawkins, in his gentle and respectful way, teaches Gabriella how to swim, how to be brave and eventually, how to love.

Written in the voice of a 12 year old southern girl, the words flow beautifully across the pages, painting a picture that feels hazy and soft and a bit sad. Thought Gabriella is a strong, sweet girl, it is easy to feel her confusion over racial tensions and her mother’s absence while she is trying to grow from a girl into a young woman.

This is a wonderful book for ages 9 and up and I would highly recommend it as a gentle way of teaching civil rights history from the viewpoint of a young girl.

 

 

 

Wool by Hugh Howey

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I stumbled across this strange tale on Amazon a few months ago.  Though I’ve never considered myself a “sci-fi” fan, I’ve always enjoyed well-told tales.  So, I thought I’d give this short story with the strange name “Wool” a shot.  What did I have to lose?

Apparently a lot!  That is, if I hadn’t decided to read it.  I honestly think that Wool will undoubtably be one of those books that become a science fiction classic.  Not only is the story excellent, it’s one of those rare self-published books that aren’t full of spelling and grammatical errors, which I find hugely distracting.

“Wool is an ongoing series of science fiction novels by novelist Hugh Howey. Howey began the series in 2011, initially as a stand-alone short story. Released through his own self-publishing efforts, Wool rapidly began to develop a passionate following of fans eager for the next chapter in the saga and as of April 8th, 2012 rates #1 in Amazon.com‘s Kindle Science Fiction & Fantasy Anthologies and High Tech[1]. The series now consists of six novellas:

  • Wool (Jul 30, 2011)
  • Wool 2 – Proper Gauge (Nov 30, 2011)
  • Wool 3 – Casting off (Dec 11, 2011)
  • Wool 4 – The Unraveling (Dec 26, 2011)
  • Wool 5 – The Stranded (Jan 25, 2012)
  • Wool 6 – First shift (Apr 14, 2012)

The series was also released as “Wool Omibus” which includes all 6 novellas in the series.

The story of Wool takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Humanity clings to survival in the Silo, a subterranean city extending hundreds of stories beneath the surface. There is one paramount law within the Silo: never say you want to go outside, for if you do, you will get your wish.  To go outside is a death wish; anyone who has left the silo has never returned.

It all started one hundred and fifty years ago when there was an uprising.  The survivors now live their lives in the silos and have only heard stories passed down through generations about life outside, where the sky is rumored to be blue, not gray; the grass is rumored to be green, not brown. The only way to see the outside is through cameras that have been placed all around the exterior of the silo over a hundred years ago.  The cameras project real-time images onto screens inside and are very much valued by the silo citizens. The world they show is one of destruction and despair – brown, dusty, ruined, colorless and lifeless but everyone wants to see just the same.

The trouble with the cameras comes with the air outside which toxic and filthy that over the course of several months, the lenses become dirtier and dirtier until the view is completely obscured.  Someone has to clean the lenses for the good of everyone.  But who will do it?

After losing his wife Allison to cleaning three years before, Sheriff Holston has uttered the fateful phase “I want to go outside” thus “volunteering” to leave the safety of the silo and go outside to clean the lenses.  Since Allison died, Holston has been tormented with the unanswered question:  Why motivates the condemned to follow through with the cleaning?  Why don’t they just run away or refuse to clean the lenses?  What makes them want to help the very people who sent them to their death?

Hugh C. Howey spent 8 years working as a yacht captain. When he was pulled away from the sea by the love of his life, he turned to his childhood dream of becoming an author. His Molly Fyde series has won praise from reviewers, and now his Wool series has become a #1 bestseller, with Random House publishing in the UK and Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian securing the film rights. He lives in Jupiter, Florida with his wife Amber and their dog Bella.

2012, USA, Broad Reach Publishing ISBN 1469984202, Pub date 25 January 2012, paperback and ebook, 548 pages.  Kindle Edition, 1st Edition, 70 pages.

 

 

 

The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt

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“The jogger ran north along the water’s edge, the sand heavy underfoot after the night’s rain. At the promontory he turned and headed back down the beach. In the distance he saw a figure walking towards him. Suddenly the person stumbled and fell, then just lay there not moving. Feeling uneasy, he ran forward.

‘Are you all right?’

The face that turned towards him was expressionless, the eyes cold.

For the jogger, time seemed to stand still. Deep down inside him something came alive, something he had tried to bury for years.

Then he saw the muzzle of the gun. It was pointed straight at him. He sank to his knees; everything in his mind went still.”

When I read this paragraph from the The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt,  I immediately began to picture myself on the Swedish island of Gotska Sandön, the most isolated island in the Baltic sea.  It is impossible not to be immediately drawn in to the story and while it is not  fast-paced, it is alive with suspense and mystery.  Jungstedt takes time to develop the relationships between the characters and is descriptive without being too wordy.  This is important to those who may be reading this book out of sequence as it is easy to catch up on the earlier back-stories of the characters so the story makes more sense.

The story starts off with carpenter, Peter Bovide, who is camping with his wife and two young children, taking a run along the beach in the early morning fog.  In the distance, he sees a stranger who appears to be in need of help, but when Peter approaches, he is shot in the head and several times in the stomach.  Anders Knutas, the Detective Superintendent of the local police department is on vacation so the crime scene is secured by his deputy, Karin Jacobsson.  Jacobsson is new to the position and is excited to lead such an important investigation but her joy is short-lived as Knutas abruptly cuts short his vacation and returns to the island.

The investigators, along with news reporter, Johan Berg, slowly begin to work their way through interview after interview of the victims family, friends and co-workers and it isn’t until another murder takes place that the motives begin to become clear.

While the book is well-written, some of the clues to solving the crime were a bit too obvious, however the plot was tight, flowed well and was logical.  Sometimes, the characters behaved a bit unprofessionally and maybe a bit unbelievable.  For example, I cannot imagine a detective going to confront a murder suspect without a weapon AND turning his cell phone off (or alone, for that matter).  I’ve noticed the lack of carrying a service weapon quite often in Scandinavian crime novels and I’m not certain if this is, in fact, the case or if the writers haven’t researched the actual police procedures.  It just comes across as a bit strange to readers in countries where the police are well-trained, well-armed and have strict investigation techniques.

There was an interesting (but timely) side story that touch lightly on the issue of foreign workers in Sweden.  Some of the attitudes sounded familiar and I found it interesting how many similarities between two seemingly very different cultures.  It also paints a very different side of Sweden, one that might be shocking to people who have not visited or are not knowledgeable about the Swedish culture.

The translation from Swedish to English was very good, though a lot of British-English phrases were used despite the translator being American.  Translated books often have a special charm and sometimes the sentences may come across as child-like and the sentence structure a bit awkward at times.  This doesn’t deter from the story itself, but is something to be aware of if the reader does not often read books translated from another language.

Swedish crime thriller author Mari Junstedt is is the author of the exciting & suspenseful  crime series featuring police detective Anders Knutas.  Since the 2003 release of Unseen (Den du inte ser), the first novel in the series, she has been recognized as part of the élite group of Swedish crime writers.  The Dead of Summer is the fifth book in Jungstedt’s Gotland crime series.

Translated by: Tiina Nunnally

Published by: Stockholm Text Publishing AB

Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 9789187173202

Imprint: Stockholm Tex Publishing AB

 

A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama

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A Hundred Flowers

by Gail Tsukyama

This is the first book I’ve read by author Gail Tsukiyama. But since I enjoy books written about the Asian culture (China, Japan and the Koreas), I expected I would like this book. I wasn’t disappointed, it is now one of my favorites.

The book being set during the highest (or lowest, depending on your point of view) point of Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” prepared me in advance that this book was not going to be an easy one to read. One of the most disastrous economic and social campaigns in history, this should serve as a warning to current societies who think that “collectivism” is a good idea or that it would work on a large scale. During the years of 1959-61, China actually saw negative economic growth, which resulted in the starvation deaths of over 2 MILLION human beings.

Seeing this tragic and heart-wrenching era through the eyes of a fictional character didn’t make it any less intense, in fact, gave just a glimpse of the horrors and suffering the Chinese were forced to endure. The title “A Hundred Flowers” is a reference to the Hundred Flowers Campaign.

The Hundred Flowers Campaign encouraged its citizens to openly express their opinions of the communist regime. Differing views and solutions to national policy were encouraged based on the famous expression by Communist Party and Chairman Mao Zedong: “The policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science“. After this brief period of liberalization, Mao Zedong abruptly changed course. The crackdown continued through 1957 as an Anti-Rightist Campaign against those who were critical of the regime and its ideology. Those targeted were publicly criticized and condemned to prison labor camps. Mao remarked at the time that he had “enticed the snakes out of their caves.”

There were shocking statements made during this time and they were only illustrated in a more gentle manner by the tales told in A Hundred Flowers. Many of these statements are seeing new life in the U.S. as an “anti-rightist” attitude begins to flourish.

For those unfamiliar with this era in Chinese history, A Hundred Flowers is a fictional yet true to life glimpse into a dark period of history.

If you enjoy the genres of historical fiction, suspense/drama, “coming-of-age”, China and the Chinese culture,  I believe you will really enjoy this book. It’s not a fast-moving, edge-of-your seat story.  Instead, it flows through a short span of time that, while you’re reading it, seems longer in some ways. I’d recommend A Hundred Flowers without reservation.

You can learn more about author Gail Tsukiyama at http://us.macmillan.com/ahundredflowers/GailTsukiyama

“A Hundred Flowers” published with St. Martin’s Press.  Expected Release August 7, 2012

ISBN 0312274815 (ISBN13: 9780312274818)

The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen

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The Gingerbread House

 The Gingerbread House 


by Carin Gerhardsen and Stockholm Text

If you like thrillers, mystery and being completely surprised at the end of the story, I think you will love The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen.  Gerhardsen skillfully crafted a thriller with a bizarre lot,a dark & dreary setting, with interesting and likable characters and managed to carry over the suspense when her book Pepparkakshuset (in Swedish) was skillfully translated by Paul Norlen into English.

This is the first book I’ve read by this author and I really enjoyed it.  Gerhardsen  has a writing style similar to some of my other favorite Scandinavian writers, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbø and Åsa Larsson  I read The Gingerbread House while on vacation at the beach, a setting that couldn’t be further from the cold, dark Stockholm in winter, where this story takes place, but it was easy for me to immediately become absorbed in the story.

The Gingerbread House is the first in a series called The Hammarby Series, based around Detective Inspector Conny Sjöberg and his team solving cruel and brutal murders in the southern parts of Stockholm.   This evocative story explores schoolyard bullying among young children and the effect it has on them when people look the other way. Many of the scenes in this book are based on Gerhardsen’s own childhood, it is obvious with the depth & range of emotions and attention to detail.  She paints a picture in an urban setting with strong portraits of authentic characters crafted in-depth and detail, ensuring the books will linger in the reader’s mind long after they finish reading it.  I found this true!  My Swedish isn’t good enough to read the rest of the books in this series, so I will be waiting (im)patiently for the English translations.

The story starts out with a fairy-tale like description of a preschool just south of Stockholm. A stately building surrounded by tall pines, round corners and white posts making it sound like a wonderful place for young children to spend their days.  Gerhardsen goes on to describe a lively group of children bursting out of the doors, all bundled up in colorful winter gear, full of energy after a day of preschool and now on their way home.  Most of the children go running off to their homes. A few, however, linger behind, one of them being 6-year-old Thomas Karlsson, who quickly becomes the target for a brutal beating, even by preschooler-aged children standards and so begins the story.

40-ish years later, a chance encounter on a train brings Thomas Karlsson face-to-face with the lead bully all those years ago, “King Hans” as the children used to call him.  While Thomas lives in a dim, cramped room, all alone with no family, no friends, he can see that Hans appears to be healthy, strong and happy.  On a whim and without really even knowing why, Thomas decides to secretly follow Hans home. The next day, Hans is found murdered, head bashed in and his life over in a matter of minutes. Then follows a string of what seems to be unrelated murders of people in their forties.

The book switches between a number of characters: the murderer, the chief inspector, a detective, and at times, we are given an insight into the victims but it wasn’t at all confusing. I really understood the different perspectives of each character.  Each character has their own storyline going, but each story blends in to the main storyline quite well.  The book was exciting, just when I thought I had it figured out – I’d turn the page and couldn’t be more wrong!

I’ve been a huge fan of “Nordic Noir” as it’s been called since long before the whole “Stieg Larsson” craze (which I loved, by the way).  The Gingerbread House, is in fact, published by the same publisher & edited by the same team that produced “The Millenium Trilogy” with the wonderful Lisbeth Salander.  There’s just something about the Swedish culture that lends itself to taking what could be your run-of-the-mill mystery/thriller and turning it into something dark, mysterious and thrilling.  If you’re like me, a fan of mystery, thrillers and intrigue but like that little “extra something Scandinavian” thrown in, I think you will really enjoy this book.  Put it on your “must read” list, you won’t regret it!

Thanks to Netgalley and Stockholm Text for sharing the galley with me to read.