Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vacation Book Review

The Informationist: A Thriller
By Taylor Stevens
Crown Publishers, 2011. 307 pgs. Fiction

Vanessa Munroe is an expert at finding information. Large corporations contract her to ferret out the stuff no one else can uncover in countries few others dare to travel. Her gifts with language and observation uniquely qualify her for this work along with her terrifyingly single-minded ability to protect herself both physically and emotionally. Her newest assignment is different from those she usually takes. This time she is going to Africa to find the daughter of a powerful oil executive who, four years ago, disappeared without a trace.

This is Stevens’ debut novel and I loved it. It does seem to be setting up for a new series of books featuring Munroe and her associates but there was still a great deal of closure. So, while I look forward to more thrillers from this exciting new author, I like that I don’t feel the conclusion left me hanging. There is some rough language and violence but nothing I felt was gratuitous.

By Tina Fey
Little, Brown and Co. 2011. 277 pgs. Biography.

Tina Fey is best known for her years writing and performing on Saturday Night Live, as the star and executive producer of 30 Rock, and her imitations of Sarah Palin during the past presidential election. In her memoir she tells of growing up as an outsider, finding her love for performance, and years of work in the comedy field, which is notoriously dominated by men.

I’m going to be honest, the jacket art is hideous. It is probably the biggest obstacle to enjoying this book. It’s just creepy. But, if you can get past the “man hands”, Fey offers an entertaining journey through portions of her life. Be prepared for a bit of rough language mixed in with a great deal of sarcasm and number of laugh-out-loud observations from a very funny lady.

Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool
By Taylor Clark
Little, Brown and Co., 2011. 310 pgs. Nonfiction.

Some of us tend to break out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of experiences and situations that others embrace and even seek with enthusiasm. In Nerve, Taylor Clark outlines new discoveries being made by neuroscientists about our natural reactions to environments that cause us stress and threaten us with harm, either physical or emotional. He provides excellent examples and perfectly balances instruction with entertainment. Best of all, he’s incredibly funny and personable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m not one to pick up self-help titles and was actually surprised it was categorized as such since I had selected it while searching for a good science read. But Nerve brings to the table the best of both genres. It has great stories and insights that inform and inspire which makes this a perfect choice for people looking to understand human nature and also those looking to overcome their own fears.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why I Love My House

Well, a while ago I posted pictures of my new home. Soon after, I had my whole family over to celebrate my sister and nephew's birthdays. It was that weekend that I fell in love with my house. This is how it is supposed to be, full of people I love...I almost cried several times and other than a cold shower Dave ended up was pretty perfect.

Here are some pictures to illustrate...

My new couches are nice...but look how cute they are with dozers all snuggled in!

This is the volcano cake I made for totally didn't work right, but he still acted very excited about it. I was very excited that so many people could be in my kitchen and I didn't feel crowded by anyone!

Here are the musically gifted of the family singing around the piano. They were practicing a song they sang for my Grandfather's funeral a few weeks later. They sounded amazing while practicing and at the service.

The cake may not have erupted, but it did do a pretty good job of smoking.

We put all the kids in the basement to sleep. I had found enough stuffed animals that they could all sleep with a little friend. Finishing the basement is the next big goal, I'm sure the kids will appreciate that...

Here we have two of my nephews before bed....I know you thought maybe one was a niece..but no, my nephew Nathan loves to sleep in a little pink nightgown...I mean nightshirt...and I think it's the most adorable thing in the whole entire world. No joke...the WHOLE WORLD!!

And finally, the living room...just full of people I love.

Well, there you have it. The #1 reason I love my house: People I love fit in it!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Report..s'more

The Lost Gate
By Orson Scott Card
Tor, 2011. 384 pgs. Fantasy.

Danny is something of an outcast among his cousins growing up in a remote family compound where magical abilities are valued above all else. His parents are both powerful and respected mages who are frequently away and seem to care little for their only child. Danny’s lack of magical talents is nuisance, but when he discovers he may be far more powerful than any mage in ages, his life is in serious danger.

Card has built an intriguing new world of magic. Danny’s magical ability allows him to build gates that immediately transport him to another place. But beyond a transit device, gates also possess healing powers and can strengthen a mages powers when the gate is used to travel between worlds. However, I could not help but feel that the whole book was about the magic at the expense of story and characters. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that the entire book was a buildup for novels yet to come, an aspect of fantasy fiction that I struggle to embrace. This could be the good start to a new popular series, though I doubt I’ll be motivated to dive in any further.

Unfamiliar Fishes
By Sarah Vowell
Riverhead Books, 2011. 238 pgs. Nonfiction

Sarah Vowell’s new book provides a look at the events surrounding the annexation and eventual statehood of Hawaii. Following Captain Cook’s discovery of the islands, Hawaii became a popular stop for sailors traversing the Atlantic. And, as could be expected, missionaries soon followed. The overwhelming influence of these visitors on the paradise they came to ‘save’ quickly consumed aspects of the native culture. The Hawaiians who lived through the infestation of European and American germs had little chance of escaping the invasion of capitalism and Christianity.

Colonization always has a dark and tragic side despite the well-meaning intentions of some participants. Sarah Vowell writes with a superb combination of humor and honesty as she tells this part of Hawaii’s history. She has an impressive ability to point out the ironic and ridiculous while maintaining a respectful tone. I would highly recommend this book to anyone visiting the islands or anyone looking for a good excuse to visit the islands (as if anyone actually needed more motivation).

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
By Joshua Foer
Penguin Press, 2011. 307 pgs. Nonfiction

Each day we forget things we intend to remember. Things like our keys, our PayPal password, to pick up a gallon of milk, or why we opened the utensil drawer. And yet, there are individuals who can memorize whole books, thousands of digits of pi, and every name and face they have yet encountered. How? How do they do it? Joshua Foer decided he wanted to discover the secrets of the great mnemonists. So, he joined their ranks and spent a year training for the U.S. Memory Championship.

Foer’s immersive research for this book gives it a personal dimension that takes is far beyond simply science writing on memory. Of course, he includes some fascinating chapters on the science of the brain and theories of memory improvement, but what makes his narrative stand out is his journey toward a potential we all may have inside us. A completely memorable book.

Discovery of Witches
By Deborah Harkness
Viking, 2011. 579 pgs. Fiction

Dr. Diana Bishop has carefully suppressed her magical abilities despite coming from a long and respected line of witches. Instead, she has focused on her career which has taken her to Oxford to spend her days in the library perusing ancient documents. Diana’s self-imposed exile from the magical word becomes impossible to maintain when a mysterious folio finds its way into her hands. She is suddenly attracting a great deal of supernatural attention including that of a vampire with piercing eyes and questionable intentions.

This is the first book in a new series that seems to be a cross between Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Charlaine Harris’s Dead Until Dark. Readers can’t help but notice that the story is a buildup to further adventures is subsequent volumes. Few would consider this a good stand-alone since there is little closure at the end of the book’s almost 600 pages. However, enough plot advancement and character development occur to provide an entertaining read.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Cheerio Made My Day

This is what was greeting me on Thursday when I went to work and I just had to take a picture of it! Coming up the stairs from the underground party I found this solitary breakfast crumb on its edge, at the edge of one of the steps. Crazy, eh?

I hope that I don't love it because I identify with a round, lonely scrap just trying to survive an impossible situation....'cause that would just be silly.