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The Flame Alphabet
The Flame Alphabet
by Ben Marcus
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.95
89 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pass, February 14, 2012
This review is from: The Flame Alphabet (Hardcover)
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus is a new novel, which I just could not finish. Neither the story, the writing nor the execution were great. I'll cut to the chase: pass.

A plague, carried by children and spread through language, kills. Sam and Claire try to understand what is infecting them, how to be close to their angry daughter, Esther, and how to survive. Sam leaves to find answers. Sam and Claire are also "Jewish" and worship in little huts in the forest where they receive messages from a "rabbi".

The premise of the novel is creative but that is all that I liked about the book. Marcus is supposed to be a great writer; I just was not impressed or drawn into the story. The plot drags. The sentence construction is okay. As to the Jewishness of the family, aside from using Jewish words (e.g., Jew and Rabbi), not much about what Sam and Claire did seems Jewish to me. While I am an open-minded reader, this book was too much for me.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2012 6:38 PM PST

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting

280 of 304 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, February 8, 2012
I am an active father of young kids. So, when I read the excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, I found Druckerman's thoughts about parenting squared with mine: does parenting really need to be an obsessive, combative and all-consuming endeavor? Is there another way in which parents can be fully committed to our children, teach them independence and even enjoy ourselves a bit.

I picked up the book and devoured it. The writing is highly approachable and even a bit funny. This is not a "how-to" book. It is a series of informed observations about how Parisians approach parenting. Druckerman shares anecdotes and then supports them with some research. There are no magic tricks; just a shift in behavior and approach that the author shares with us. Some of it makes great sense, for example, The Pause and Education instead of Discipline.

Even in the highly connected and flat world, observational skills and analysis of what may right in front of us can force us to reconsider what we do. Druckerman delivers a thoughtful, thought provoking and entertaining book.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 22, 2013 5:28 PM PDT

The Stranger's Child
The Stranger's Child
by Alan Hollinghurst
Edition: Hardcover
132 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a light read; expect to do some work, January 30, 2012
This review is from: The Stranger's Child (Hardcover)
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst, a highly acclaimed, Man Booker winning author, was on the 2010 Man Booker longlist and is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. At 551 pages (UK edition), it is a weighty novel that took a lot of work to get through. After several attempts to get through the book, I can say that I appreciated the writing, the character development, the language and the arch of the novel, but I don't plan to read it again. It was worth reading but be ready to work.

In 1913, George Sawle brings his aristocratic college classmate, Cecil Valance, to his modest home. Sawle is smitten by Valance, as his Sawle's younger sister, Daphne. On that short visit, Valance, a young poet, composes a short poem about the Sawle's home, "Two Acres." Valance is killed in the war (World War I). End section one of the book. In the next section, Hollinghurst fast-forwards by about fifteen years, regathers certain of the characters and examines where they are in life. This formula repeats several times. The touchstone of each section is Valance, his poem and his relationships with those he touched in his truncated life.

Through the novel, Hollinghurst examines memory, what is buried and how it is reshaped. He also examines the subtleties of class in Britain and what it is to be gay during various periods of the 20th century. The novel is majestic. As a reader, it takes a lot of work to engage with Hollinghurst. For example, the characters reappear in different sections of the book but they are older, their names often change (though multiple marriages) and life's experience have changed them. Of course that is how life works but it requires the reader's strict attention to the details. Hollinghurst's writing is engaging. He captures conversation, especially large groups, and tone beautifully. While there is no explicit sex, sexual themes are pervasive.

This is not a light, easy read. If you are up for a relatively rewarding challenge, give Hollinghurst a shot.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Told History, January 26, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard tells the story of the assassination of President James Garfield by a deranged man. This is a smart, highly readable and tightly focused work of history. I knew nothing about James Garfield or his assassination. Millard does a terrific job of shedding light on what happened.

James Garfield was a compromise candidate for the presidency in the election of 1880. He did not want the job and only emerged as the candidate when the front-runners were deadlocked. He grew up basically fatherless and dirt poor. He learned Latin, mathematics and literature. When he was in Congress, he developed an original proof to the Pythagorean theorem. Garfield was truly a self-made man.

In the 1880s, there was no concept of security for the president. Office seekers regularly stopped into the White House to meet with the president (can you imagine that nowadays?). A deranged man, who believed that he helped put Garfield into office and then needed to eliminate him to save the Republic, shot him in Union Station. Medical practitioners at the time had not yet accepted Lister's thesis that a lack of sterile procedures caused more deaths than the wounds themselves. Doctors battled with each other for control over Garfield's care. The doctors who actually took care of Garfield probed the wound with their unsterilized fingers, infecting the wound and causing the wound to become deadly. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the phone, struggled to invent a life saving device to find the bullet and assist the President and find a way to get through to the controlling doctors.

Millard narrates the story beautifully and brings the vivacious personalities to life: Garfield's tenacity and strength, Bell's persistence and drive, the doctors' self-serving need to control Garfield's care and the assassin's psychosis. The book's focus is not on politics or the shooting itself. It is about what happened after the President was shot and how the doctors and Bell struggled and battled to save the President. The book reads like a novel and brings to life a somewhat forgotten president.

Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
by Joshua Foer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.50
246 used & new from $4.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Book, January 17, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer is a 2011 non-fiction book that will change how you think about your memory. If you like Malcolm Gladwell or books that help you see the world a bit differently, I'd add this to your reading list.

Foer, a young reporter, went to report on the ultimate event -- the U.S. Memory Championships. He met the competitors, learned about their talents and decided to participate in the following year's competition. He learned the skills, trained and ended up winning the competition. Through Foer's adventure, he teaches the reader that memory is like most other skills, one which we can be learned. He explains some of the basic and intricate techniques he was taught. It is amazing. By creating absurd images of objects and placing them in a memory palace (a place you know very well, such as a childhood home), with proper training, you can store extensive material. For example, look at this list:

-pickled garlic
-cottage cheese
-smoked salmon
-six bottles of white wine
-3 pairs of dirty socks
-3 hula hoops
-a snorkel
-a dry ice machine
-write an email to Sophia

Last Thursday, I memorized the list above based on the techniques in the book and I still remember it crisply. It is amazing! I've tried this out on four subjects so far and each one has had equal success.

The book reads as if it is a long New Yorker article: well written, highly entertaining and beautifully executed. It was a great book. Foer writes like a journalist, meaning that the material is accessible. Highly recommended.

Panasonic ER224 Beard Trimmer Comb Attachment
Panasonic ER224 Beard Trimmer Comb Attachment
Offered by Small Appliance
Price: $7.49
3 used & new from $4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Exactly what I needed, January 11, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Although the photo doesn't quite match up to the item (the angle is from above), it fits the model perfectly. The original piece is not particularly well made (it fell into the sink and cracked). The replacement part is far cheaper than buying a new one.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $9.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow, January 11, 2012
What makes this book standout is that Skloot ties together a story about race, medicine, medical ethics, science, healthcare and human beings in a narrative that simply flows. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer. She was a decedent of slaves, an honest and hard working woman, and a mother of very young children. Unbeknownst to her, Lacks's doctors extracted tissue from her for research. Her tissue produced the first cells to survive and spawn new cell lines -- the HeLa line of cells. The HeLa cells have continued to replicate and have been used extensively, for example, in developing the polio vaccine and throughout cancer research. Neither Lacks nor her family were asked for their consent. They were never compensated or even recognized for the contribution they made. While her cells advanced medical research and enriched some companies, the Lacks family could not afford basic healthcare.

Skloot does a magnificent job of uncovering and telling the story of Henrietta, her family, the doctors and researchers involved and the breakthroughs that they made. She tells Henrietta's story, the story of the researchers and what they accomplished and, in accessible terms, the story of the advances made by science. She manages to get close to the Lacks family (in a loving, non-exploitive way) and share their story. She challenges the reader with ethics questions, some of which still remain open today. The writing is thoroughly accessible. Highly recommended.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel
by Alan Bradley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.37
100 used & new from $0.33

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read the other Flavia books; pass on this one., December 27, 2011
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel is the fourth Flavia de Luce mystery by Alan Bradley. As Christmas arrives at Buckshaw, the de Luce family estate, the cash strapped Colonial (Flavia's father) has rented out the mansion to a movie company to generate cash. In the middle of a charity performance for the local church by the movie stars, a blizzard hits, and the characters are trapped in the mansion. Suddenly, there is a murder. Classic British cozy murder set up. Flavia sets out to solve the murder. While I have enjoyed this series immensely and love Flavia, this one came up short. After the murder, the plot stalled out. The characters were not particularly well developed. I am afraid that Bradley is responding to the success of his series by pushing out product. Also, while I love the setting, there have been a lot of murders in the house in a very short period of time. Bradley needs to move his detective out of the mansion to other locations if this series is going to hold together. Pass on this mystery but read any of the previous ones for a unique and wonderful character and mystery. Sorry, Flavia.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Matthew Scudder)
A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Matthew Scudder)
by Lawrence Block
Edition: Hardcover
147 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading, December 27, 2011
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A Drop of the Hard Stuff is Lawrence Block's most recent mystery involving his detective Matthew Scudder. Scudder tells this tale from his younger years after he was forced out of the NYPD. Like so many fictional detectives, Scudder faces his problems of alcoholism. Scudder enrolls in Alcoholics Anonymous. As he approaches is one year anniversary of staying on the wagon, Scudder reconnects with a childhood friend who followed a route into a life of crime. Based on the AA 12-step program, the friend has tried to "make amends" for the harms he caused to others. Along the way, he is murdered. Without the resources of the police department, Scudder hunts down a killer. This was a very well crafted mystery set in a grittier New York City than we live in today. The use of AA as a backdrop worked very well. This is a worthwhile read.

The Drop (A Harry Bosch Novel)
The Drop (A Harry Bosch Novel)
by Michael Connelly
Edition: Hardcover
444 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Best mystery of the year, December 27, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The Drop by Michael Connelly is part of the Harry Bosch series. This is a must read for mystery fans. Bosch is an LAPD detective, with three years left until retirement. He takes up a twenty year old murder case in which a DNA match was just found to a convicted rapist. The problem is that when the murder was committed the killer was only eight years old. Meanwhile, Bosch is called on to investigate the suspicious death of the son of a powerful city councilman, who, not coincidentally, is a nemesis of Bosch. In this fast-paced, page turner, Bosch hunts down two mysteries, is enmeshed in the dark depths of political conspiracy and even finds time for a romantic relationship. I simply could not put this book down. It is one of Connelly's better ones and was one of my favorites of the year. Highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 28, 2011 5:37 PM PST

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