Sunday, December 10, 2017

Rescued

Title:  Rescued: What Second-Chance Dogs Teach Us About Living with Purpose, Loving with Abandon, and Finding Joy in the Little Things
Author:  Peter Zheutlin
Publication Information:  TarcherPerigee. 2017. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0143131176 / 978-0143131175

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In the early fall of 2012, after he's been with us nearly four months, our rescue dog Albie and I walked the pin-needle-covered trails of what was fast becoming our special place:  Elm Bank along the Charles River, a forested preserve outside Boston."

Favorite Quote:  "The particulars might vary, but to a person we each felt a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in being sble to provide love, affection, and a warm place to sleep for a beautiful living creature that, as the famous line in 'Amazing Grace' goes, had once been lost but now was found - a creature that was once abandoned or abused, or had never known a home or human kindness, or that might otherwise have been dispatched from this world without a second thought within the cold concrete walls of a shelter. Now these dogs were free to run through fields or jump into ponds or sit by fires and have their heads gently stroked by someone who loved them."

Rescued is a book by a "dog person" for others who are "dog people." The book is about a love affair with dogs, but not just any dogs. These are rescue dogs, those that have been abandoned, lost, and many times abused. They are in need of loving homes.

Pragmatically, the book provides information on rescue organization and the sad reality of kill shelters. However, information is not at the heart of this book. It is not necessarily an informative call to action, but rather an acknowledgement of those who already understand and are willing participants in this rescue mission. It seeks to inspire by example not necessarily by facts or statistics.

This book is a set of lessons, centered around the joy of rescuing a dog in need and the fact that at times it is unclear who rescues who - human or dog. This book is about the unconditional love that can be found through a pet, particularly one that may not have know love before. The chapter titles pick up on a common phrase or life thought and put it in the context of a dog owner:

  • Settings the world right, one dog at a time
  • Home is where the dog is
  • Life isn't always a beach ... but sometimes it is
  • Dogs will be dogs
  • Walk a mile in their paws

This gives the book a cutsie feel that may not have been the intended effect. Life lessons abound, by all means, but setting them in the midst of cliches seems to draw the power away from the lessons.

To convey its message, the book weaves together a number of stories of owners and the dogs they rescue. The anchor is the author himself and his dogs. However, the book moves back and forth through different scenarios. As such, the emotion of these rescues and the bond that develops between owner and dog becomes a little more distant. The book does not settle into any one story to convey the depth of that emotion.

Interestingly, the book is about the joy and necessity of rescuing these animal. It is about how animals become a part of the family. "But all of this made me realize that dogs, like children, have their challenges and some children, and some dogs, are easier than others ... And just as we don't surrender our children when things veer off course or become challenging, the commitment to a dog, especially one that had to beat long odds just to make it home, ought to run just as deep." At the same time, it is also about a realistic approach. "Allowing our dogs to be dogs means reminding ourselves sometimes that, as much as we love and adore them, and as much as we want to protect them, they are, for better or worse, not children."

The stories in the book are as heartwarming as those eyes on the cover as it spreads its important message of care.


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The Friendly Orange Glow

Title:  The Friendly Orange Glow:  The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture
Author:  Brian Dear
Publication Information:  Pantheon. 2017. 640 pages.
ISBN:  1101871555 / 978-1101871553

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "They sat in little wooden chairs in front of little wooden desks."

Favorite Quote:  "PLATO was a computer system, but more important, it was a culture, both physical and online, a community that formed on its own, with its own jargon, customs, and idioms; its own cast of thousands, a world familiar to us yet subtly foreign, an entire era that clashes with the accepted, canonical history of computing, social media, online communities, online games, and online education. It's as if an advanced civilization had once thrived on earth, dwelled among us, built a wondrous technology, but then disappeared as quietly as they had arrived, leaving behind scraps of legend and artifacts that only few noticed."

The author worked for five years on the PLATO system; he is "someone who had the great fortune to come of age, to 'become digital,' as it were withing that very culture." That perspective makes this history a very personal one.

"The story of PLATO as a technological and cultural history is unusual. Unlike most such histories, there are no existing major books, magazine articles, documentaries, or other common sources to which historians may turn ... An untenable situation was avoided by setting up a website, running since 1996, announcing the book project, describing its scope, listing questions for which the author was seeking answers ... The result is a book largely based on oral history, capturing, before they are forever lost, the stories of the people who participated in the late, great online community known as PLATO." This source material makes this history a very personal one and makes this history a story of the people involved beyond the facts of the project itself.

What, you may ask, is PLATO? I had never heard of it before reading this book; I would venture to guess that neither have most people. That dearth of knowledge is what makes this history a necessary one. PLATO stands for Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations. It was an early computer development project that began in 1960 at the University of Illinois. Its ideas are the predecessor to many things we take for granted today - online forums, email, instant messaging, screen sharing, and other technology essential to remote, cooperative work.

The intent of PLATO was an educational platform. Could a computer be used to teach students as effectively as a human teacher? What role could this technology play in reimagining the US education system. A by-product of this project was an intensely committed community dedicated to its development, sustenance, and enjoyment. This book is a story of that community. It is, in fact, the community itself seeking to preserve its history.

The book itself relates its history in three segments. The first part is about the historical environment and the behavioral ideas that led to the system's development. The title to Part Two is also the title of an Isaac Asimov short story about learning through mechanical teachers rather than a human one - the PLATO objective. The final part is the successful and unsuccessful attempts to move PLATO to a wider platform - beyond both its community and beyond the world of education. Clearly, the impact has lingered although the system and the names have not.

The Friendly Orange Glow is a book written by a community for a community. It is an endeavor to preserve a history. The research and time put into compiling the history is clear in the length and depth of the details and the extensive list of sources and notes at the end. The personal interest and viewpoint of the author is clear from beginning to end. The book is lengthy and dense but nevertheless a fascinating story of a time, a place, and a community.


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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Color Index XL

Title:  Color Index XL:  More than 1,100 New Palettes with CMYK and RGB Formulas for Designers and Artists
Author:  Jim Krause
Publication Information:  Watson-Guptill. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0399579788 / 978-0399579783

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Color Index XL is the latest volume in my Color Index series."

Favorite Quote:  "... color really isn't all that complicated as long as you look at it in the right way."

I love the vibrant cover of the this book - the vibrant rainbow creating motion against the stark black and white. It's probably a key reason I picked up this particular book. I have an amateur's interest in design and photography. As such, I find the ideas intriguing and the opportunity to learn invaluable.

This book is an updated version of a reference manual first published in 2002. Its objective is simple - to provide "good-looking, attention-grabbing, and thematically on-target color schemes for ... design and art projects." In the introduction, the author explains the enhancements in this edition - larger size, print pages in which colors bleed to the edge of the page, palettes incorporating five colors, and palettes shown in four different versions.

Although clearly a reference for designer, the book does include an up-front section on color theory. The section is short and to the point. As an amateur, I appreciate the introduction with terms, definitions, and illustrations.

Beyond that, the book has no other text component. The remainder of the over 300 pages is all color palettes "organized into three sections:  warmer palettes, mixed palettes, and cooler palettes." Each page of the book is one palette presented in four variations - brighter, darker, lighter, and more muted.  For each variation, the book presents CMYK and RGB formulas for precise incorporation into projects. Now, on to the pros and cons...

Pros:
  • First and foremost, what's not to love about a book full of color. Flipping through the book is like looking at a rainbow. The book is lovely just to look at.
  • Although marketed as a paperback, the book has a weight to it. The cover, spine, and paper are not that of what I think of in a paperback. It is of a quality to allow true printing of the colors being depicted.
  • With almost 300 palettes shown, the book offers the ability to follow a formula. With imagination for substitutions and combinations added in, the inspiration is endless.
  • The fact that the colors bleed to the end of the page enables a designer to hold the page against a project or planned use and visualize the color flow.
Cons:
  • The palette on each page are laid out in a rotating set of four geometric patterns. The patterns also vary in size. Perhaps, there is a design industry reason for doing so that I do not know. I find the patterns distracting. I would rather see larger swatches of the colors of the palette.
  • The center third of each page is taken up by the CMYK and RGB formula. I would prefer to see that text smaller and perhaps at the top or bottom of the page, leaving the primary part of the page devoted to the colors.
Finally, this is a book in which my clear preference would be for a print copy. A digital display would like be different and impacted by the settings of the display. To me, it would also just be harder to use. Now, to let imagination run wild and put it to use.


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Don't Let Go

Title:  Don't Let Go
Author:  Harlan Coben
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0525955119 / 978-0525955115

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Daisy wore a clingy black dress with a neckline so deep it could tutor philosophy."

Favorite Quote:  "... being your friend doesn't mean I betray everyone else."

Harlan Coben's books are such fun reads, and this one is no different. Okay, this is only the second one I have read, and both so far have been enjoyable. The first was part of his Myron Bolitar series. This book is a stand-alone novel. All told though, Harlan Coben has written more than 30 books, and clearly, he is an author I should have discovered much earlier in my reading.

So, what makes these books fun for me?

First, the books keep me guessing. A trail is left of the solution to the mystery, but the trail only becomes clear once the end is revealed. In this book, I am tempted to read the ending first so that I can appreciate the author's ability to leave that trail. I do not because why ruin the mystery for myself. It's fun to get to the ending and say, of course. I should have seen that coming.

Both books that I have read revolve around a current situation that relates to a mystery in the investigator's past. In this case, a woman from New Jersey Detective Napoleon “Nap” Dumas's past reemerges. It takes him back to high school and the untimely, violent death of his brother and his brother's girlfriend. The connection between the past and the present is at the heart of this book. The movement between past and present also keeps the book moving at a fast pace.

Both books are also as much about the characters as they are about the mystery plot. That fact adds to the enjoyment of the book. This book has a fairly small cast of characters which does make the mystery a little easier to guess at. More importantly, the character development focuses on the fact that, for Nap, this mystery is personal. A brother, a mentor, an old love. The important relationships in his life all play a part in this mystery. That emotional connection take Harlan Coben's books beyond just a mystery novel and makes the stories believable.

Harlan Coben was born in Newark, New Jersey, and was raised in Livingston, New Jersey. The New York and New Jersey area makes an appearance in most if not all his books. "When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, there were tow common legends about my hometown. One was that a notorious Mafia leader lived in a baronial mansion protected by an iron gate and armed guards and that there was an incinerator in the back that may have been used as a makeshift crematorium. The second legend - the legend that inspired this story - was that adjacent to his property and near an elementary school, behind barbed-sire fending and official No trespassing signs, there stood a Nike missile control center with nuclear capabilities. Years later, I learned that both legends were true." For readers familiar with the area, this adds another level of fun to the books. I have been to and can visualize the places that he writes about.

A familiar location, developed characters, and a fast-paced mystery that keeps me guess make me a Harlan Coben fan.


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Friday, December 8, 2017

A Strange Scottish Shore

Title:  A Strange Scottish Shore
Author:  Juliana Gray
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0425277089 / 978-0425277089

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The man stood near the corner of the booking offices as I emerged from the ladies' waiting room, pretending to read a newspaper."

Favorite Quote:  "Haven't I always warned you not to judge a man by the mask he wears?"

Juliana Gray is a pseudonym for Beatriz Williams. Between the two pen names, she is the author of many books in several different series. Her tag line as Juliana Gray is "the author of elegant period adventures." This series is the Emmeline Truelove series, Scottish adventures that begin in 1906.

Emmeline Rose Truelove, with quite the memorable name, was the secretary of a duke. With his death, her job shifted to that of assistant to his heir, Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia. Let's just say, adventures of the most unusual sort seem to find the new Duke. Emmeline along with the very handsome, unscrupulous Lord Silverton come to his rescue often. Society, including Emmeline's mother, deems her adventures quite inappropriate, and rumors abound about her relationship with the new duke and with Lord Silverton.

In this book, the Duke finds himself an unusual object in the north of Scotland. Emmeline is beckoned to assist. Lord Silverton appears to follow. The object has historical and scientific significance. It comes from a different time and place. The adventure of the search for its origins begins. Of course, the Duke is not the only one interested. Opposing forces enter the picture. The mystery, adventure, and growing love story continues to a dramatic conclusion that clearly leaves the door open for the series to continue.

This book and series reminds me of the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn. The setting among English/Scottish nobility, the strong female lead, and the tension of a growing romance all create a similar feel. For both, I happened to read Book 2 in the series. I do wish I had started at the beginning. Having read book 2 in a mystery and adventure series makes it challenging to then go back and to read the first because you already know what happens. However, not having read the beginning makes it more challenging to enjoy the second.

This book then takes the story in a direction that is more reminiscent of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The Scottish setting, the time travel, and an underlying love story give the books a similar feel. Both stories have the shows of violence although there is considerably less in this book than in Diana Gabaldon's books.

This book eventually claims its uniqueness by embedding the story in the Scottish folklore of the selkie, seals who shed their skins to become human. They live among the humans for years, forming relationships and family. One day, however, the selkie reclaims its skin and returns to the sea. Selkie stories are often tales of romance and love. This one incorporates a mystery in the middle of it all for a different twist.

Sadly, I did not know that this book is the second in a series. Be aware that my enjoyment and consequently my reviews suffers from the fact that I have not read the first book. Background from the first is needed to really understand the characters, relationships, and plot of this book. Reading this one alone is entertaining but feels incomplete without the background.


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Thursday, December 7, 2017

I'm the One Who Got Away: A Memoir

Title:  I'm the One Who Got Away:  A Memoir
Author:  Andrea Jarrell
Publication Information:  She Writes Press. 2017. 176 pages.
ISBN:  1631522604 / 978-1631522604

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Susannah was murdered just before Christmas but I didn't find out until after New Year's."

Favorite Quote:  "Pleasing someone else is easy for me, but enjoying my own pleasure takes a different kind of letting go."

Recognizing the need for change takes courage. Change takes courage. Life takes courage. Writing that story down and sharing it with the world takes courage. That courage is what this memoir is all about.

Andrea Jarrell and her mother escaped an abusive relationship. Over her life, she saw her mother time and again return to a controlling and abusive situation. As a child, she learned what she saw - not the leaving but the returning to such a relationship. This pattern led to two things in Andrea Jarrell's life - an extremely close relationship with her mother and a tendency towards similar decisions as an adult. It took a lot of self-examination and work to break that pattern. That is what this memoir is all about.

This book starts with a death. That moment seems to symbolize an epiphany for the author to make a change. The "why" of that is never really explained other than a statement that the death occurred by the hand of the woman's boyfriend. The fact of that death has very little to do with the rest of Ms. Jarrell's story. Why did that moment become a trigger for change? What finally awakened the realization that a change was needed? Is it simply because the death was of someone she knew as opposed to the many such news stories that sadly emerge almost daily? The opening seems more a dramatic launching pad for telling this story rather than an integral part of the story itself.

The story itself is written as a series of nonlinear vignettes, essays strung together to create a picture. Based on research, it appears that parts of this book have appeared previously as stand-alone essays and have begun as short stories. The story-like approach is also clear in the fact that the memoir includes quoted conversations from before the author's birth (for example, from her parent's first meeting) and from her childhood when she would be too young to remember. Clearly, artistic license is used in creating a readable story. This story-like, self-contained approach does make the book a very quick and easy read.

What stands out about this book is that the story and hence the author is relatable. The book feels like a conversation with a friend. I find myself nodding in agreement in places and wanting to express an opinion in places. The flip side of that is the fact that the story is not about dramatic moments that I, as a reader, I look for. It is a quiet story of an individual navigating the challenges of life as we all are.

What stands out the most in the book is the character of Ms. Jarrell's mother. Here is a woman who marries a controlling, abusive man at the age of sixteen. She becomes a young mother. She finds the courage to take herself and her daughter out of a damaging situation. She creates a life for the two of them. Yet, time and again, she reverts back to that same relationship. How and why? Now, her perspective is a story I want to know more about.


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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Title:  Sing, Unburied, Sing
Author:  Jesmyn Ward
Publication Information:  Scribner. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1501126067 / 978-1501126062

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I like to think I know what death is."

Favorite Quote:  "There's things that move a man. Like currents of water inside. Things he can't help. Older I get, the more I found it true ... Some days later, I understood what he was trying to say, that getting grown means learning how to work that current: learning when to hold fast, when the drop anchor, when to let it sweet you up."

The accolades this book has already been awarded...
  • Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
  • Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
  • Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal
  • Publishers Weekly Top 10 of 2017
The author Jesmyn Ward is also a recipient of the 2017 MacArthur Fellowship (aka the MacArthur Genius Grant) for "exploring the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans of the rural South against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential."

Awards speak to critical, literary recognition. What speaks to me is the characters and the story. For its many layers and its complex characters, the book is difficult to describe as the description may not capture the depth of characters and emotion in the book. This is a book that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Jojo and Kayla are being raised by his grandparents. Their grandmother Mam is ill and sadly close to death. Their grandfather Pop loves the children but also fights his own demons. Their father Michael is in jail. Their mother Leoni is a drug addict. Because of the racial divide, Michael's parents have rejected Leoni and their own grandchildren. Poverty is a way of life. This is a Mississippi world that Jesmyn Ward has brought to life in her other books. "Sometimes I think it done changed. And then I sleep and wake up, and it ain't changed none."

The plot is about a "road trip." Michael is getting out of jail. Leoni takes the kids and a friends and decides to go pick him up. The road trip though becomes both literal and metaphorical. It is the nightmarish actual trip and a trip through the lives of this family. Ghosts, again literal and metaphorical, play a big role on this book. The fates two actual ghosts, Given and Richie, come back to the issue of racial inequality and injustice.

The central theme that emerges is the search for and the ability to find home, whether home is a place, people, or a resolution to the injustices of this world. Jojo and Kayla never want to leave home for this trip and then cannot wait to return to the love of their grandparents. Pop's stories of the past are that he physically returns home, but a piece of him stays in the unresolved decisions of his life. For Michael and Leoni, home seems to be wherever they are together; unfortunately, that does not seem to include their children. For the ghosts, sadly, home means that the ghosts can finally be laid to rest.

The story captures the racial history and the mysticism of the South. What I will remember most from this book is the character of Jojo. Though a child himself, he is forced by circumstance to shoulder adult responsibilities. He is watching his grandmother die and trying to ease her way. He listens to his grandfather's stories of the anguish and pain of the past. He deals with his parents who are really more about their own relationship rather than their children. He emerges as the one who can see and hear the ghosts who need their deaths resolved. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is the love between a brother and a sister, a "man of fifteen" and his baby sister. Jojo is brother, father, mother, caretaker, and protector to his little sister Kayla.

Memorable characters and a memorable book.


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