Wednesday, December 13, 2017

George and Lizzie

Title:  George and Lizzie
Author:  Nancy Pearl
Publication Information:  Touchston. 2017. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1501162896 / 978-1501162893

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

Opening Sentence:  "The night Lizze and George met - it was at the Bowlarama way out on Washnetaw - she was flying high on some awfully good weed because her heart was broken."

Favorite Quote:  "See, we're always writing the narrative of our lives, and when you respond badly you turn the event into a burden, something that you carry forward into the next moment, the next hour, the next day, and the rest of  your life. It fills up your narrative. It weighs you down. You never forget it. But when you respond well, you have nothing to add to the narrative. You simply experience the unpleasantness, then let it naturally pass away, and then greet the next moment of your life with no trace of the last."

George and Lizzie are married. They have been married for years. This marriage is not a partnership of equal caring. It never has been. In fact, a list is given of the reasons why George loves Lizzie, the key quality on the list is Lizzie's neediness. "Lizzie needed George in ways that no one else ever had, or, he believed, ever would. She needed him to do the ordinary things ... More significantly, Lizzie (in George's view) needed rescuing from her own sadness, and George was convinced that he was the only person in the world who could do so."

So, one person's sadness and another's desire to fill that sadness is the basis for this marriage. Years and years late, Lizzie is still sad, and George is still trying. That is where this story begins. More than the story of a marriage, this is Lizzie's story. Going from the present all the way back to high school and back again in a nonlinear fashion, the book lays out an image of Lizzie's story. At the heart of Lizzie's sadness are the decisions of a teenaged Lizze in high school and the repercussions of those decisions extending through her life.

In high school, Lizzie decided to embark on a "game" to sleep with the entire football team. She saw the mistake she was making but was unable to stop. Fast forward to college. Lizzie tells her boyfriend the truth about high school; he bolts. Lizzie never recovers. Fast forward to George, who essentially loves Lizzie no matter what.

George's character is not developed. The reader sees what Lizzie sees - the constant, steadfast love in the face of all the obstacles Lizzie puts up. As a reader, I appreciate that devotion and wait through the book to see if eventually Lizzie does as well. I am also left wondering why George stays, what in him drives that need to cure Lizzie's sadness. His perspective is not explored.

My biggest issue with this book is that I don't understand the character of Lizzie and the decisions of her high school and college years. The book introduces the fact that Lizzie grows up the only child of two psychologists who view her more as an experiment than a child. However, that facet is not explored enough to lay the foundation for what comes next. The decision about the "game" in high school is unexplained. Lizzie's inability to stop is unexplained. The regret is understandable. However, that regret is replaced by the regret of losing her college boyfriend. She spends her life pining for someone with whom she had a very short relationship in college and who clearly moved on. That loss remains regardless of the love she receives over the course of long years from George. That too is unexplained. Years of devotion are unable to balance a short college romance; George is unable to cross the barrier of her sadness. Why?

I am not saying there may not be reasons; I am saying the book does not explore them. Without that why, I am left with one thought. George, run and save yourself.


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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Salt Line

Title:  The Salt Line
Author:  Holly Goddard Jones
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2017. 400 pages.
ISBN:  073521431X / 978-0735214316

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

Opening Sentence:  "The burn was the first rite of passage."

Favorite Quote:  "You can be lonely without ever having known anything but begin alone."

A political point to be begin with. A key defense mechanism in this post-apocalyptic world is a wall around the region that believed itself the best off in terms of the availability of resources and the lack of pestilence. The powers of the region built a wall as security to keep outsiders from finding their way there except through very strictly controlled, strictly regimented pathways. Coincidence given the current political discussions in the United States? According to author interviews, absolutely. The book has been a work in progress for a couple of years before any talk of an actual wall emerged.  But what a coincidence! As a reader, it is difficult not to draw the comparison.

On to the story. The world as we know it is no more. People live in conclaves, guarding against the dangers of the world outside the wall. Dangers they have never witnessed, but dangers they have been indoctrinated about throughout their lives. The flip side of danger is that it begets adventurers. Tour companies target the rich, offering a carefully orchestrated adventure into "nature" outside the walls for "connecting with nature - however dangerous it can be - is essential to the experience of begin human." This nature trek heads into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This story is about one such tour group who gets much more than they bargained for. The danger they are expecting is that of the nature, particularly miner ticks whose bite can kill in the most gruesome way as described in the opening pages of the book. What they don't expect is to find a thriving community outside the walls with its own views of the world, its own rules, and its own agenda. What they don't expect to find is political deals and business deals that cross the wall. For some of them, what they find are their own voices and new paths and new relationships.

Then again, the members of the group are not necessarily there for the promised adventure either. Wunderkind Wes, who invented the last big "thing" to alter the world is worried that edge is slipping and is on this trip to do the unexpected. If there is a business deal to be made, that's an added bonus. Edie, who is an immigrant to the world inside the walls and is fighting for stability, is there for she feels she owes a debt to her celebrity boyfriend Jesse. Marta Perrone, who lives in apparent luxury but knows there is a darker side to that wealth, is there because her wheeling-dealing mobster husband deems it necessary. The tour guide Andy...well, why he does what he does becomes clear through the book.

The book follows the storyline of several characters inside and outside the wall. It builds back stories and then moves forward. Perhaps a few too many. The world building is definitely stronger, for I can perceive a visual of the salt line and the worlds on both sides.

The ending of this book is not truly an ending, for several of the characters experience new beginnings. Could that hint at a possible sequel? I am not sure. Am I invested enough in the characters to want to know more? Possibly Marta for she emerges as the most intriguing of all the characters. However, more than likely, not.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere

Title:  Little Fires Everywhere
Author:  Celeste Ng
Publication Information:  Penguin Press. 2017. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0735224293 / 978-0735224292

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

Opening Sentence:  "Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking bout it that summer:  how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down."

Favorite Quote:  "To a parent, your child wasn't just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. You could see it every time you looked at her:  layered in her face was the baby she'd been and the child she'd become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a #-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get it. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that pace again."

Little Fires Everywhere is the story of the Richardsons, a well-to-do family leading a schedule, planned life in the planned neighborhood of Shaker Heights in Cleveland. He's a lawyer; she's a journalists. Their four children are growing up, knowing only their comfortable world. Their regulated life is shaken up by the arrival of a new tenant Mia, someone Mrs. Richardson views as a bohemian artist. Along with Mia comes her daughter Pearl. Lives start to intertwine as friendships and relationships flourish.

Conflict arises when the Richardson's friends are involved in a cross-cultural adoption and the birth mother re-enters the picture. The conflict is between the rights of a birth mother and adoptive parents. Sides are taken. Other secrets form and even more emerge in this heated debate.

In the context of this debate, this book is at its heart the story of mothers and daughters and of a big philosophical question. What makes a woman a mother? Is it the act of carrying a child for nine months? Is it the act of physically giving birth? Is it the unconditional love you pour into a child? Is it the tough love when you hold back, thinking it is the best for your child? Is it all of the above or any combination of the above or perhaps something all together?

There are many mothers in this book. One mother turns her back on her daughter because the daughter's choices. Women - girls - become mothers without understanding the impact that will carry through their entire lives. A woman finds herself mothering another's child. Another would trade all she has to have the chance to be a mother. The power of Celeste Ng's writing is the ability to elicit emotion and to pull the reader - at least this reader - into the hearts and minds of the characters. I walk away seeing all sides and feeling sympathy towards all sides. This does not mean I agree with all sides, but I can see them.

Oddly, for a book that takes on the topic of motherhood, much of the story revolves around the teenagers in the book with all the teenage angst that carries with it. High school parties, who likes who, sibling rivalry and other such topics at times give the book a young adult feel. However, parental readers beware for teenage sex does become the focal point of the story for a while. That and the main topic of motherhood make this definitely a book for adults.

For an emotionally engaging book, the ending to this book seems rushed. A big revelation is accepted with calm by a teenager. A truth about a daughter is accepted with equal calm by a mother. Real life considerations to other decisions are simply not there. Let's just say that certain aspects of the ending are quickly handled and thus become a little less believable. Regardless, practical considerations aside, I do still want to know what happens to these characters after the book ends. That too me is always a sign of a book that will stay with me.


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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.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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.


Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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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