Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

Graeme Simsion. The Rosie Project. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013. 295 pages. ISBN 9781476729091.

Finding a romantic partner has been particularly difficult for Don Tillman, a university genetics professor and research scientist with Asperger's Syndrome. He decides to use a questionnaire to weed out any potential prospects that might be unsuitable because of one factor or another (smoking, drinking too much, chronic lateness, etc.) Through this effort he meets Rosie, a barmaid who enlists his help finding her "real" father, who has never been a part of her life. Although Rosie is completely unsuitable as a potential future wife, he enjoys her company as they work together to solve the mystery. As Rosie becomes a fixed part of his life, Don finds himself questioning his beliefs about what would make him happy, and is challenged to stretch his people skills and ability to empathize with others.

The Rosie Project is most easily described as a romantic comedy, and is in fact being developed as a movie. It's funny, touching, and a bit sad in parts, but mostly funny. Don describes his daily routine which he has scheduled down to the minute so as not to waste any time. Any deviation from his schedule requires adjusting other elements of his schedule so when Rosie begins to drop by unannounced, or change plans without advance notice, Don struggles to keep up. Rosie stretches Don's ability to enjoy himself in the moment, and Rosie learns to appreciate Don's approach to life and its challenges. I liked Don's acceptance of others' personalities, as well as his growing ability to understand others' perspectives, such as the Dean's challenges running his college. The plot is amusing and moves along at a good pace, and the dialog is truly hilarious. I'm looking forward to seeing this as a movie.

We picked The Rosie Project for our December book club read. Once again we were working from a list of Great Group Reads compiled by the Women's National Book Association. So far, from this list, we've read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry; and I've read (outside the book club) Neverhome, by Laird Hunt.

In other news:

I've been enjoying Pink's The Truth About Love lately. So many good songs: "Are We All We Are," "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)," "Try," "Just Give Me a Reason," "True Love," and many more.

I've also been re-watching The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts (2009); there are some really great performances on it. Some of my favorites are "Because the Night" with Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, and U2; "Gimme Shelter" with Mick Jagger, Fergie,, and U2; and Metallica's "Enter Sandman."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Bowl of Olives, by Sara Midda

Sara Midda. A Bowl of Olives: On Food and Memory. New York: Workman Publishing, 2014. 125 pages. ISBN 9780761145264.

A Bowl of Olives is a collection of reminiscences about food and shopping for food in various markets around the world. It's a small book with an attractive binding and colorful book jacket. It's illustrated with whimsical watercolor paintings by the author, along with some selected color photography. Each chapter addresses a food-related topic: markets, packaging, eggs, table settings, eating outdoors, salads, seasonal foods, food memories, olives, fruit, vegetables, seasonings, and "food wishes." The chapter on table settings starts off with illustrations of placemats, and moves on to napkins, tablecloths, vases with flowers, crockery, cups, and plates. Each page includes dozens of small watercolor paintings; for example, the section on cups has the header "The search for the perfect cup" and includes thirty tiny paintings of different cup and mug styles.

Overall, this is the kind of book that one gives to someone who likes food and cooking. Some of the chapters include recipes, although the total number of recipes probably doesn't exceed a dozen. The book is weighted much more heavily on the illustration side; some pages have no text and others just have a few sentences. It's a thoroughly pleasant book that will in turn stimulate readers to think of their own food and cooking memories.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Nantucket Five-Spot, by Steven Axelrod

Steven Axelrod. Nantucket Five-Spot. Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen Press, 2015. 283 pages. ISBN 9781464203428.

In the second volume in the "Henry Kennis Mystery" series, Henry is the police chief of Nantucket Island where he deals primarily with locals and visitors during the busy tourist season. His life gets a little more exciting when they begin to receive bomb threats, and they have to call in Homeland Security, which arrives in the persons of former love-interest Frannie Tate, and her boss, Jack Tornovitch. It soon becomes clear to the reader, if not Henry, that the bombing plot is a complicated revenge plot, rather than a terrorist action. Zeke Beaumont, along with a partner, have developed a revenge scenario to implicate someone from their past. The revenge plot is made clear to the reader early on, but the identity of Zeke's partner only becomes obvious nearer the last third of the book.

I found the plot of this book to be a little choppy. In some cases it could have benefited from better transitions and better overall editing. The plot is a little far-fetched, but that can be said of many, if not most, mysteries, so I can't hold that against it. I read this as an uncorrected proof; this book won't be available until January 2015.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Timeline, by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton. Timeline. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. 443 pages. ISBN 0679444815.

In Michael Crichton's Timeline, he uses the principles of quantum physics to take characters back in time to key points in human history. Robert Doniger has created a technology that can travel between multiple, almost identical dimensions to bring people to other times in history. His goal is to create theme parks, and he's invested billions in the technology and in archaeological investigations at sites that will become tourist destinations in his grand scheme. Everything begins to fall apart when some of his scientists travel back in time too many times, leaving clues that are found by the modern-day archaeologists. Professor Edward Johnston pays a visit to Doniger to find out what's going on. He's sent back in time to 13th century France so that he can see for himself, but something goes wrong and he's trapped there. His team is recruited by Doniger to go back and rescue him, and they have 37 hours to do so. Of course, everything goes wrong once they travel back in time and it comes down to the last few seconds before we find out if they get back out.

Like many of Mr. Crichton's other books, Timeline takes a topic of contemporary research and creates an alarmist premise around it. Similar to other books about time travel, this one creates situations that just can't be explained away; no amount of logic applied to it makes sense. In spite of that weakness, Timeline is an exciting romp through history that kept me turning the pages to find out how everything was resolved.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Prey, by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton. Prey. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. 363 pages. ISBN 0066214122.

In Michael Crichton's thriller Prey, Jack Forman is an out of work software engineer whose wife works in the nanoscience and technology industry. Jack is beginning to worry about his wife who's been acting strangely and whom he suspects is having an affair. As he tries to find out what she's up to when she's at work, he learns that she's been working on a project to create nano particles that can work together to complete a task. It all begins to unravel when it becomes clear that the scientists have lost control of the nano particles which have begun to turn on them. Jack is recruited to try to capture the nano particles that have escaped and which are reproducing in the Nevada desert, but he has to go up against some of the scientists who don't want to stop the nano particles.

Prey is one of the earliest books in popular fiction to address the development of nanoscience engineering and technology. It's a little bit on the alarmist side, but is nevertheless an engaging work of science fiction.

Friday, December 12, 2014

One Kick, by Chelsea Cain

Chelsea Cain. One Kick. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. 306 pages. ISBN 9781476749758.

Author Chelsea Cain has had a successful run with her Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell thriller series. With One Kick, Ms. Cain introduces a series heroine who will be sure to attract new readers. Kick Lannigan was kidnapped at the age of six and found again five years later. She's gone through years of therapy but what's helped her most is her study of martial arts and other self-defense programs. At 21 Kick is recruited by a man named Bishop who's trying to find another missing child. He thinks the same people behind Kick's kidnapping are behind this new set of kidnappings, and he believes that Kick holds clues to their location. Reluctantly, Kick is drawn into the search for the missing children in a fast-moving thriller that keeps the reader glued to the pages of the book.

While I have no doubt that this is the beginning of a successful new series for Ms. Cain, the characters seemed cartoonish to me, a little like caricatures of themselves. It reminded me of characters that are based on comic books, rather than on characters developed in a novel. The book seems a little rushed. Perhaps in Ms. Cain's efforts to create a fast-reading thriller with high stakes, she neglected some of the character development that would have given this book a little more substance. Nevertheless, I found One Kick intriguing and it left me wanting to learn more of the story, which is sure to continue over many more volumes.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Take Command, by Jake Wood

Jake Wood. Take Command: Lessons in Leadership: How to Be a First Responder in Business. New York: Crown Business, 2014. 242 pages. ISBN 9780804138383.
Author Jake Wood has turned his experience as a Marine sniper in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars into a management book that tells readers how to apply military leadership principles to their work in business. After he left military service, Mr. Wood and fellow veteran William McNulty formed a non-profit organization, Team Rubicon, which provides emergency relief to regions hit by natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, or Hurricane Sandy. Their experiences building and running Team Rubicon as well as Mr. Wood's experience as a sniper inform his perspective on leadership.
Take Command is organized into eight "lessons" in four sections: Prepare, Analyze, Decide, and Act. Each chapter, or lesson, introduces a principle and provides examples from either Mr. Wood's military experience or Team Rubicon to illustrate it. The lessons themselves aren't original: build a high-impact team, maintain transparency, demand accountability, prioritize goals, gather information, understand and accept your risks, don't wait until you have 100% of the information you need (i.e., you can move forward with 80%), overcome set-backs. Mr. Wood concludes with advice to be relentless in executing your plans.
I can't quibble with the principles outlined here; in fact, I found Mr. Wood's discussion of the 80% solution particularly compelling. His military experience certainly informed his work at Team Rubicon, which deploys veterans and medical personnel into potentially dangerous situations to provide emergency relief and medical aid. However, I don't think Take Command connects these experiences closely enough to most business environments. The promise of this book is that we can apply the principles learned in the military to real life business challenges, but because Mr. Wood's experience is primarily in the military and now with Team Rubicon, he has a hard time making those connections to business.
Because the leadership principles are not original and not tied very closely to actual business examples, I can't believe that this book would be a significant help to anyone hoping to learn leadership skills. Nevertheless, Mr. Wood's anecdotes about his military experience and Team Rubicon activities are interesting. I would have preferred a book strictly about Team Rubicon's challenges and achievements while providing emergency relief.