You’ve Heard Of The Imitation Game. Meet The Ultimatum Game. McCarthy-Jones does a phenomenal job in this text of analyzing what exactly spite – which he defines as a behavior that harms both oneself and the other – is, why it is seemingly necessary for human advancement, how it seems to have come to be, and even some of the biological bases of the behavior. In the process, he gives some startling and many times counter-intuitive insights on how exactly spite manifests, often using a tool developed in the 1970s called The Ultimatum Game as the basis of the science. Both a fascinating and disturbing book, this could potentially provide saavy operators yet more ways to control the masses in ways that most wouldn’t even realize they are being controlled – and yet by exposing these methods to the masses in question, gives us ever more effective tools to question the propaganda we are so incessantly bombarded with through so many modern communication channels. Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at a book all about the history and development of an issue that was at the forefront of our minds one year ago during the Great Toilet Paper Outage of 2020. This week we’re looking at Pipe Dreams by Chelsea Wald.
Thought Provoking and Informative. I consider myself a well read guy, a guy that has thought through a lot of problems and who generally knows a lot about a lot. Admittedly, I did *not* know much about toilets and related plumbing, though I had read bits and pieces in other books. (Such as a more in-depth look at John Snow and his work during the 19th century London cholera outbreak in Dierdre Mask’s The Address Book.) But I had never read up on the general history of toilets – apparently because there are scant details about historical toileting beyond the last couple of hundred years or so – much less the bleeding edge issues and technologies of this field. And that is exactly what Wald provides here, a look at everything from the history to almost to-the-day bleeding edge issues, including the Great Toilet Paper Outage of 2020 during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Very well written and mostly reasonably documented (about 15% or so is bibliography), this truly is a fascinating read. Very much recommended.
Amazing Social Examination While Telling Solid Story. I gotta admit, when I first heard about this story featuring “a teen party with a tragic outcome”, I was a bit scared that Beck was about to go preachy. More than a bit, if I’m being perfectly honest. But I’ve come to truly appreciate her strength as a storyteller, and I knew that no matter how preachy she may have gotten, it was going to be a truly excellent story that allowed her to do it.
And yall: She didn’t get preachy. At all. Instead, what we get is a truly balanced, truly nuanced look at how even local politics and tragedies can tear even decades long confidante level friendships to shreds. What we get is two very realistic approaches to parenting – I’ve seen both even within my own family. What we get is two mothers fighting for their sons who happen to be on opposite sides of both the local political issue and the tragedy. And we see in depth the love and devotion each mother has to her son – and what each is willing to do to try to help.
Beck’s older books – romances – were still excellent stories, even if constrained by that particular genre’s (some would argue obsessive and insane) rules. Now unconstrained by those rules and able to tell exactly the story she wants to tell in exactly the way she wants to tell it, this already strong storyteller shows that she is truly a master of her craft. Very much recommended.
If you’ve read very many of my reviews on WWII historical fiction books at all, you know it is a subject that has long fascinated me due to my own personal family history there – both grandfathers were at the Battle of the Bulge, one got a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions there, the other was in the area (at minimum) when the Americans liberated the first concentration camps on their front of the war. And the dichotomy of what I knew of those two men decades later – one (concentration camp) whose lifespan my own intersected with by 5 weeks, the other who I knew for the last 20 years of his life – has become a long running, simmering thread in my own tale.
And without further ado… the Goodreads review. 🙂
Long Buried Family Secrets Find Closure. Here, we get an interesting spin on this oft-travelled subject and technique. So many books of this genre want to take place primarily in the past with only the occasional jump to the future (ala Titanic), but here Graham sticks remarkably close to alternating every single chapter past and present. The past storyline is, perhaps, a touch more urgent, as it involves hiding a brother and trying to smuggle him out of France in 1941. But the present storyline has more of the “women’s fiction” elements of a woman trying to find herself after the tragic loss of her grandmother soon after the loss of her significant other and business partner… and stumbling across things about her grandmother that had never been known in the family, which leads to her quest and ultimately the resolution of both timelines. Both timelines worked quite well, and it is indeed rare to see a single book blend elements of the two distinct genres together so effectively – which speaks to just how good Graham is. Very much recommended.
Satisfying (Seeming?) Conclusion. After Bratt rushed things a bit with Book 2 of this series (No Place Too Far), combining elements that I felt – and mentioned both to the author and in the review – could better be done in multiple books, here she takes the same approach. Yet here, the story is more condensed generally, taking place over just a week or so and having two concurrent storylines that work quite a bit better as a pairing. In one, Jules, the true matriarch of this series, has a medical issue that sidelines her yet gives her a compelling storyline. In the other, and happening concurrently, her youngest daughter has gone missing – and Jonah, the PTSD-suffering Iraq veteran who decades earlier already lost one sister (see Book 1 – True To Me) has to find her.
As with much of this series, it is loosely based on Bratt’s own daughter’s adventures living in Hawaii – the author’s note at the end actually notes a much more perilous event that made the news there in the last few years as the inspiration for the missing daughter piece.
And as with Bratt’s immediately prior book to this series, Dancing With The Sun, this book is essentially a love song to one of her own daughters, and another cry of just how strong her love for that daughter is.
Bratt’s writing, at least in the time I’ve known it, has always been about putting her real world heart on her sleeve and then pouring it into “paper”, while creating worlds that allows her to explore and convey the emotions she is feeling at any moment. It makes her personally vulnerable – but also makes for some of the most compelling reading of the last few years. This story is ultimately no different here. Read it because it is truly an excellent book, one where she took the (light) criticism from its predecessor and largely corrected. Knowing a bit of the backstory – and I haven’t noted anything here beyond that which she has said (IIRC, in much more detail) publicly – only makes it that much richer.
Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at a stunning tale set in a (now) very famous time and place that is so vivid that you’ll be looking up fictional characters to see if they were real. This week we’re looking at The Rose Code by Kate Quinn.
As always, the Goodreads review:
Wow. All the feels. I make no secret that Alan Turing is a personal hero. He is *very* much suspected of being a fellow Autistic, and because of his brilliance I was able to follow in his footsteps to rise myself out of being a trailer park kid into a career that has already made me far more successful than I ever dared imagine. So when a book is set at Bletchley Park during World War II – where Turing built the first physical “Turing Machines” after having theorized them before the war – … it gets my attention.
And while Turing himself (along with a handful of other particularly significant real-world people of the era) *does* appear in the book – and even helps in the endgame itself – this book is NOT about him. Instead, this is effectively a book about the *other* people there at Bletchley during the period and what *they* went through… while spinning a tight tale of personal and national betrayals as a solid fiction story should. 🙂 We see the era and the place through three very different eyes – a likely (female) Autistic (though Quinn never uses that word to describe the character, as it wouldn’t be period-authentic) who is over-protected by her very religious parents (gee, where does *that* feel familiar? 😉 ), a poor, down on her luck girl from the “wrong side of the tracks” just trying to get by and become better than her birth (again, where does this seem familiar? :D), and a well-connected socialite who wants to prove that she is more than just her birth. And we see how friendship and even family can grow between such disparate people. Truly an outstanding work that hooks you from Chapter 1 and keeps you reading through the final words… even though those words come over 650 pages later! Oh, and if you’re familiar with The Imitation Game (the 2014 movie focusing on Turing’s work at BP)… you may just have its theme running through your head when you finish this tale. Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at a strong debut novel touching on many cultural touchstones both in its overall story and in its telling of that story. This week we’re looking at The Speed Of Light by Elissa Grossell Dickey.
As always, the Goodreads review:
No Day But Today. This is one of those books that touches on so much that it can at times appear a bit schizoid… and yet it all works. So very well. It has the pop culture references – including the one I used as the title of this review, but also very heavily Star Wars. It has the romance. It has the life-altering diagnosis and its aftermath. It has the immediacy of a school shooting. It has the dual-timeline nature of someone reflecting on the last year of her life during a particularly traumatic moment. Arguably the singular real flaw here is the predictability of the more dual-timeline nature than the more sporadic nature the description seems to imply. But perhaps that was an editorial decision to play it a bit safer in a debut, as a more sporadic approach can be at least as treacherous when not done well – and it is far easier to do horribly than a straight dual-timeline approach. The specific time tags on the present day timeline serve to give a great sense of immediacy and urgency, though at times the shift to the previous timeline is a bit abrupt and jarring. Still, ultimately an excellent debut novel, one that makes this reader look forward to the author’s next work. Very much recommended.
As always, the Goodreads review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release Of The Week: Count Down by Shanna Swan and Stacey Colino”
Solid, Fun, and Quick Read. At just 76 pages long, this tale doesn’t have much length to work with in setting up a world and executing a story within it – and yet it manages to do exactly this remarkably well, proving literary “size queens” wrong in the process. Here, you get a fun tale of a South African safari Christmas trip complete with baby rhinos and big cats… and a dose of paranormal more of the “Loki transitioning to Asgardian Armor in Germany” from the first Avengers movie than swords and sorcery “what the hell is happening, this was supposed to be set in the real world” type. Indeed, arguably its only weakness – that based on the other reviews, might actually be a feature – is its leaning perhaps too hard on the lead male – Chris, no less – being described as Chris Hemsworth / Thor in virtually every scene he is even mentioned in. Still, for what it is and what it is able to do, this is truly a solid work, one that is fairly easily and comfortably set up as a series introduction and one whose series sounds promising. Very much recommended.
Mostly Solid Explanation of What ‘Free Speech’ Means As Decreed By SCOTUS… And What It Does Not. This is a legal treatise that never once explicitly states the very thing it seeks to define – the particular text of the First Amendment to the US Constitution that reads “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”. It also refers to a famous yet apocryphal “Ben Franklin” quote in its introduction. And yet despite these two flaws, it is still a mostly solid look at what the Supreme Court of the United States of America has decreed “the right to free speech” means over the last nearly 250 years, mostly within the last century or so. The book does a solid job of using an example usually from this Millenium (or even decade) as its starting point for each chapter’s discussion, then going into the history and actual SCOTUS decisions, what they said, and what they mean. Including showing the *rest* of the famous ruling that “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater”. Well, you can. If there is a fire. 😉 And if you’re interested in the concept of Free Speech in the US for any reason at all, this is a book you’ll want to read. Very much recommended.