Monthly Archives: September 2012

Mitt Romney in his Own Words – Phillip Hines

Mitt Romney in His Own WordsMitt Romney in His Own Words by Phillip Hines

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The standard disclaimer applies: I received this book free as a promotion from GoodReads so I didn’t pay a thing for it. Despite this generous display of largess my typical honest review follows. Further, it is generally difficult when reading a book with a political bent to separate the book and its execution from the content. If the book shares ideas that you agree with then you are automatically more prone to think highly of it. This is an unavoidable reality of humanity that I will attempt to escape the influence of. It’s also difficult to be objective because the return address on the envelope in which I received this book had the author’s name and address. So clearly this isn’t some huge mega-corporation sending me a book but instead some real person who put forth effort to write it.

Sadly, despite all the disclaimers and influences above I was exceptionally disappointed in this offering. It is what it says it is and no more: a collection of Romney quotes. The quotes focus almost exclusively on the last six years which makes them fundamentally all from the context of a campaign whose obvious goal is to appeal to the largest number of potential voters. There’s little of the real man here but rather standard political demagoguery. I didn’t really learn anything about Romney in this book. I learned that the standard Republican platform was phrased in Romney’s words. That’s not especially helpful.

Structurally the book is haphazard. The author has gone to great pains to break the quotes up into very granular categories but there is much overlap and some categories are trivially short. It’s almost as if the author broke down his content into more categories just to make the book seem more substantial since a new category with only one entry allows him to leave three quarters of a page blank.

Most disappointing was the fact that the author didn’t really write anything. There is a brief introduction which I assume to be a product of the author but the bulk of the book is just very loosely categorized quotations, taken from public records and given verbatim without any commentary or editorial oversight whatsoever. I could have written a very simple computer program to do the same job just by looking at key words and putting things into buckets to be printed out by the publisher. That’s not writing; it’s just sorting.

So to sum up, this book paints a poor and limited picture of Mitt Romney as a person. As a work of reference it is poorly and insufficiently organized but perhaps sufficient to serve the needs of some author of the future who will write a real book about the man who may or may not become our next president.

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Grace: A Memoir – Grace Coddington

Grace: A MemoirGrace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The standard disclaimer applies. I received this book as a promotional copy from GoodReads and what I can only assume was an overzealous use of the ‘request this book’ button.

In all the technical ways that a book can be so this one was completely adequate. The author is a sufficiently skilled one and has many diverse stories to tell from her life and she shares them with openness and skill. Her career in the fashion industry for several decades is clearly one worth writing about as she seems to have met everyone who was ever anyone or even had a chance to be anyone. Unlike many memoirs her presentation is detailed without being egotistical and on a personal level she seems quite a nice person. She describes her own problems with anxiety around people and crowds in a way that I find very easy to relate to and sympathize with. Grace Coddington presents to her readers a good life well-lived.

I was rather astonished though by the almost dismissive manner in which she related events from her own life. She seems to have managed to divorced half a dozen husbands with barely a mention of them. Major milestones in her life fly by only hinted at in some cases. Perhaps this was intended to emphasize her career rather than personal life but it did rather leave me wanting more of Grace the person rather than Grace the public figure.

In the end though this was completely impossible to wade through. After 120 pages of name-dropping about people I’d never heard of (but obviously should have) I quickly skimmed through the rest and put it aside. It’s well-executed but not for everyone. Anyone who wants my copy need merely send an address and I shall ship it to them forthwith and with dispatch.

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The Jewels of Paradise – Donna Leon

The Jewels of ParadiseThe Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As I have so often said lately, I received this book as part of the GoodReads FirstReads program. Despite the fact that I didn’t pay a farthing for this novel I will endeavor to review it with baldfaced honesty.

Leon, from all I can tell is a widely acclaimed author and you can see shadows of her skill in this offering but sadly, they are just shadows. “The Jewels” is erudite as it demonstrates the author’s research into Baroque music and she does a good job of education but I think most readers will find her actual story line rather sparse. She goes to a great deal of trouble to paint the background and it’s a rich tapestry but when the final curtain finally drops the result we’re left with is predictable and not really all that interesting. This book is cut from the pattern of a thousand other books. The only difference is the motif she has chosen and even that is rather a niche interest.

On the up side, the book is educational and can be finished in an extended sitting even during a weeknight. While Leon’s latest doesn’t offer much, at least it offers it in a hurry allowing the reader to plod on to something more entertaining.

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Books for the middle bits of September

Cry, the Beloved CountryCry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah yes, Cry, the Beloved Country. Fodder for high school reading lists for time immemorial… or at least since it was written. I won’t blather on at great length about this one as it has been acclaimed and written about almost unto inanity but it is worth a few words.

The very high level overview of the story: A native South African priest from a struggling rural village braves the white-dominated big city in search of his lost family. I suspect that much of the reason that the book has made its way into so many schools is that it exposes one to the issues of apartheid and bigotry of the region which, let’s face it, as Americans we’re not particularly well aware of. This is one of those forgotten but important bits of history that aren’t really at the forefront of the American consciousness. It’s well worth a perusal as a history lesson if nothing else.

From a reading and enjoyment standpoint the book does suffer a bit. I staggered through the first 70 pages over the course of several days and completely failed to hit my stride. The book is heavy in conversations so the use of the South African dialect can at times be unbalancing and distracting and characters are well developed but often hard to tell apart. At least some of this stems from my inability to engage with the book early on but I would argue that lack of engagement comes too from confusion of one character with another.

On balance, a great work but one that must be approached in a more scholarly manner. Certainly not one to be taken on the train with all manner of conversations going on around you as distraction. Sit a savor or save for a lazy Saturday afternoon and blow through in one long and savory trip.

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Shawn Buckner's Outdoor Adventures: Spring Turkey Chronicles (Volume One)Shawn Buckner’s Outdoor Adventures: Spring Turkey Chronicles by Cory Pedersen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As always we begin with the standard disclaimer. I entered the Goodreads drawing for this book but didn’t win. However, after a brief and pleasant conversation with the author he was nice enough to send me a copy. It’s further worth noting to start that I’m not 100% certain what genre this book belongs to. It strikes me as intended for a young adult audience so I will proceed to review it as if such is absolutely the case.

Pedersen’s offering is a solid bit of writing. The author’s style is simple yet engaging and communicates the details of his surprisingly complex topic very well. He also strikes a great balance by being explanatory without pandering or becoming tiresome about it.

There’s also a wonderful message hiding in Pedersen’s work. His young protagonist has a goal and he’s not afraid to work tirelessly to achieve it. In today’s world of instant gratification and, let’s just face it, laziness, I wouldn’t mind if all our youth all exhibited a bit more Shawn Buckner.

The only real negative I can see here (aside from exactly two typos) is that in some ways the hero is almost too perfect. Today’s adolescent, for better or worse, has become a much more sophisticated creature that may expect a bit more balance. That said it’s still a great contribution to the genre. I look forward to the next installment.

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The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the TipiThe Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi by Paul Goble

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As always I say simply that I received this book free as part of a ‘First Reads’ giveaway but never the less shall do my utmost to give it a fair and honest hearing.

It’s a bit difficult to know exactly how to categorize this one. From the outside and based on its copious and colorful illustrations it should be a children’s book. Judging by its language, however, it’s rather more sophisticated than one would have anticipated. The content though, aside from one attempted mariticide, is suitable for an audience of any age.

Goble’s simple stories have the ring of authenticity and each carries along with it an allegory that applies even to today’s world. His illustrations are wonderful and appropriate both in content and detail and give added depth to the story being told. It would seem very natural to see this book read aloud to a group sitting around a campfire. Each story is brief yet substantive.

The only real quirk of this work is that I just can’t quiet tell who to give it to next. Younger children, I think will be stumped by the vocabulary which is fairly adult. Older children will be put off by the illustrations and the brevity of the stories. Adults will spend an hour on it and then be done. Perhaps it is firmly in the camp of those books which one reads to a child but can’t quite expect them to read on their own. I’ll try it on my own children and report back on the results later.

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The Orphan Master's SonThe Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Firstly, the standard disclaimer. I received this book in a GoodReads drawing so it made its way to my door at no cost as part of the book’s marketing. Even so, as always I will endeavor to give the book an honest airing.

I rated the Orphan Master at 5 stars but to be honest it’s a rather weak five stars. The topic, the novel and varied life of a North Korean orphan and conscripted soldier, is automatically amusing before the second page is even turned. We get to see what life is at least theorized to be like in that backwards little Asian country. The depiction is keenly Orwellian and inspires great pity for a people so ruthlessly used by a tyrant for generations.

All that said though it does begin, after a while to inspire a bit of ennui. There’s only so much to say and Johnson seems to say it again and again and again. At half way I was a ship happily adrift in the sea of this novel. By the last few pages I was just tired and looking for the shore. The ending, though dramatic and appropriate, failed to spur me to awe because of the length of time it took to get to it and the fact that it was fairly obvious after all the lead-up.

Well worth a read, perhaps spread out over a lazy week or so. Transitions between narrators can be abrupt in the last half of the book though so take special care to figure out exactly who it is suddenly using the first person before you go to far. Enjoy!

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Robert Ludlum's (TM) The Janus ReprisalRobert Ludlum’s (TM) The Janus Reprisal by Jamie Freveletti

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As is so often the case as of late, I will begin by saying that this book made its way to me as part of the Goodreads First Reads program at no cost. Despite that I will give the book my honest and unbiased assessment.

It’s probably worth mentioning that the genre of this book is generally outside my area of interest. I’m not typically a fan of bang-bang shoot ’em up movies or books and so this read is a bit of a departure. Despite that I am at least somewhat susceptible to such concepts as drama and intrigue, though apparently not quite susceptible enough in this case.

Freveletti’s offering is dramatic, drawn from the current day and goes to great lengths to excite her readers. To its credit it does this reasonably well but I can’t help but recall that during all these efforts I never really cared. As the author points out in her afterword, the best thing about Ludlum’s work was that you really empathized with Bourne and it was that feeling that she wanted to emulate in her own work. I can’t say though that I ever cared one whit whether Smith lived or died or whether I even finished the book. It was only through an inflamed sense of duty that I bothered to read through to the end.

At least some of my consternation is no doubt drawn from the implausibility of the whole thing. Freveletti has used at least reasonably accurate scientific realities for her subject but the way in which they are used is clumsy and her depiction of action sequences is completely implausible.

In summary, it would seem that this offering is one of a protracted series that stretches back for decades but it completely fails to make me want to either read previous books nor look forward to future ones. It is merely a ho-hum contribution to the espionage genre. Perhaps those who have followed the previous exploits of Mr. Smith will find him more entertaining.

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On Pain, On Want

I’ve spent the last few days reading a book which has as its center the country of North Korea.  The people here, if the book is to be believed, are the most atrociously deprived lot in the world.  Yet they accept these deprivations without thought, without regret, without knowledge of any state other than want.  Since I’m a privileged American, I have, of course, compared this rather hopeless situation to my own and have plumbed the very depths of my emotional nadirs over the years.

As a child, I wasn’t abused.  Nobody ever really hit me outside the bounds of discipline but part of me ached.  All I ever wanted to do was to please my parents but somehow that was beyond hope.  My father, as a rather free spirit couldn’t care less.  He would have accepted me as a mime on the street as readily as he would as a Wall Street banker.  OK, well, let’s be honest, he would have preferred the mime.  To him I was his son and that was entirely sufficient.  Sadly, as a child I had no way to know this so I sought desperately for approval that was already in evidence.  From my mother… well, approval was impossible.  She could scarcely accept her own existence let alone approve of mine.  She was a large and throbbing ball of pain that had long before given up all hope of happiness.  She was in no shape to dispense such on me.  So from my family no hope of fulfillment was to be seen.

Later in life, I look back upon dark times in which I recall with particular poignancy the pain of rejection.  In high school I remember many long nights spent sitting at home with my grandparents (recall that my mother tried to kill herself so I went to live with her parents during high school) wishing for some outside connection with people my age.  Until one day… one magical day when the girl whom I had often admired from afar but never dared speak to told me that she was going to come and take me to some school function. What that function was proved irrelevant to my young mind.  The point was that after all those long months alone somebody was going to come and take me to be among my peers.  I was actually going to do something normal for once.  I recall with great vividity waiting by the front window for hours.  The minutes ticked past and no car appeared in the driveway.  I was left sitting and wondering and later my mind whirled around the possibilities of what might have happened to somehow dash my hopes.  To this day I remember in excruciating detail the chair I was sitting in, the thoughts that raced through my mind, my grandfather saying, “aaah, nobody would want to take you anywhere anyway” as the minutes became hours.  Despite my greatest hopes I never got the chance to be a normal kid.  The car never arrived.

As an adult, another period of my life stands out.  Again I hung my hopes and dreams on another person.  This time I didn’t wait for hours.  I waited for months.  Every time I saw a particular color of car my heart raced, is that her….?   No.  Every time a door slammed or a footfall was heard, is that her…?  No.  For a year my nerves jangled on a knife’s edge but it was never her.  In the end I was left with nothing but a fistful of dust and forced to start over yet again from nothing.  Every time that I have placed my trust in someone else, with the exception of one, I have been betrayed and left with nothing to show for it.  I am eternally the fool played by another.

Yet for all this I have hope.  Through all this I have always had a place to at least begin again.  No matter how my heart is wounded and my soul darkened, I have found a starting place to go upon the journey once more.

Clearly this is an unusual place to go beginning from a simple story about North Korea but it is what comes to mind.


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Books for the first week of September, 2012

This week seems dominated by the rather random selection of books sent to me by the ‘First Reads’ program.  This selection is littered with utter randomness from aspiring authors.   It is truly a mixed bag.

The Saeshell Book of Time: Part 1: The Death of Innocents (Children of Sophista, #1)The Saeshell Book of Time: Part 1: The Death of Innocents by Rusty A. Biesele

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As always, it should firstly be noted that I received this book free as a GoodReads giveaway under the ‘first reads’ program. Also as always I’m not letting this influence my review in any way.

When I got this book in the mail I was enthusiastic that it was targeted at young adults because it meant I could engage my own young adults in reading and reviewing it. I gave it to my 13, 11 and 7-year-olds to look at in the car as we were driving and the reaction from the back seat was unprecedented. As with any children the first thing they latched on to were the illustrations. They described them as ‘extremely creepy’ and ‘eerily like’ some of the digital images they were used to seeing in games like The Sims. The first 30 minutes were spent making fun of the pictures and the book in general. My eldest read the first chapter aloud in the car and the reactions were varied:

7-year-old (girl): “It’s got faeries!”
11-year-old (boy): “I have no interest in this book whatsoever”
13-year-old (girl): She’s intrigued, wants to read more but would rather go off and read 1300 pages of Lord of the Rings first. She finds the illustrations rather put offing and extremely lame and comic.

Personally, I wanted to read it first to facilitate discussion so I sat down to do so this afternoon but sadly (and I HATE to do this) I just couldn’t finish. I managed about a third and found it to be such an untenable disaster that I had to put it down. The book attempts to be at the same time complex and brief so one ends up with criminally simplified descriptions of concepts like higher-dimensional space, genetics and cosmology that make me cringe to think what children who read it will really come away with. I applaud profusely the author’s attempts to bring these concepts to young readers. This is what future scientists are made of, after all. But if you’re going to do that you’ve got to make sure that it’s ALL science. When you mingle science with psuedo-science or [insert tech here] then you end up with kids who don’t know good from bad.

At any rate, my eldest still wants to read it and when she does I’ll update this review with her final opinion. So far though the outlook isn’t brilliant.

The Shoemaker's WifeThe Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Firstly and as always I would be remiss if I didn’t note that I received this book free as a Goodreads giveaway. I entered the Giveaway, as I always do, knowing absolutely nothing of the book in question and intentionally avoiding any background. The fact that the book was free (as anyone who looks at my other reviews of free books will note) will have no impact on my review of it.

Unlike many of the free books I’ve reviewed this one wasn’t free because it was new and just coming out and needed reviewing. It was free because the book was already well established and coming out in paperback after being on the NYT best sellers list. Typically I give very little credence to the popularity of a book in assessing the quality but after having tramped my way through the nearly 500 pages of this one I can assert that its popularity is well deserved.

There have been so many reviewers before me that there’s little I can say that hasn’t already been covered. Trigiani’s book is at its heart a romance but only so in the way that all stories drawn from life are at their hearts romances. She encapsulates with incredible skill an entire lifetime and draws us a portrait that makes its way into your soul and is sure to be remembered long after the last page turns.

The author’s attention to detail is meticulous without becoming dull or redundant and reminds me strongly of the Dickensian tendency to stop and patiently draw out all the intimate nuances of a scene. I would leave potential readers with two recommendations. Firstly, take the time to read this one but do so with an open mind and let it wash over you. Immerse yourself in it and have patience. Secondly, the book is not to be taken lightly. You cannot go after it in fits and starts. If you cannot read 100 pages at a sitting then read something else until you can. It is a vastly rewarding novel but one that requires utmost and concentrated attention.

Age of AetherAge of Aether by Mark Jeffrey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the third time today I write the simple words that I received this book as a free giveaway from Goodreads, part of the First Reads program. Despite that I shall endeavor to write yet another candid review.

The Age of Aether is brief and entertaining. It is often underestimated just how often these two attributes travel together. One can plow through this novella in a couple of hours and remain reasonably amused throughout the trip.

Time travel stories are notoriously difficult and this one does a good job of respecting causality without leaving the reader scratching his or her head. That said it’s not overly complex by any means and goes rather directly to its destination.

The only negatives I would ascribe to it are twofold. Firstly, the font size is far too large. So much so that it becomes a distraction. I understand that the printer wished to bulk up the book to make it seem longer than it is but this has been carried to extremes and it strikes the reader almost as a children’s book. Secondly, and one of my perennial pet peeves, the book is prone to typographical errors. These are distracting but easily rectified. I have no doubt that this review will contain an error or two just to maintain the balance of irony in the universe but then this isn’t a published work of fiction either.

To summarize, a good story well executed but it could benefit from a few slight adjustments. Perhaps the author should consider a longer format work for their next publication. I for one would certainly welcome it.

The American Grain Elevator: Function & FormThe American Grain Elevator: Function & Form by Linda Laird

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is worth noting, as it is with many of my recent reviews, that this book came to me courtesy of Goodreads First Reads program. As such it was free to me but none the less (and as any viewer of my other reviews will believe) I will endeavor to give a completely honest review of the item in question.

To describe it succinctly, Laird’s work is as close as any writer will ever come to a truly scholarly treatise on the humble grain elevator. She describes with much affection these sentinels of the prairie from their form to their function. Her presentation betrays not only great skill but obvious affection.

It must be admitted that this is a work of very specific and niche interest. I find it unlikely that Laird’s work will find its way to the New York Times Best Sellers list but that should not diminish the warm affection that pervades this book. It is one of those simple and amusing books that makes one say simply, “I had no idea there was even that much to know about that topic.” I’ll be finding a farmer to pass this along to for Christmas. It is an apt tribute to our agricultural past.

Krump, Slide, Tap, Turn: The Ebullient Merriment of DanceKrump, Slide, Tap, Turn: The Ebullient Merriment of Dance by Shirley A. Franklin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As always I’ll begin by saying that this book was a giveaway from Goodreads. Simply put, they’ll send you a free book in exchange for a candid review and so that candid review follows.

This little offering is really more of a pamphlet than a book. At 49 pages it’s a trivially short trip. The subject matter is elevating enough: uniting those with differing backgrounds through dance. Anything that gets people to connect in today’s far too disconnected world is great as far as I’m concerned. The author gets lots of points for having a good topic.

Unfortunately, the editing and writing of this book is severely lacking. I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and say that it must be intended for young children but even if that’s the case the grammar is very poor. The author is prone to an occasionally colorful turn of phrase but it’s by far the exception rather than the rule.

To summarize, a great topic but very poorly written. Perhaps some nice solid editing is in order. There’s a story to be told here for certain but it needs to be drawn out in greater detail and with greater skill to be truly effective or inspiring.

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New books since last I wrote – Aug 22nd and Forward

PreparePrepare by Geoffrey Germann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like many readers I received this book directly from the author after I failed to win a drawing for a free copy. Mr. Germann was nice enough to contact me directly and send me a copy at his own expense. Despite his generosity, I set out to read his book with a candid and critical eye.

Overall the book seems reasonably professional despite a few foibles of typography. The author’s style though seems split between the preparatory phases of his novel and the more climactic ones. For the first half of the book the style is solid though undistinguished. He paints a cohesive, though at times overly brief picture of his characters that leaves the reader with a good conceptual and sympathetic image. It is during this phase too that we see the author’s tendency towards paired similes; no sooner is one found then it can be guaranteed that another will soon follow. In many cases the comparisons seem forced and inappropriate but a few border on brilliance.

When the climax of the novel begins Germann’s tone shifts substantially and he provides a much more skillful and less tentative product. The author’s portrayal of action sequences is immaculate and at times breathtaking. While the first pages stumble a bit the last half of the text veritably flies past.

The story itself is cut from the cloth of the “man become superman” motif via innovation in technology. Generally speaking such ideas are nothing new but Germann does provide us with a fresh take on the idea and does present us with a deeper question of just what the word justice means and how that differs from society’s enforcement of it. ‘Prepare’ is entertaining, at least mildly-thought provoking and well worth the few hours it takes to read it. I look forward to Germann’s future contributions to the genre.

Going beyond the inner contents I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the book’s packaging. Germann’s novel is a dozen times better than its external appearance and since the cover is such a decided driver of sales I think it would be a shame if his work suffered in popularity for such a trite reason. The title too completely fails to inspire and puts one more in the mindset of a Christian rapture novel than hard-boiled crime noir. It is my hope that readers will be able to look past these two significant shortcomings and give the book a chance.

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Fallen MastersFallen Masters by John Edward

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Firstly, it should be noted that I received this book as part of the ‘First Reads’ program so it was delivered speedily to my door for free last week. Because of this I felt rather obligated to not only review it but also read this monolithic tome all the way through. At 500 pages this was a sense of obligation that I honestly could have lived very happily without.

From an editorial and stylistic standpoint this book is a travesty. The dialog is woefully in need of revision and tends to be distractingly inane. Characters are drawn out in some descriptive detail but when they speak all that was built is quickly eroded. Veteran cops, singers, psychics, doctors, all speak with sadly generic voices while teenagers address those around like they’re seven years old. Where the dialog does not fail reality does as the author makes obvious blunders in simple fact checking. Since this is a pre-release copy perhaps some fact-checking will resolve some of the more obvious issues.

As story lines go, this is a fairly generic good versus evil scenario. The plot is simple but the people involved are all very complexly intertwined. I give the author good credit for keeping all this straight but ultimately it ends up feeling rather like bubble gum that has been chewed for too long. Half way through one almost cares about the characters and what is transpiring but by the end the gum has lost its flavor and one just wishes desperately to be finished with it. Edward’s offering, sadly, for all the effort that obviously went into it has all the crescendo and drama of the phone book.

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The Dirty Parts of the BibleThe Dirty Parts of the Bible by Sam Torode

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some books, like this one, you buy for exactly two reasons. Firstly, it bears an intriguing title. Secondly, it is free. In fact, even now it’s free to download on Amazon. So go forth and “purchase” it. I’ll wait here.

From a strictly stylistic viewpoint the book is exceedingly simple and readable. Many other reviewers lump it into the category of ‘quick reads’ and I concur with that assessment. There are a few times in which the author cobbles together a sentence that borders on the profound but that reminds one more acutely of the rather incomprehensible ramblings of Winnie-the-Pooh than anything else:

“Moreover, we must look upon what is to occur as having already occurred, and see nothing but the present in the future, for the future is but the present a little farther on.”

Such constructs are a rarity, however, and not in general cause for alarm.

The story itself is fairly formulaic. Boy leaves home, boy meets girl, standard things happen between boy and girl. The end. There’s no grand surprise here, no culminating fever pitch of drama. The setting is reasonably quaint and the characters real enough for the most part. Tobias especially rings of truth as he really does think like a young boy. Having been a young boy at some point in my life (and for increasingly brief periods even now) I can speak with some authority about this. Doubtless the author too has had encounters with boyhood in his own past.

For the most part the whole thing carries on logically enough but in the last few dozen pages the author appears to go into somewhat of a panic to finish. What were once vague allusions to imagined spirits suddenly become all too real and for a very brief period we’re thrust unwillingly into a fantasy novel. The preternatural drama is mercifully brief and we’re allowed to return to the disappointing deus ex machina which ties up the loose ends in the novel. One can’t help but think that the whole thing would have been much better summed up if it hadn’t been summed up quite so quickly and quite so neatly.

In summary, the novel is quaint but far from unique. It will entertain but little else and will be difficult to remember when a couple of weeks have gone by. But then again, what do you want for nothin’? Rubber biscuit?

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Science's Strangest Inventions: Extraordinary But True Stories from Over 200 Years of Inventive HistoryScience’s Strangest Inventions: Extraordinary But True Stories from Over 200 Years of Inventive History by Tom Quinn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From a structural and editorial standpoint, Quinn’s book leaves much to be desired. Each of the 200 ‘inventions’ is given less than two pages resulting in a very fragmented presentation that causes the reader to hop from one topic to the next with no hope whatsoever of a reasonable transition. Clearly this is someone’s blog born into book. The reader would have been much better served with an extended description of each, some cultural context and even maybe an illustration. As it stands, just as you’re starting to get interested in something it’s time to move on to something completely different.

Despite its technical faults, the author has chosen a fine and interesting topic. His description of the “make your own dimples” kit (complete with scalpel and sutures) and the mousetrap that results in shooting the mouse with a large caliber revolver will make it into my party conversation for quite a while. These, along with the anti-masturbation underwear and nuclear fallout tent, do prove his thesis that humans in their infinite inventiveness have really tried just about everything. Unfortunately, some of the editorial issues do make me wonder about the veracity of many of the claims made. At several points Mr Quinn mentions the same wacky ‘innovation’ under multiple headings and repeats the exact same story making me doubt the care with which any of these are constructed. This generally erodes confidence so that I may repeat his work in casual conversation but I will certainly not stake any bar bets on the correctness of anything he described.

To summarize, the book is an entertaining one but best suited perhaps as a bathroom reader. Sitting down to read it from cover to cover leaves one with a rather dubious taste in one’s mouth. A further point of entertainment should be noted in that the author is from the United Kingdom. As a result, his repeated references to Americans as “gigantically fat” and obsessed with their pets is highly amusing if not accurate.

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