Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Club - August 2016

I managed to get a lot of reading done this month. Long hot summer days with nothing much to do I guess.

Kangaroo is the code name for a secret agent working for a very secret branch of the US government, sometime in the future. He was recruited because he has, what he describes as, a superpower. With his mind he can open up a gateway to someplace unknown. The scientists think it's a place in interstellar space. It's not a big opening, maybe a few feet across at most. But it's a good place to stash the various gadgets and tools he needs for his job. He's not a very good spy but his "pocket" is pretty useful. When his agency comes under the scrutiny of Congress, Kangaroo's boss sends him on a 30-dat luxury cruise to Mars to get him out of the way, and keep the pocket a secret. Written with good sci-fi flair and humor, this is a great debut novel by Chen. I'm looking forward to the sequel. One of a few books I've given 5 stars to on Amazon.

Klosterman (and no, the cover is not up-side-down) is a music and pop-culture critic who makes an occasional foray into science. In his latest book, he looks a some science topics (like gravity) and asks scientists the title question. He also delves into pop culture topics, like which musician of today will still be remembered in 200 years. Of course, he doesn't know the answers to any of these questions but tries to answer them anyway. His answer to which TV show will still be studied for clues about our time in hundreds of years is "Rosanne". And he makes a good case for it. Recommended.

The cover says "A Breen and Tozer Mystery" so clearly the latest in a series. Breen is a Detective Sargent with the London police and Tozer is his former partner and sometimes lover who has quit the force to help her parents run their small farm. It's set in 1969 (which I remember like it was 47 years ago) and is the third in the series. I was pretty impressed by the over all characterizations in the novel, and the story. I need to find the earlier books.

Kinsley is a political journalist. He's about 6 months older than me and since he's getting older, so am I. In 2002, Kinsley made public that he had Parkinson's disease, which he'd kept secret for some years. The book is more like a journal on how to deal with that disease but, he makes the claim that many of the symptoms of Parkinson's are similar to problems people face when they get older. It was an interesting read. He gets more political as the book goes on and the last chapter was a polemic on how to solve the problems with this country which I gave up on.

"The Good Earth" seems like the kind of classic book I should have read years ago. I'm still working through the annual best seller list from the past 100 years; this was the best seller in 1931 and 1932 and led to Buck winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. I managed to get a copy for my Kindle for only $2.99. It didn't sound like something I'd like, a story of a Chinese peasant farmer in the early 1900s but I loved it.

The latest (the 26th) in Sandford's Lucas Davenport novels. Sandford seemed to have lost interest in the series a few books ago but he (like his character in his job) seems to have pulled the series back into interest. In the last novel, Lucas ends up quitting his job with the state in Minnesota over a conflict in how he handled the case in the novel (which largely involved Lucas doing police work in several states other than Minnesota). In this book, his pal, the Minnesota governor, is running for president. It's early days and he knows he can't win the Democratic nomination but is trying to position himself as the leading candidate for VP. When the governor begins to fear that someone is targeting the leading Dem candidate (a woman, not really much like Hilary) he calls Lucas for help. Pretty satisfying and nicely sets up Davenport for his new career.

Heather Havrilesky writes the advice column "Dear Polly" for New York magazine. I never heard of her but the cover blurb sounded interesting. The letters are mainly from 20 and 30 something women (and a couple of men) who have problems that I don't remember having when I was that age, mainly because things have changed a lot in the past 40 years, but can still understand. Most of her advice is of the "Stop doing that thing to yourself" or "Stop letting that thing be done to you" variety with lots of profanity. Her former career as a TV critic has apparently given her a lot of insight into modern problems and she actually suggests many concrete actions to take. I've always liked reading advice columnists and this was pretty entertaining.

Here's another guy, about my age, giving advice. Barry is a few years older than me and, although all of his stuff is humorous, I've always thought his pieces on his family life entertaining and, frankly, made it easier to face anything coming up in my life that he'd already gone through.

The 19th Tomas Lynley book. Lynley is a an English lord and the last male heir of an old English family, and wealthy, but prefers the life and work of a policeman. He's an Inspector with Scotland Yard. Her books are always long (this one is close to 600 pages) but generally satisfying. She manages to pack a lot about the lives of her main characters (Lynley and his Detective Sargent Barbara Havers) in between the crime and its solving. You should read the 1 star reviews on Amazon. Six books ago, George had Lynley's recent wife, and long-time love of his life, brutally murdered in a random act of violence. Some of her readers have yet to forgive her.

It took me most of the month to get through this audio book. I liked it a lot but many people thought the ending made the whole book not worth reading. I disagree although I thought the ending was kind of pointless. This is a sequel, of sorts, to her previous book, which I finished earlier this year, called "Life After Life". That was the story of Beatrice Todd, born around 1910, who lives multiple lives. Every time she dies, her the story starts again, from birth. Although she doesn't remember her past lives, she retains something that helps her avoid what ever it was that killed her (like say a bombing during the London Blitz) and live a little longer. "A God In Ruins" is about her little brother Teddy, who goes on to be a bomber pilot in WWII. In many of Beatrice's lives, Teddy is killed, but this is apparently (and I say apparently, due to the ending) one of her lives where he beats the odds and survives the war. The book can be difficult, as the story is told from a number of view points, and not at all in a linear fashion. Teddy is a nice guy. His wife (and childhood sweetheart) dies young. Teddy has to deal with his only child, a daughter who can never forgive him for her mother's death, and two grandchildren, whom he struggles mightily to save them from his daughter's neglect.

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