Wednesday, September 30, 2015

B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Private investigator Kinsey Millhone is hired to track down a woman's missing sister - and then subsequently fired when she begins making progress. The deeper she digs, however, the more Kinsey begins to suspect the missing woman didn't vanish of her own accord...especially when she learns a botched burglary led to a fire in the same neighborhood.

What I Thought: I've been a fan of mystery novels for years, but this was my first time "meeting" Kinsey. She won me over by the end of the second chapter. Although Grafton's super-simple writing style takes some getting used to - when just listing facts, she has a bad habit of starting all her sentences with the subject - it fits her sleuth's matter-of-fact personality and sparse lifestyle, so it doesn't clash with the content of the book. More importantly, she straddles the cozy and hardboiled mystery genres with ease. Kinsey is introspective and faces down the ugly, atmospheric side of life just as well as any square-jawed sleuth from the pulps - but she's also compassionate, second-guesses herself when she irrationally dislikes people, and has a small community of quirky friends and associates that any cozy amateur gumshoe would be proud to call their own. She even makes sure she finds out what happened to the missing woman's cat!

The mystery itself in B is for Burglar may be easier for people who are used to the mystery genre to unravel (spend enough time with the same tropes and you begin to get good at guessing what's going to happen), but although I did figure out "whodunnit" in broad strokes, a bunch of key details eluded me. Rumor has it that Grafton manages to never write a novel with the same plot twice, so I'm looking forward to working through the rest of the alphabet.

Readalikes: The Lew Archer mysteries by Ross Macdonald, for another detective who looks at the seedy side of life with sympathy; the Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich, for a more humorous take on the same genre. (Stephanie, like Kinsey, has an equally quirky set of acquaintances.)

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Drafter by Kim Harrison

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Andrew Zollman

What I Read: The Drafter by Kim Harrison

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: In this first novel in the Peri Reed Chronicles, Kim Harrison touches on a new frontier in science fiction with an edge-of-your-seat thriller filled with spies and time travel that will keep you guessing until the very end.

In the near future, Peri Reed is an Opti Soldier trained to complete U.S. government missions others would never dream of being able to complete. The year is 2030, the setting is Detroit. Peri is double-crossed by the person she loved and betrayed by the covert government organization that trained her to use her body as a weapon.  Peri Reed has become a renegade on the run. "Don't forgive and never forget" has always been Peri's creed.

But her day job makes it difficult: she is a drafter, possessed of a rare, invaluable skill for altering time, yet destined to forget both the history she changed and the history she rewrote. When Peri discovers her name is on a list of corrupt operatives, she realizes that her own life has been manipulated by the agency. Her memory of the previous three years erased, she joins forces with a mysterious rogue soldier in a deadly race to piece together the truth about her fateful final task. Her motto has always been only to kill those who kill her first. But with nothing but intuition to guide her, will she have to break her own rule to survive?

What I Thought: Kim Harrison’s new novel The Drafter is a fast paced techno-thriller that pushes the boundary of morality and understanding of the world around you. Peri Reed is a very strong character with a very unique problem. The people around her as using her, and because she can draft she doesn’t know who she can trust.

Peri can take care of herself in a fight, but at times can seem fragile and broken. She’s been used by both sides for so long that her life has become a fragmented mess. The book will keep pulling you in different directions, but your feelings toward other characters in the story will be immediately grounded by their actions.

Kim Harrison doesn’t pull any punches and even if you think you know where the story is going, you don’t have all of the details. The Peri Reed Chronicles reminds me a little bit of the movie Time Cop without the horrible acting or the need for a fancy device or machine to make the process work. The characters mesh well together and provide support for Peri throughout the story through their actions.

If you like sci-fi thrillers with a strong female protagonist, but don’t like space ships or far futures, I would recommend this book to you. If you do get to read the book, I would recommend Kim Harrison’s first adult fiction Hollows Series. You won’t be disappointed.

Readalikes: Agenda 21 by Glenn Beck or Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: José Beltrán

What I Read: Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About:  Joshua Foer is a freelance science journalist  who won the U.S. Memory Championship in 2006, then represented 300 million US citizens at the World Memory Championship. Foer won 13th place out of 37 world competitors. Most importantly for Foer, he joined the KL7 Club: the world’s most esteemed organization of mental athletes. He trained himself using the loci (Latin word for places) system of memorization using what he called memory palaces. The Loci system is attributed to Simonides of Ceos (c.560 B.C.) who is credited with turning words into mind pictures. To use this system, compress as much information as possible into a single well-formed image. Use your creativity to imagine the most ludicrous, most raunchy, most hilarious, most unforgettable images. Remember not word by word but rather topic by topic, picture by picture.

One of the techniques is to use the number n to stand for the number 2, then use a picture of a nun to remember the number 22. A quote worth quoting: “Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.” His most quotable quote was “Our memories make us who we are. They are the seat of our values and source of our character.” This book is so vital that its author was invited to give a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk on it. (It is available on

What I Thought: Use it or lose it! “The human brain is estimated to be able to store 108432 bits; there are only about 1078 atoms in the observable universe.” In Greek Mythology, Memory is the mother of the Muses. Without memory how could there be music, art, history, literature or science? How could there be us, our loved ones? Before writing the only way to record anything was through sheer memory. Poetry was created to help people remember through rhyme and meter. Writing was our next crutch, but look at all the irretrievable literature that has been lost. It is important to stop and smell the roses, but to truly live a memorable life we have to remember to remember smelling the roses.

We are nearing the crossroad, with all our electronic memory outsourcing we are forgetting how to remember. We are externalizing, outsourcing our memory. Why bother remembering? Just tap it into the computer, the phone, the tablet. Ray Kurzweil, one of the most respected advocates of the role of technology in our future, estimates the singularity point, the year 2045, is when mankind takes the next step in evolution into a part human, part machine.

Foer laments that people no longer invest in their memory. Our minds have incredible memory capacities. However, in spite of all the memory stunts and winning the US Memory Championship, Foer’s Working Memory was not improved. Josh not only forgot his keys, he forgot his car and even where he had parked it. If we do not pay attention, if we are not deeply engaged, fully mindful, we will not be able to recall where we put our keys. We are constantly bombarded with distractions. Our memory will only work when we remember to stop being on autopilot, notice, and pay attention. We are too distracted to remember to remember. Remember: “practice makes perfect.”  To remember where you put your keys takes concentrated, self-conscious, deliberate will power and practice.

Readalikes: Your Memory: How It Works & How To Improve It by Kenneth L. Higbee, Ph.D.; The Memory Prescription by Gary Small, M.D. 

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir by Foster Hirsch

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Jim Patrick

What I Read: The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir by Foster Hirsch

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: This ebook is a 2008 revision of a classic study of film noir that was first published in 1981.  Noir is known for its dark, shadowy visual style and effects, and Hirsch includes well-chosen photographs to illustrate his analysis of various filmmaking techniques.  A chapter titled “The Literary Background” discusses the impact of the “hardboiled” school of crime fiction on film noir.  Writers such as Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, and James M. Cain are discussed, including the film adaptations of their novels and short stories.  Another chapter is titled “The Cinematic Background.”  The influence of German Expressionism is discussed, particularly in the work of émigré directors such as Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, and Billy Wilder.  Chapters are also devoted to “The Noir Actor” and “The Noir Director.”  Hirsch critiques iconic noir actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, and Gloria Grahame.  In addition to the directors mentioned previously, the book also surveys the noir-related work of Otto Preminger, Orson Welles, Jules Dassin, and others.

What I Thought: Foster Hirsch discusses film noir with a sweeping command of the cinematic genre/style/movement that flourished in Hollywood from the mid-forties to the mid-fifties.  His writing is both instructive and engaging.  The only negative aspect of reading this book in ebook format is the size and quality of the many photographs which accompany (and enhance) the text.  On my 6-inch Kindle screen these photographs were very small indeed.  Nonetheless, this is a most enjoyable and useful book for students and fans of classic films.  Watch some film noir—the library has several classic examples on DVD—and use this ebook as your guide!

Readalikes: Out of the Shadows by Gene D. Phillips; Encylopedia of Film Noir by Geoff Mayer

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

All You Can Pay by Anna Bernasek and D.T. Mongan

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Laurie Boone

What I ReadAll You Can Pay: How companies use our data to empty our wallets by Anna Bernasek and D. T. Mongan

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: The authors show how companies use the data they collect from us to determine how much you are willing to pay for everything you buy. Companies use this “customized marketing” to rapidly change prices and tailor complex “special offers” to individual consumers. The book details how consumers are led to believe they are finding the best deals by shopping online, but in reality fair bargaining is over.

What I Thought: Anyone who thinks they’ve bought the cheapest airline ticket or prided themselves on negotiating a great deal with a cable company or car dealership should read this book. It is quick to read but it will leave you feeling aggravated. You will feel like the sucker you are because Big Data and Big Business know the maximum you are willing to spend on anything. After reading this book I cringe every time I “agree” to those densely-written terms and conditions covering personal data and privacy. The authors include suggestions for what you can do, and the writing is accessible and includes source citations and an index.

Readalikes: Data and Goliath : the hidden battles to collect your data and control your world by Bruce Schneier.

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