Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"The Sands of Mars" by Arthur C. Clarke

I first saw this book at a used book store and decided to buy it based on the author alone. Arthur C. Clarke is regarded as one of the fathers of modern science fiction, inspiring generations of incredible writers. I had to get a look at his work for myself. (Note the 25¢ sticker, which suggests it was offered up at a garage sale at some point in its life.)

Summary: In this adventure we follow our unlikely hero, Martin Gibson. He is commissioned to visit the Mars colony and write a series of articles for the public back home. He is the only passenger on the maiden voyage of the spaceship Ares and becomes familiar with the skeleton crew. When he reaches Mars he befriends several colonists and explores the various outposts. Soon he stumbles upon a huge secret previously hidden from Earth and has to decide what to do with the information.

Also, Clarke describes a lot of the science behind colonization and the precautions people have to take to ensure their safety. He uses this 1952 to help people imagine the future that seemed so inevitable at the time and make them comfortable with the idea of space travel.

What I liked: Clarke treats this fictional account as a serious prediction of one possible future. It's not pie in the sky whimsy, but an attempt to imagine the world of his children and grandchildren. That makes the text feel very real and immersive. Clarke also adds interpersonal drama and some exciting discoveries to make the story more than a simple tale of interplanetary sightseeing.

What I Didn't Like: This was published in 1952, so there was a lot of guesswork regarding the Martian surface. He gets some basic facts wrong because no one knew better at the time. Also, despite the fact Clarke writes really well about machines and space, he struggles writing about human psychology in this book.

Rating: This is worth reading if you are curious about classic sci-fi.

Other Books Read By This Author: None.

Reviewed By: Nick

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"But Enough About Me..." by Jancee Dunn

I saw this book on my friend Julie's Goodreads wish list and thought I would give it a try.  I'm a sucker for a funny life story and this did not disappoint!

Summary:  Jancee Dunn grew up a typical 80's Jersey girl:  big hair, loud parties and lots of music.  Her early years pouring over liner notes led her to a job as a reporter at Rolling Stone magazine and lifetime of hobnobbing with celebrities from Dolly Parton to Bono.  Dunn paired her life story with hilarious anecdotes from her more memorable interviews, including tips on how to get the lead singer of a band's attention and how to glean interesting facts from even the most prosaic interview.

What I Liked:  Dunn didn't shy away from moments that painted her in an unflattering light.  She came across as (brutally) honest about her journey from a nerdy rock chick just starting out to an aging hipster trying to find her next path in an industry that glorifies youth.  Dunn's more hilarious moments include the story of her interview with Dolly Parton as well as her own thoughts on why sharing a beach house is a terrible idea.  I also really enjoyed Dunn's stories about her family; you could see the love on every page, even the ones where she scammed her sisters out of money as a pre-teen holding "sales" in her bedroom.

What Drove Me Nuts:  Not much.  There were times in the story that I wished someone had given Dunn a good reality shake, but those uncomfortable moments are human and I appreciated her candor in their telling.

Rating:  This would be a great book to take along when travelling, because each chapter was broken into its own vignette.  I was able to pick it up on plane flights without loosing any satisfaction from halting the story mid-book.

Other Books Read by This Author:  N/A

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"I'll Mature When I'm Dead" by Dave Barry

This audiobook was picked up at the library. Tami selected it because the title sounded funny. Dave Barry is a humor writer from Miami who's column has been syndicated in over 500 newspapers. He also received a Pulitzer Prize for a column he wrote.  

Summary: In journalism most articles need to go across the editor's desk and Barry can't always get his ideas to fit into the limitations set by the paper. So he writes books when too many ideas need to be put on paper. This book is a series of unconnected stories covering a variety of topics including weddings, journalism, dogs, babies, church, and more. Each story is riddled with punchlines presented as truth. Sometimes it was difficult to tell when he was joking and when he was simply stating fact. These are longer pieces than would be found in one of his articles meaning that he could go into detail and really build up some punchlines over an extended period. 

Things We Liked: It was really funny and Barry is definitely an experienced writer. He is also amazing at describing situations that are so relatable it felt like he was recalling my own memories.  Tami's favorite piece was Barry's closing story of his son's wedding in New York City.  His astonishment at the mechanics and cost involved were hilarious while his heartfelt joy at his son's marriage was sweet and sentimental.

Things We Didn't Like: It was too short. 

Rating: If you are a human and like humor, check it out.

Other Books Read By This Author: Nothing yet, but expect some in the future.

Reviewed By: Nick and Tami

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"The House at Tyneford" by Natasha Solomons

Summary:  Elise Landau is the cossetted youngest daughter of Viennese author Julian and opera singer Anna.  She is a bit spoiled and much adored and doesn't have much care about the world that is exploding around her.  On the eve of Germany's invasion of Austria, Elise's parents arrange to have her sent overseas as a housemaid.  Elise is instantly turned from the one being waited upon to the one waking up at dawn to serve in dining room.  A few weeks into her stay, the young son of the manor arrives home from university and his life...and Elise's...change forever.
What I Liked:
  • Almost every character is extremely likable, from Elise's parents to the master of the manor
  • Elise does so much growing throughout the story that you can't help but root for her
  • The setting is amazing.  You can almost hear the ocean waves crashing and see the storm lanterns glowing
  • The twist ending, which I dared not hope for

What Drove Me Nuts:  I really enjoyed this book.  The ending wasn't a perfect happy every after, but I actually feel OK with that.  Happy Ever After isn't true to World War II and I like that the author respected that.

Rating:  Beautifully written.  If you like Kate Morton, you'll enjoy this book.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"My Beloved World" by Sonia Sotomayor

Summary:  It's hard to imagine a Supreme Court Justice growing up in the projects of the Bronx, but those are the roots that shaped Sonia Sotomayor into the first Puerto Rican Supreme Court justice in the United States.

This autobiography recounts Justice Sotomayor's life from her earliest memories dancing at house parties hosted by her glamorous and superstitious Abuelita, her diagnosis of juvenile diabetes in grade school (at the time a death sentence), her struggles to learn English and get passing grades in Catholic school, the hard work that brought her to the Ivy League, a failed marriage, working with Prada and her eventual road to public service.

What I Liked:  I was pleasantly surprised at how open this book was.  Sotomayor did not shy away from superstition, alcoholism, the prejudice she faced in the era of affirmative action or her views on having children.  The story was told as a narrative, in more or less chronological order and with emotion that felt both genuine and wise.

Whats Drove Me Nuts:  Not much!  I would have liked to read more about Sotomayor's professional life, but I understand why she spent so much time on her formative years.  It was inspiring to read how someone who literally came from nothing managed to work her way to the top of her profession.

Rating:  Read it!  Really, this book was a bit like reality TV, but where you root for the main character to win the whole shebang from the first introductions.

Reviewed By:  Tami