Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Impact" by Douglas Preston

We selected this audiobook because of the excitement and fascination we had reading The Monster of Florence, by Preston & Spezi. 

Summary: There are three main story lines that eventually all weave into one. There is a NASA scientist who identifies and investigates strange phenomenon recorded by the Mars Orbiter satellite, Wyman Ford an ex-CIA agent hired to track down the source of radioactive gems, and two young women who search for a meteorite that struck off the east coast. Most of the book is spent following each character as they learn more and more through their investigations. All the characters eventually meet and put their heads together to figure out how it is all connected. There is also an assassin trying to kill all of them and some other exciting dangers like ships in storms, drug addled gunmen/rapists, Cambodian separatists, and more.

What I Liked: Preston does a good job writing individual scenes so that they are exciting and interesting. He also fleshes out the characters and gives them opportunities to develop.

What I Didn't Like: Early on, the NASA scientist (who has no social life and studies Mars all day every day) forgot the length of a Martian day. It led to him profoundly bungling a work presentation. That is one example how the professionals in this book made amateur mistakes. The professional assassin was really sloppy and the experienced boaters kept destroying their boats.

Rating: Skip it, even if you like Preston's other work.

Also Read by this Author: The Monster of Florence (with Mario Spezi).

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan

I found this book at a used bookstore and picked it up because it was written by Carl Sagan.

Summary: This is Carl Sagan's last book, and it is, rightly, a wide ranging text covering many of Sagan's biggest ideas. This is Sagan trying to make one grand argument that took a lifetime to develop. 
This is an excerpt from the book where Sagan puts
forward a clean argument for skepticism. It is presented
so neatly, I had to share it.
The argument in this book is that science education will save us and pseudo science will be our undoing. He takes the time to address each form of popular pseudo science in turn and evaluates the evidence for and against claims. He looks at alien abductions, astrology, psychics, witch trials, false memories and more. He puts each claim under scrutiny and shows how ridiculous they really are. As the claims dissolve, he replaces them with reasonable explanations and rational thought. This leads into a discussion on the value of skepticism and how it helps us get to the truth of the matter and avoid being taken for fools. He even has a chapter on The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, which gets right to the point. Throughout the book, Sagan tells stories from his life and from the history of science, each selected for its ability to highlight the point being made. Toward the end of the book he looks to the future of our civilization. We now have the machines to destroy ourselves several times over, and pseudo science gives us the reasons to do it. We need skepticism and wonder in order to survive. With these two tools of thought we can make it through.

What I Liked: I liked the way Sagan would explain each pseudo scientific idea respectfully, then explore it skeptically. Many of the ideas were more popular in the 90's, but there is still a lot of such claims today. I also liked his autobiographical parts and the stories.

What I Didn't Like: It was too short.

Rating: This is a Must Read. I consider this one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read.

Also Read by This Author: Pale Blue Dot

Published: 1997

Reviewed by: Nick

Special Note: Cosmos A Personal Voyage was hosted by Carl Sagan in 1980 and talks about a lot of the same ideas. The remake, Cosmos A Spacetime Odyssey, is currently being aired on Fox and National Geographic Channel, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I recommend it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Chalice" by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley writes young adult novels that don't feel like they're aimed at teens.  While her characters are smart and witty, they have a maturity about them that is hard to find in contemporary books for the under 18 crowd.
Summary:  Bee keeper Marisol is Chalice and therefore is responsible for the well being of her people and demense until a new Master can arrive to set the land and magic back to rights.  The new Master will need to rely heavily on Marisol as Chalice so he can attune himself to the land and coach it to respond as it should.  There's only one problem...the new Master is a third level fire priest and nobody knows if he is fit to live among humans, much less save the demense from self destruction.

What I Liked:
  • Chalice has a clever plot.  McKinley has created a whole new world with a rich and well thought out history.
  • The characters are excellently developed.  Even the most minor character has a back story that adds to the richness of the plot.  The main characters are likable, brave yet have enough human vulnerability that the reader can relate to them with ease.
  • This is a fresh take on magic.  The normal fantasy plot lines are included in the tale, but there are enough twists and unique ideas to keep even the most avid fantasy reader interested.
What Drove Me Nuts:
  • The end of the story felt thrown together, almost as if the author had to keep the book under a certain page limit and therefore ended things much too quickly.
  • I thought Marisol was uncharacteristically negative towards the end of the story.
  • The climax of the story wasn't that climactic.  Perhaps I was expecting just a little more.
Rating:  This young adult book can hold its own against any mainstream bestseller written for adults.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Also Read By This Author:  "Shadows", "Sunshine", "The Hero and the Crown" and "The Blue Sword"

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Concealed in Death" by J.D. Robb

Image Source
I'm a sucker for a thriller.  When you add in a little romance I'm a goner.  The "In Death" series covers the cases of Lieutenant Eve Dallas, Detective in the New York Police and Security Department in the year 2060.  The series showcases a strong, smart, tough woman who is dedicated and passionate about her job and how she manages events that turn her life upside down while still fighting for justice for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Summary:  Murder cop Eve Dallas' kajillionaire husband Roarke takes a ceremonial swing to take down a wall in his latest rehab project when he makes a gruesome discovery:  two carefully wrapped, long dead bodies.  As Lieutenant Eve and her partner Detective Peabody secure the scene, the CSI team uncovers more bodies: 12 in all, and all young girls.  Eve and Peabody must sift through history to try to find who killed the young girls and why. 

What I Liked:  I'm fascinated with cop stories, and Robb's twisty plot turns are just sneaky enough to keep you guessing about whodunnit.  Throw in futuristic fashion, technology and slang, and you've got a great formula for an interesting story.  The fact that this series is not "scary" also probably helps. 

What Drove Me Nuts:  Nothing drove me nuts this time around; however, I will admit that this plot wasn't as twisty as usual, and was a little bit more sad than usual. 

Rating:  Clever and interesting, although not my favorite in the series.  A little sad.

Also Read by This Author: I've read every book in this series.  For a complete listing, click here.  To read Tami's other reviews on this series:  1

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain

We selected this audio book based on the author and our interest in autobiographies. 

Summary: This is an autobiographical account of Bourdain's life in commercial kitchens. He got his start in P-town working the wild pirate kitchens by the shore where he fell in love with the high stress world of cooking. He then went to the Culinary Institute of America to get some formal education on his resume. He then describes the fast-paced world of kitchen hopping. He would move from one short-lived place to another, constantly networking and learning new skills. He describes the people he met in his adventures, the cooks, chefs, owners and vendors who make the business possible. He also provides a fascinating look into the typical day of a chef. And as the name implies, he divulges secrets of the restaurant business that other might wish he hadn't said. Some people who read this book might change their eating out habits. You also get a taste for his life right when he starts to make it big.

What I Liked: Bourdain reads the audiobook, and for those of you familiar with his TV work you know he is very good at reading scripts. It made the experience more authentic having him read it, and he did a great job. He is also brutally honest with regard to his own shortcomings. Bourdain does not flinch from blaming himself for his mistakes.

What I Didn't Like: Honestly, I don't know what to say. No complaints.

Rating: This is a wonderful book. I recommend it.

Also Read by This Author: None.

Published: 2000

Reviewed by: Nick