Friday, August 11, 2017

Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi

From the publisher: In 2015 Manoush Zomorodi, host of the popular podcast and radio show Note to Self, led tens of thousands of listeners through an experiment to help them unplug from their devices, get bored, jump-start their creativity, and change their lives. Bored and Brilliant builds on that experiment to show us how to rethink our gadget use to live better and smarter in this new digital ecosystem. The outcome is mind-blowing. Unplug and read on.

I am very interested in the topic of phone use and overuse. I am not anti-technology (and neither is the author of this book), but I do find the overuse of phones by much of American society alarming. Zomorodi was definitely preaching to the choir with me as a reader.

Zomorodi includes research to back up the idea that we are more creative when we allow ourselves to be “bored” and allow our minds to wander. I do not carry my smartphone around in my hand and it is seldom in view when I am out with others, so I am actually not her primary audience. Still, even I found some of her seven challenges (to change your relationship with your phone and increase your productivity and creativity) of interest. Most of them are not a challenge for me (keep your device out of reach while in motion – already do that; have a photo free day – most of my days are photo free, etc.). But I certainly waste time on the internet on my laptop, if not my smartphone.

I found myself wanting to quote long passages of the book because they match my own experiences so well. For example,
“In a study from 2014 called the iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interaction in the Presence of Mobile Devices, researchers at Virginia Tech found that the mere presence of a mobile device, even just lying there, seemingly benign on the kitchen counter, can lower the empathy exchanged between two friends.” (p. 56)
and
“This isn’t just a productivity or focus issue. [Gloria] Mark’s lab has found that the more people switch their attention, the higher their stress level. That is especially concerning, she says, because the modern workplace feeds on interruptions.” (p. 89)
The text was engaging and the research cited compelling. If you would like to decrease the amount of time you waste on your smartphone (or laptop), you might find this short and easy to read book of interest.

I read an advance reader copy of Bored But Brilliant. It will be published in early September, and a print copy will be available for checkout at the Galesburg Public Library.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson

From the publisher: An ingenious new thriller that weaves a path through history, following a race of human-like machines that have been hiding among us for untold centuries.

The main characters in The Clockwork Dynasty are June, a young human woman who researches mechanical antiquities, and Peter, an automaton or avtomat (a Russian word that means both “automatic” and “machine”). Peter has a “sister,” another avtomat, who looks like a doll but is determined, intelligent and logical.

The world building in The Clockwork Dynasty is amazing. It opens with June exploring a mechanical doll, which pulled me in right away as a doll collector. The story covers the lives of the two avtomats and others like them across continents and millennia. June gets dragged into an avtomat civil war against her will, but she has the knowledge and skills to alter the course of something that has gone on for thousands of years. I would describe the book as a sort of steampunk mystery. Why are the avtomats fighting? It was refreshing to read a book that didn’t dwell on a romantic trilogy – or any romance for that matter.

Wilson does a great job of painting images throughout the book. There are many little believable details about the construction of the automatons. Wilson draws them in such a way that they felt both real and inhuman to me. I felt I came to know Peter and his sister Elena better than the human June. The narrative jumps between Peter’s past and June’s present, but not in a way that seemed at all confusing.

The Clockwork Dynasty is not a perfect book – parts of it were a bit slow, and a lot of questions remained after I finished it. But I very much enjoyed this unusual read. The Clockwork Dynasty is available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an audiobook, and it will be available as an ebook shortly.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

From the publisher: Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, traversing the world in a submarine as a pharmaceutical Robin Hood, fabricating cheap scrips for poor people who can’t otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses as people become addicted to their work, doing repetitive tasks until they become unsafe or insane. Hot on her trail, an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a brooding military agent, and his robotic partner, Paladin. As they race to stop information about the sinister origins of Jack’s drug from getting out, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understand. And underlying it all is one fundamental question: Is freedom possible in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?
One of the most hyped upcoming releases in science fiction is Autonomous by Annalee Newitz. It is well written and kept me reading. It is, however, extremely bleak. The way the author deals with the issue of autonomy for both humans and robots is thought-provoking, as are the plot threads about health care in the future. While I had a hard time liking any of the characters, they were memorable.

This debut novel from the founding editor of the science fiction site io9 reminded me of A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, the TV series Andromeda, and most of all the movie Blade Runner. If you like bleak space operas about a fallen Earth, this book may be for you.

I read an advance reader copy of Autonomous. It is scheduled to be published in late September 2017. It will be available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and as an ebook.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

From the publisher: In this brilliant crime novel from the author of Missing, Presumed, a detective investigates her most personal case yet: a high-profile murder in which her own family falls under suspicion.

Persons Unknown is the second book in Susie Steiner’s police procedural mystery series. The lead character is a detective, pregnant through artificial insemination, who has recently moved to provide a better life for her adopted black son Fly. Then the father of her sister’s toddler is murdered, and Fly becomes the main suspect when he is seen on camera walking home from school near where the man was killed. The evidence is flimsy and circumstantial, but Manon’s colleagues seem to be working against her as she tries to prove Fly’s innocence.

Steiner is a good writer, and I wanted to see where the case was going and how Manon was going to cope with pregnancy while striving to clear her son’s name. Manon is messy and imperfect, and while I don’t always like her I appreciate that she seems like a real person.

The plot was inspired by a real case. While I fully believe young black man are falsely accused and even convicted on weak evidence, I did have a hard time fully buying that the adopted 12-year-old-son of a white police officer would be railroaded in quite the way that Fly is in this book.  Still, like the first book (Missing, Presumed), Persons Unknown is a definite recommend from me for lovers of British police procedurals.

I read an advance reader copy of Persons Unknown. It will be released in early July and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an ebook. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

From the publisher: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. This is the story of what happened first… . Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a presequel of sorts to Every Heart a Doorway. Jack and Jill are two of the main characters in Every Heart a Doorway; this book is their story, of the fantasy land they stumbled into at the age of 12 and returned to at the end of Every Heart a Doorway.

I really really loved Every Heart a Doorway  (see my review at http://lookgoodifyoudie.blogspot.com/2016/03/every-heart-doorway-by-seanan-mcguire.html). I would heartily recommend it to anyone who feels they don’t quite fit in. I enjoyed Down Among the Sticks and Bones because I really love the way Seanan McGuire writes, but it’s not quite as good as the first book in the series. The fantasy land is well drawn, but what’s missing is the immersion in a place where everyone feels different and is seeking the place they belong.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a short book and a quick read. We get to know Jack and Jill better, and it has the same sort of creepy allure that the first book did. It has the same language affirming the right to choose how you are who you are.

For a short time the twins are cared for by their grandmother, and when she is sent packing by their parents when they fear she is influencing them too much, the grandmother thinks:

She had done her best. She had tried to encourage both girls to be themselves, and not to adhere to the rigid roles their parents were sketching a little more elaborately with every year. She had tried to make sure they knew that there were a hundred, a thousand, a million ways to be a girl, and that all of them were valid, and that neither of them was doing anything wrong. She had tried. (p. 34 of the advance reader copy)

I definitely recommend this book if you read and enjoyed the first.

I read an advance reader copy of Down Among the Sticks and Bones. It will be published in mid-June and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an ebook.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

From the publisher: When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She's worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It's just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway... . But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie-style "locked room" mysteries, you will want to put Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz on your "to read" list. This book within a book kept me fully engaged. Both the fictional novel written by Alan Conway and the narrative by his editor were interesting. The ending of both works is satisfactory, and the book really is an homage to the great locked room mysteries of the past. 

Once you get your hands on a copy, settle in for an engrossing read. 

Magpie Murders will be published in early June. The Galesburg Public Library will have it available in print and as an ebook. I read an advance reader copy of Magpie Murders.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown

From the Publisher: "On the family homestead by the sea where she grew up, Martha Mary saw ghosts. As a young woman, she hopes to distance herself from those spirits by escaping to an inland college town. There, she is absorbed by a budding romance, relieved by separation from an unstable sister, and disinterested in the flyers seeking information about a young woman who's disappeared - until one Indian summer afternoon when the missing woman appears beneath Martha's apartment window, wearing a down coat, her hair flecked with ice." I enjoyed reading this novel. It was an eerie psychological story. The author hooks you in the first two pages and keeps you interested during the entire novel. We are introduced to young Martha on her seventh birthday where we learn about her mystical gift. She is an awkward girl, and considering what was going on in her life we can see why. She has a sister with some issues as well and was considered insane enough to be put in a home. The story really starts when Martha gets sent off to college by her Mother, who is equally as awkward. It is during this time where we learn the truth about Martha, her sister Del and what really happened to the boy who went missing from their hometown. If you like suspenseful, psychological mysteries with a lot of surprises and great writing, then this book is for you! Read On!!