Saturday, October 11, 2014

Review: The Happiness Project

This book by Gretchen Rubin is a chatty little book, part autobiography and part how-to.  It starts with the author asking herself questions about happiness, and then setting out to find answers.  After reading lots of books on the subject, she narrows her search to a handful of resolutions and tries them out, one at a time, to see if they actually work.  The Project chronicles a year in the author's life.

The January resolution, "Boost Energy," contains the ever-useful advice to get more sleep.  Works for me.  Other chapters offer other practical suggestions:  Do things you love to do, learn new stuff, and hang out with your friends more often.  Sounds facile, I know, but are you doing these things?

I must confess, though, that the chapter for March, "Aim Higher," had me a bit puzzled because it had nothing at all to do with jumping onto the top of the china cabinet.

Spoiler alert:  There is no magic formula that will make everyone happy all the time, but there are a lot of recipe ideas  that will help you mix up your own formula.  Personally, I think my own Happiness Project could do with more catnip.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Review: Swing, Brother, Swing

I hate accordions. They remind me of the boys in the back alley, yowling for me to come out and play when I'd rather curl up by a nice warm monitor.

This little book, a quaint little Ngaio Marsh murder mystery, features a dead accordion player. No, not someone who plays dead accordions; an accordion player who...

(pauses to wash behind her ear)

Where was I? Ah. Swing, Brother, Swing is the tale of an obnoxious accordion player named Rivera who falls down dead onstage when he was only supposed to pretend to fall down dead. The prime suspect, one Lord Pastern, is the guy holding the gun full of blanks. Maybe. Something like that.

Anyway, detective Roderick Alleyn comes on the scene and tries to make sense of it all. Lord Pastern doesn't help matters with his eccentricity -- I suspect he and Gomez Addams were separated at birth -- and seems intent on incriminating himself.

I won't tell you Whodunit, but I will tell you that there's a lot of fun to be had in this book.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review: Watchmen

(glances at next item on the Book Blog To-Do List) Ah, yes. Watchmen.

I read this in fits and starts (and naps) back in February-March of 2009, when Astreja K. was laid up in bed with the Mesopotamian Death Flu. The beautiful madness of this book somehow dovetails with the delirium of those few weeks, and at the same time stands out as something really solid.

This is a comic book, but it is not an easy book and it is absolutely not for children. The origin story of Doctor Manhattan stands out as one of the most chilling things I've ever seen or read, and yet it's a critical part of the plot. The other members of the Watchmen superhero team -- The Comedian, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias and Rorschach -- all have their roles to play in this epic story, roles that bring them in conflict with each other and with a world that really doesn't want superheroes running around mucking things up.

It goes beyond mere dislike: After the 1977 Keene Act, which banned superheroes outright, only the Comedian, Doctor Manhattan and Rorschach are still actively fighting crime. The Comedian and Doctor Manhattan have the backing of the government; Rorschach is a vigilante acting in defiance of the Keene Act.

The story opens with the murder of the Comedian; then, things get really ugly. Someone wants the Watchmen out of the way.

Meanwhile, on the global front, the doomsday clock is ticking towards midnight and towards a fight that nobody can win.

"Tales of the Black Freighter" is a story-within-a-story, a pirate-themed horror story read by a kid who hangs around a newsstand in New York City. I see it as an allegory for good-intentions-gone-bad, the proverbial staring into the Abyss and having the Abyss stare right back.

All in all, Watchmen is a challenging yet approachable story that is a bit too real to be escapist literature.

Read this book, but be aware that you cannot unread it. Read it anyway.

Review: Cat's Pawn

Leslie Gadallah's Cat's Pawn is a nice little read: One part political intrigue, a smidgen of social commentary, and three parts space opera.

Set in a not-too-distant future (just add spaceship), the story revolves around the relationship between human linguist Bill Anderson and Orian diplomat Talan. Bill is stranded on Orion because of a heart condition, and would like nothing more than a ticket home to Earth. Talan and his fellow Orians are giant bipedal cats (think kinder, gentler Kzinti), a people, uh, felininity with a Dark Secret.

(hears Astreja K. mutter something under Her breath) Well, 'felininity' is a word now. (twitches whiskers) So there, nyah.

I could have done with a little less politics, mind you, and a little less social commentary, but overall it didn't hurt the story. There are lots of narrow escapes, double-crosses, and explosions. Not an "A" list SF by any stretch of the imagination, but great fun. Definitely worth a look if you spot it at your local second-hand bookstore.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: Zen in the Art of Writing

Here's something a little bit different for the writing community. Unlike many other "method" books by established authors, Zen in the Art of Writing captures not the nuts and bolts and howtos of the craft, but the underlying emotions that drive a writer.

This is a series of eleven little autobiographical sketches cleverly disguised as essays. Each one stands well on its own, but collectively they tell the tale of how Mr. Bradbury discovered his voice as a writer. One surprising element: He's a strong advocate of poetry and recommends that writers read a poem every day.

It shows in his writing. There's some wonderful imagery in this book...

...Oh, and a very, very cute black cat across from the title page, too. I give this book two paws up.

Review: The Book on Mind Management

This is a self-help book on the general theme of "Control your thoughts, control the images in your brain, control your life."

Although a lot of what's in here has been said by... Well, by just about everybody in this particular genre... There is one particular gem nestled away on Page 190:

At a seminar, one of the participants protests to the author, "What you are having us do isn't real. We're just making this stuff up."

The response from Mr. Deaton: You're right; we are making it up... Just like we've made up all the other stories that rule our lives. "The question becomes," he goes on to say, "which movies are productive?"

If you don't care for anecdote after anecdote, this probably isn't the book for you. It also would have been nice to have a bibliography and a bit of research on how we use visualization in our lives. That said, this is an easy enough book to get through, and at very least it's a comfortable and thought-provoking trip.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Review: Lords and Ladies

Crop circles.

Angry bees.

Elves. Killer elves. Loose on Discworld...

This book fits into the "Witches" mini-series of the Pratchett canon, due to the presence of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick. In this book, as Magrat prepares for her Midsummer Eve marriage to King Verence II (q.v. Wyrd Sisters), amateur witchcraft and outdoor theatre combine to provide a gateway for some rather nasty entities.

Lords and Ladies has a surprisingly dark tone, more horror than in previous Discworld novels. Offsetting this is the usual banter from Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, and a rich cast of supporting players that includes a contingent from Unseen University and the world's second greatest lover, the dwarf Giamo Casanunda.

And, thanks to some exemplary work by Greebo, the quantum physics of Erwin Schrödinger will never quite be the same...