Book Review: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill


Author: Jenny Offill
TitleDept. of Speculation
Narrator: Jenny Offill
Publication Info: Holland, OH : Dreamscape Media, LLC, [2014]
Summary/Review:

This work is an experimental novel about a writer in Brooklyn, her marriage, and parenthood.  It’s written in a series of short chapters and vignettes.  Sometimes it feels like the narrator is going on about little things, but then sometimes there is a sentence or two that pithily captures a truth about the human condition.  No one in the story has a name – just the wife, the husband, and the daughter.  The child grows and changes, the husband commits adultery, they move to the country.  Everything is kept at a distance only to be periodically punctured by pain and regret.  I appreciate what Offill is trying to do, but on the other hand this book didn’t really resonate with me.

Recommended booksA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan,  Monkeys by Susan Minot, and Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler.

Rating: ***

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Book Review: The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer


AuthorAndrea Cremer
TitleThe Inventor’s Secret
NarratorLeslie Bellair
Publication Info: Listening Library (2014)
Summary/Review:

This is the first in a series of an alternate universe dystopia in which Great Britain suppressed the revolution in the American colonies and have created a deeply stratified industrial tyranny.  I actually thought it was supposed to be set sometime in the far future, but since its  in the steampunk genre, it’s supposed to be in the 19th century despite the advanced technology.  The protagonist is Charlotte, a 16-year-old member of the resistance living with other children in camp hidden away from the empire.  When a mysterious newcomer arrives, it moves forward a plot for Charlotte, her brother and other companions to infiltrate the imperial society in New York.  It’s an interesting concept, but the story didn’t engage me .  I could see it’s appeal for younger readers interested in a mix of fantasy, alternate history, and romance.

Rating: **

Book Review: The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely


Author: Dan Ariely
Title: The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty
Narrator: Simon Jones
Publication Info: Harper Collins, 2012
ISBN: 9780062209320
Summary/Review:

This book is a psychological and sociological investigation into lying, with the emphasis on the ways in which all humans more or less lie and cheat throughout their whole lives.  Ariely notes that while big scandals like say Enron get headlines for their irrational amount of dishonesty, that these types of problems grow from the small actions of many people making cost-benefit analysis rather than high-level conspiracy.  Interesting anecdotes about lying are backed-up by tests and studies.  To be honest, I’ve allowed too much time from listening to this audiobook to writing about, so I’m now fuzzy on the details.  But I do recall it is a fascinating book entertainingly performed by Simon Jones.

Rating: ***

Book Review: An astronaut’s guide to life on earth by Chris Hadfield


Author: Chris Hadfield
TitleAn astronaut’s guide to life on earth
Publication Info: New York, NY : Little, Brown and Co., 2013.

Summary/Review:

Like many people I was charmed by Chris Hadfield’s social media presence on Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube et al during his time as commander aboard the International Space Station in 2012-13.  So I was pleased to read his autobiography to learn more about the man who reignited my fascination with space exploration.  Hadfield was among the first astronauts selected by the Canadian Space Agency and prior to his time aboard the ISS he flew on two space shuttle missions.  Hadfield describes the hard work he put in to become (and remain) an astronaut, his willingness to learn to do just about anything, and the necessity of working in a team.  A frequent refrain in this book is “being an astronaut is a whole lot more than going to space (although that part is really awesome)” as he relates the significant time spent training and preparing (and sometimes learning skills he may never use, but made him more versatile) as well as public appearances to promote the space program.  Hadfield the memoirist seems as delightful as Hadfield the social media star, and I enjoyed reading this book.
Recommended booksPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon by Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Jay Barbree, Howard Benedict,  Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jeffrey Kluger, James Lovell, and The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe,
Rating: ****

Book Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowel


Author: Rainbow Rowel
TitleEleanor & Park
Publication Info: New York : Listening Library, 2013.

Summary/Review:

This novel set in Omaha in 1986 tells of the young love of the 16 year old protagonists Eleanor and Park.  Eleanor lives in poverty with her mother’s abusive boyfriend making an ordinary teenage life impossible.  Park is half-Korean and likes New Wave bands, and chooses to fly low amid the jock culture of his school.  A lot about Eleanor and Park and their romance rings true.  I especially like the depiction of the hierarchy aboard the school bus, and even late in the book when they must rely on the bullies for help at a time of distress.  Unfortunately, a lot the other characters in the book are very two-dimensional.  Eleanor’s mother’s boyfriend is a bad TV movie abusive villain.  Park’s mother struggles to emerge from the Asian mother stereotype.  Still, this story is a unique and honest look at the passions and ideas of young love.

Recommended booksThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Every Day by David Levithan.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Keating


Author: Thomas Keating
TitleContemplative Prayer
Publication Info: [Louisville] : Sounds True, 1995

Summary/Review:

Several years ago I attended a retreat where I learned about contemplative prayer.  I found this guide by one of the major proponents of contemplative prayer, Thomas Keating, narrated by Keating himself and decided to listen to is as a refresher.  Keating begins by discussing the human condition and psychological development from early childhood.  He discusses programs that people use to seek happiness but concludes that the limitless human heart may only be filled by God.  He relates that “fear of God” does not mean the emotion of fear, but trust, reverence, and passion for God.

Centering prayer is laying aside all thought so we can open ourselves to God.   There are three aspects to this kind of prayers:

  1. a sacred word – repeated unchanging throughout prayer and important to disregarding thoughts
  2. a comfortable position but not too comfortable so you don’t fall asleep
  3. 20 minutes of time – one may only end up with 1-2 minutes of quiet, but it is quality not quantity

Rating: ***

 

Book Review: Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler


Author and Narrator: Bruce Feiler
TitleWalking the Bible
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2005)

Summary/Review:

So, I read and reviewed the book Where God Was Born without realizing that it was a sequel to a previous journey until the author responded to my review on Twitter (oops!).   This journey goes to the places of the five books of Moses in Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt.  Feiler summarizes the stories of patriarchs Noah, Abraham, Jacob,  Joseph, and Moses alongside his own travel adventure.  He depicts his personal religious journey as desire to be at the exact places being replaced by an understanding of the symbolism of the land. Feiler also engages in dialogue with many people Jewish and Islam about the differences between Jewish scripture and Quran. No matter what order you read them in, these two books are terrific companions to anyone’s spiritual journey.
Rating: ***1/2

 

 

Book Review: Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch


Author: Diane Ravitch
TitleReign of Error
Publication Info: Knopf (2013)
Summary/Review:

This is the most important book I’ve read all year and one that I think every American should read.  Educational historian Diane Ravitch unravels the multi-pronged attack of the “school reform” movement on public education, teachers, and the core principles of democracy.  While school reformers appropriate the language of the civil rights movement, Ravitch details how their programs are often untested (despite grandiose claims), increase segregation, and divert public money earmarked for the least privileged communities to corporate interests.

Ravitch doesn’t just criticize and complain, though, as she also offers solutions that will address educational achievement gaps in schools as well as addressing the crisis of poverty that often undermines even the best intended educational programs.  I’ve listed them below, but please be aware that each solution is accompanied by a chapter-long description and action plan.

  • Solution No. 1: Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.
  • Solution No. 2: Make high-quality early-childhood education available to all children.
  • Solution No. 3: Every school should have a full, balanced and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education.
  • Solution No. 4: Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.
  • Solution No. 5: Ban for-profit charters and charter chains and ensure that charter schools collaborate with public schools to support better education for all children.
  • Solution No. 6: Provide the medical and social services that poor children need to keep up with their advantaged peers.
  • Solution No. 7: Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing and rely instead on assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do.
  • Solution No. 8: Insist that teachers, principals and superintendents be professional educators.
  • Solution No. 9: Public schools should be controlled by elected school boards or by boards in large cities appointed for a set term for more than one elected official.
  • Solution No. 10: Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty.
  • Solution No. 11: Recognize that public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good.

Favorite Passages:

“In this book, I show that the schools are in crisis because of persistent, orchestrated attacks on them and their teachers and principals, and attacks on the very principle of public responsibility for public education. These attacks create a false sense of crisis and serve the interests of those who want to privatize the public schools.”

 

“I contend that their solutions are not working. Some are demonstrably wrong. Some, like charter schools, have potential if the profit motive were removed, and if the concept were redesigned to meet the needs of the communities served rather than the plans of entrepreneurs. It is far better to stop and think than to plunge ahead vigorously, doing what is not only ineffective but wrong.”

 

“Testing in the early grades should be used sparingly, not to rank students, but diagnostically, to help determine what they know and what they still need to learn. Test scores should remain a private matter between parents and teachers, not shared with the district or the state for any individual student. The district or state may aggregate scores for entire schools but should not judge teachers or schools on the basis of these scores.”

 

“If you want a society organized to promote the survival of the fittest and the triumph of the most advantaged, then you will prefer the current course of action, where children and teachers and schools are “racing to the top.” But if you believe the goal of our society should be equality of opportunity for all children and that we should seek to reduce the alarming inequalities children now experience, then my program should win your support.”

 

“The “reformers” say they want excellent education for all; they want great teachers; they want to “close the achievement gap”; they want innovation and effectiveness; they want the best of everything for everyone. They pursue these universally admired goals by privatizing education, lowering the qualifications for future teachers, replacing teachers with technology, increasing class sizes, endorsing for-profit organizations to manage schools, using carrots and sticks to motivate teachers, and elevating standardized test scores as the ultimate measure of education quality. “Reform” is really a misnomer, because the advocates for this cause seek not to reform public education but to transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy. The groups and individuals that constitute today’s reform movement have appropriated the word “reform” because it has such positive connotations in American political discourse and American history. But the roots of this so-called reform movement may be traced to a radical ideology with a fundamental distrust of public education and hostility to the public sector in general.”

 

“Disabling or eliminating teachers’ unions removes the strongest voice in each state to advocate for public education and to fight crippling budget cuts. In every state, classroom teachers are experts in education; they know what their students need, and their collective voice should be part of any public decision about school improvement. Stripping teachers of their job protections limits academic freedom. Evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students undermines professionalism and encourages teaching to the test. Claiming to be in the forefront of a civil rights movement while ignoring poverty and segregation is reactionary and duplicitous.”

 

“The states of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado, which volunteered to participate in TIMSS, ranked among the top-performing nations in the world. Massachusetts, had it been an independent nation would have been ranked second in the world, behind Singapore.”

 

“Eliminating unions does not produce higher achievement, better teachers, or even higher test scores. Eliminating unions silences the most powerful advocate for public education in every state. It assures that there will be no one at the table to object when the governor or legislature wants to cut the budget for public schools. The union’s main role is to advocate for better working conditions and better compensation for its members. Better working conditions translate into better learning conditions for students, such as reduced class size and more resources for the schools. Better compensation attracts and retains teachers, which reduces teacher attrition. That too benefits students.”

 

“The claims made by Teach for America distract the nation from the hard work of truly reforming the education profession. Instead of building a profession that attracts well-qualified candidates to make a career of working in the nation’s classrooms, our leaders are pouring large sums of money into a richly endowed organization that supplies temporary teachers. If we were serious about improving teacher quality, we would encourage all future teachers to get a solid education and preparation for teaching, and we would expect districts and states to construct a support system to help them get better every year. Instead of expending so much energy on whom to fire, we would focus energy on making teaching a prestigious profession in which classroom teachers have considerable professional autonomy over what and how they teach.”

 

“Charter schools satisfied a long-standing ideological drive by libertarians to remove schools from government control and shift public assets into private hands. ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council—immediately saw the possibilities. ALEC, an organization of some two thousand state legislators and business leaders, promotes privatization and corporate interests. ALEC’s model law for charter schools is called the Next Generation Charter Schools Act. It has several key points: first, it insists that charter schools are public schools, even though they may be controlled by private boards and operate for profit; second, charter schools should be exempt from most state laws and regulations applied to public schools; third, charter schools may be authorized by multiple agencies, such as the state board of education, universities, and charter-friendly organizations, which maximizes the opportunities to open new charters; and fourth, the governor should have the power to appoint a board to authorize charters and override local school boards, which are often reluctant to grant these charters because they drain resources from the school system whose interests they are elected to protect. This legislation encourages the acceleration of privatization and undermines local control of schools. The corporate agenda of privatization and free markets, in this instance, takes precedence over the traditional conservative belief in small government and local control. In that sense, the reform agenda is not really a conservative agenda but a radical attack on local control that serves corporate interests, not Main Street.”

 

“At present, our national policy relies on the belief that constant testing will improve the education of children in the poorest neighborhoods. But this is the cheapest way to supply schooling, not the best way or the right way. The children with the greatest needs are the most expensive to educate. They will not have equality of educational opportunity if their schools focus relentlessly on preparing them to take state tests. Like children in elite private schools and affluent suburbs, they need the arts and sports and science laboratories and libraries and social workers; they need school nurses and guidance counselors. They need to learn history and civics, to read literature and learn foreign languages. They need the latest technology and opportunities to learn to play musical instruments, to sing in groups, to make videos, and to perform in plays. They need beautiful campuses too. It will not be cost-effective to give them what they need. It is expensive. What is needed most cannot be achieved by cutting costs, hiring the least experienced teachers, increasing class size, or replacing teachers with computers.”

 

Recommended booksThe Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz,  Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston, The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights by Thom Hartmann.
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


AuthorJohn Green
TitleThe Fault in Our Stars
Publication Info: Dutton Children’s; 1st edition (January 10, 2012)
ISBN: 9780525478812
Summary/Review:

“You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.”   This quote from The Fault in Our Stars pretty much sums up the book itself.  The story tells of Hazel, isolated from normal teen activity due to the debilitating effects of cancer on her lungs, she meets the handsome and charming fellow cancer survivor Augustus at a support group.  Their ensuing short friendship and romance is sweet, hilarious, and heartbreaking all at once.  A central part of the plot is Hazel’s favorite novel that ends abruptly and Augustus’ plot to use his “Wish” to take her to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author and find out what happens next to the characters in the book.  This is a bit of a Macguffin though as the true story is what we read on the page in this truly remarkable work of fiction.  This is another example of how some of the best fiction out there today is in the Young Adult section.
Favorite Passages:

“And yet still I worried. I liked being a person. I wanted to keep at it. Worry is yet another side effect of dying.”

“The weird thing about houses is that they almost always look like nothing is happening inside of them, even though they contain most of our lives. I wondered if that was sort of the point of architecture.”

“If you don’t live a life in service of a greater good, you’ve gotta at least die a death in service of a greater good, you know? And I fear that I won’t get either a life or a death that means anything.”

“But to be perfectly frank, this childish idea that the author of a novel has some special insight into the characters in the novel…it’s ridiculous. That novel was composed of scratches on a page, dear. The characters inhabiting it have no life outside of those scratches. What happened to them? They all ceased to exist the moment the novel ended.”

“It occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again. That is probably true even if you live to be ninety—although I’m jealous of the people who get to find out for sure.”

Rating: ****

Book Review: They Might Be Giants’ Flood by S. Alexander Reed and Phillip Sandifer


Author: S. Alexander Reed and Phillip Sandifer
Title: They Might Be Giants’ Flood
Publication Info:
ISBN:9781623569150
Summary/Review:

Part of the Bloomsbury Academics 33 1/3 series of books about famous musical recordings, this book analyses my 6th favorite album of all time, They Might Be Giants’ Flood.  Pop scholarship at it’s best, the book explores the 20-song album and the themes that carry through them such as childhood, technology, and geek culture.  The latter is interesting in that John Flansbergh and John Linnell themselves do not identify as geeks, as a short biographical interlude makes clear, yet their paths lead them to the perfect point in 1990 when their creative output would resonate with geek culture (and with wider audiences as well).   The authors also develop a theory of “flooding”  as a form of “creative excess” manifest in TMBG’s work. It’s a remarkable little book and makes my want to look into more works in the 33 1/3 series.
Favorite Passages:

“What’s going on here is playfulness. Flood embodies the idea that creativity is an open-ended result of asking “what if,” and not the single-minded pursuit of a pre-imagined ideal.  The band’s music rejoices in a continual sense of play, altering and subverting the expected order of things, …. Because They Might Be Giants’ music is (almost) never in service of a joke, the silliness of song like “Particle Man” is exploratory, not goal-driven.  Musical, lyrical, and visual ideas then exist for their own sake.” – p. xiii

“Central to understanding the appeal of the album is the aesthetic of flooding.  We’re coining this term to mean, on its most reductive level, an aesthetic of creative excess.  Flooding isn’t merely a case of a lot, but of too much.  It hyperstimulation is exuberant, but in a way that goes both beyond delight and overripeness.” – p. 40

Rating: ****

Related Post: Concert Review: They Might Be Giants

Childhood

Technology

Geek Culture

Book Review: The Technologists by Matthew Pearl


Author:Matthew Pearl
TitleThe Technologists
Publication Info:
ISBN: 0739344307
Summary/Review:

Set in Boston in 1868, The Technologists follows the same historical mystery formula as previous works like The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow.  This novel centers around the students of the first class of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the fictional protagonists intermingling  with historical figures like William Barton Rogers, Ellen Swallow Richards, and Louis Aggasiz (the latter is characterized as a cartoonish villain in the Harvard-MIT rivalry).  Boston is threatened by mysterious technological attacks and the populace – already suspicious of the institute – threaten to close it down.  It’s up to the young students to use their scientific skills to stop the madman and to save the reputation of their school.  The historical details are nice, and the mystery is good enough.  I didn’t see some of the twists in the plot coming, at least.  The growing technological menace get ludicrous though and the characterization is weak.  All in all, an entertaining page-turner of a historical mystery, but no great work of literature.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Give the Devil His Due by Rob Blackwell


Author:Rob Blackwell
TitleGive the Devil His Due 
Publication Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2013)
ISBN: 149289656X
Summary/Review:

The third installment of The Sanheim Chronicles completes the story begun in A Soul To Steal and Band of Demons.  As noted, the author is a friend of mine, so I may not be impartial, but on the other hand I was reading this while waiting for a bus and was so engrossed that I didn’t notice a bus had stopped right in front of me.  The series continues to improve and it continues to change.  These three books could be three different genres, and there’s a lot going on in just this one volume from Celtic mythology to the American Civil War.  There’s imaginative world-building too as the characters proceed on an epic journey across the Land of the Dead.  Blackwell also brings back a lot of good characters from earlier novels in unexpected ways, but I shan’t into detail lest it get too spoilery.

Favorite Passages:

“It matters because words have power, and names have more than most,” Kieran replied. “It influences what we believe and that definitely matters. If we say the Land of the Dead is hell, and Sanheim is the devil, then we’ve already lost. How can we free a soul from a land where only the most evil and corrupted go in the first place? How can we defeat a monster that is evil incarnate? This is why Sanheim acts the way he does, why he no doubt tries to make the Land of the Dead seem like our conception of hell. Because it teaches people to accept their fate. They believe they are there because they deserve to be, and the creature that rules them is nothing less than an evil god.”

Rating: ****

Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain


Author: Susan Cain
TitleQuiet
Publication Info: New York : Random House, Inc. : Books on Tape, p2012.
ISBN:9781415959145
Summary/Review: This is a book for introverts, the people like myself who often feel to be an overlooked minority in a world geared to schmoozers, go-getters, and talk, talk, talk.  Cain dispels some myths about introverts and demonstrates how introverts can thrive when not forced to follow the model of their extroverted brethren.  Better still, Cain explains how the things that come naturally to introverts can be advantages in life, business, and relationships.  Part of the book gives tips on how the introvert can achieve goals that require some extroversion, but also has tips for extroverts who may need to be more introverted at times.  It’s an interesting and empowering book, and one worth looking into to understand the different ways people function.

Recommended books: Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne


Author: Lawrence Osbourne
Title: The Wet and the Dry 
Publication Info:   New York : Crown, c2013.
ISBN: 9780770436889

Summary/Review: 

I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

I selected this book expecting whimsical travel adventures seen through a drinking glass.  I forgot that alcohol is a depressant.  The author Lawrence Osbourne comes from a family of alcoholics and has recently lost his mother.  He spends a lot of time in various parts of the world isolated in bars merely drinking.  A particular challenge for him his to find places to drink in the Islamic world, which seems to be as tedious for him to pursue as it for the reader to see described.  While he has some interesting observations on the drinking culture (or lack thereof) in the places he visits, much of this work is inward facing.  And to be frank, Osbourne seems like an unpleasant person so it is a difficult read.

Rating: **

Recommended BooksA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage and Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz

 

Book Review: Hit By Pitch by Molly Lawless


Author: Molly Lawless
Title: Hit By Pitch
Publication Info:  Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 2012.
ISBN: 9780786446094

Summary/Review: 

I was fortunate enough to receive a free copy of this work through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This graphic novel tells the true life story of the only baseball player to die from an injury on the field, Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians, who was beaned in the head by a pitch from the New York Yankees’ Carl Mays in a 1920 ballgame in New York’s Polo Ground.  Lawless finds some common history among the two men both born in Kentucky in the same year building up their parallel stories leading to the fateful fastball in a similar fashion to Hardy’s “Convergence of the Twain.”  Chapman is charismatic and popular with his teammates and fans while Mays is an outsider who is not well-liked setting up the perfect hero and villain scenario.  Yet, Lawless makes sure to give Mays his fair due.  Lawless details the incident and its aftermath with grim and fascinating details.  For example, did you know that Mays and Yankees’ first baseman Wally Pipp fielded the ball that bounced off Chapman’s head thinking that it was a bunt?  This is a great work of baseball history as well as the graphic arts.

Rating: ****

Recommended BooksThe Glory of Their Times : The Story of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It by Lawrence S. Ritter, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover, and Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel.

Book Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain


Author: Ben Fountain
Title: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Publication Info:   HarperCollins (2012)
ISBN: 9780060885618

 

 

Summary/Review:   This review should be called “Liam Sullivan’s Long Summertime Read” because it took me months to complete reading.  The slothfulness of the read should reflect more on the reader than the novel, and in fact the intricate level of detail in the book may be appreciated by a slow read.  Fountain’s novel tells the story of the Bravo Squad whose firefight in Iraq caught on video goes viral making the ten young men instant heroes brought back to the US to be celebrated and used for a promotional tour.  The majority of the novel takes place on Thanksgiving Day at a Dallas Cowboys game where the Bravos are part of the pre-game and halftime festivities and is told from the perspective of the young Texan infantryman Billy Lynn.  There’s little nuance in Fountain’s writing as this is clearly an anti-war novel with a pile-on of hypocritical people using the Bravos to advance their agenda.  The incidents of the novel also grow increasingly absurd including Billy’s fling with a cheerleader and the surreal halftime show where the Bravos support the performance of Destiny’s Child.  My ultimate summation of this book is good but not great, where the small details stand out better than the overarching themes of the novel.

 

 

Rating: ***

Recommended BooksThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

 

 

Beer Review: Harpoon Saison Various


Beer:  Saison Various
Brewer: Harpoon Brewery
Source: Draft
Rating: *** (7.5 of 10)
Comments: #47 in Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series, this saison is actually a blend of four different beers crafted by four different brewers.  The beer is a deep golden color with very little head or carbonation.  I caught a strong whiff of tropical fruit in the aroma.  The taste is sweet with hints of spice and a bready quality with a crisp finish.  It’s tasty and unique.

Beer Review: Beer Works Watermelon Ale


Beer: Watermelon Ale

Brewer: Beer Works

Source: 12 oz. bottle

Rating: ** ( 6.4 of 10)

Comments: This is clearly a good summer drink, if not clearly a great beer.  The beer is a thin, straw color, inconsistent in tone and very sparkly.  The aroma is defined by the watermelon scent which is also the clear flavor upon first sip.  The flavor evaporates leaving a bland, watery mouthfeel. The head also disappears quickly.  Mind you this is not necessarily a bad thing as many fruit beers can be overly sweet and sticky.  This watermelon ale is clean and refreshing and good for a hot summer’s day.  Serve with a slice of watermelon.

Book Review: TransAtlantic by Colum McCann


AuthorColum McCann
TitleTransAtlantic
Publication Info: New York: Random House, 2013
ISBN: 9781400069590
Previously Read by Same Author: Let the Great World Spin
Summary/Review:

I’m privileged to review an advanced reader’s copy of this forthcoming novel courtesy of the Library Thing Early Reviewer‘s program.

This is a novel of contrasts.  It’s an epic story covering three centuries and as the title implies crossing back and forth the Atlantic from Ireland to Canada and the United States.  And yet it is a very personal book with detailed character studies of four men and four women.  The men are well-known historical figures: American abolitionist Frederick Douglass on a speaking tour of Ireland, Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown making the first nonstop transatlantic flight, and US Senator George Mitchell brokering the Good Friday Agreement.  The women are four generations of the same family whose lives briefly intersect with the historical figures: an Irish housemaid Lily Duggan inspired to go to America by Douglass, the journalist Emily Ehrlich who settles in Newfoundland, the photographer Lottie who marries an RAF airman from Northern Ireland, and Hannah Carson whose loses her son in The Troubles and as we read her story in her own voice in the present time is on the verge of losing all of her family history to the bank.

Just as in Let the Great World Spin, McCann does not interweave the stories, yet characters from other stories appear later on.  The stories are also connected by an unopened letter which acts as kind of a McGuffin and is one of the less effective aspects of the novel to me.  Other than though, the writing in brilliant and McCann has a special gift for capturing the human experience in words.  The fictional figures seem as real as the historical figures and the historical figures are so detailed as to appear as fully-realized literary characters.  This is another great novel by McCann and I highly recommend it.
Favorite Passages:

“What they need are the signatures.  After that, they will negotiate the peace.  Years of wrangling still to come, he knows.  No magic wand.  All he wants is to get the metal nibs striking hard against the page.  But really what he would like now, more than anything, is to walk out from the press conference into the sunlight, a morning and evening jammed together, so that there is rise and fall at the same time, east and west, and it strikes him at moments like this the he is a man of crossword puzzles, pajamas, slippers, and all that he needs is to get on a plane, land, enter the lobby of the apartment on Sixty-Seventh Street, step into his own second chance, the proper silence of fatherhood.” – p. 120

Recommended books: A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan  and Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Rating: ****

Beer Review: Magic Hat Pistil


Beer: Pistil Dandelion Ale
Brewer: Magic Hat Brewing Company
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating:  *** (7.2 of 10)
Comments: This spring beer is all about flowers and fruit.  It’s a golden, bubbly beer with a musty, wheaty, and citrus aroma.  The flavor is crisp and fruity with hints of spice and flora.  The head dissipates quickly but leaves behind nice lacing.