Townhouse Books

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Broken Angels:Richard Morgan

3 stars

I enjoyed this book on its own, but don't read it expecting a detective novel on the level of Altered Carbon. The premise is that Takeshi Kovacs is a mercenary for hire, but he is bored working for the police force that is putting down a rebellion in one of the human colonies. He finds an opportunity to leave and work on a side project hunting for valuable martian artifiacts (spaceship). The first half of the story is spent putting together the team working on the project. I think perhaps one or two of these people could have been left off to spare the reader from remembering their background and motivations.

The end was slightly confusing. You might end up wondering if the author revealed something new, or if you should have put some pieces together to arrive at the same conclusion. Not everything is resolved, so don't mind the details or they might drive you batty.

EOL:Don't read it expecting a sequel to Altered Carbon.


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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Motherless Brooklyn: Jonathan Lethem

Amazing,... well It was at least very interesting, and well worth the read. I may have disagreed with how the author tied up a few things near the end, but overall it was written very well. (unlike my posts)

Short story. Tourettic (sp, is that a word?) thuggish detective. sets out to discover who has murdered his boss. Virtually no one wants him to pursue this course of action, but just try and stop him from doing anything. (it's a compulsion thing) There is some romance in the book, but sudden outbursts always seem to destroy and sense of calm that ahs been achieved.

I think Lethem could even take the character he has created here and start a new series of detective novels, like Ian Rankin's series.



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Monday, May 23, 2005

Digital Fortress-Dan Brown

My one word description is fluff. If you have nothing else to do and you would like to keep your brain semi-awake, and out of a persistent vegetative state then you might want to check this out. Adding a second word I might say "suspenseful fluff". You have to at least admit that Dan Brown keeps the plot moving, even if you can kind of guess what is going to happen next. And this review might be a trifle unfair because I was exposed to the Cryptonomicon before reading this. So any other cryptographic novel pales in comparison.

This book discusses how the NSA supposedly snoops on all of our emails. The author seems to be debating the merits of this with himself throughout the book. Totally Evil to completely necessary. The NSA claims it is being done with our best interests in mind, but other characters in the story believe that we should have privacy. etc.. So I don't know you could read it for that alone I suppose.

Final note, Decent fluff. I wouldn't advise anyone not to read it really



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Friday, May 20, 2005

What We Want To Read (Or At Least Make Someone Else Review)

Starmaker by Olaf Something-Or-Other. An older book, has anyone ever heard of it or read it? A coworker recommended it.

Absolution Gap by Alaistar Reynolds. It's coming out in paper back soon, I will be so happy! Reynolds first books aren't really a series, but you kinda get roped in and next thing you know you're screwed. This is supposed to end it. It will probably let me down.

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series. Stupid name, I mistakenly read the first book, A Game of Thrones before realizing it was a series. I'll be excited to read all of them, whenever he gets done with the whole series.


"The Lazy Person's Handbook: Short Cuts to Get Everything You Want with the Least Possible Effort"
-I'm too lazy to read it myself -jtf

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Maximum Ride:James Patterson

This is James Patterson's foray into Young Adult Literature. It has a sequel that hasn't come out yet, and I am looking forward to reading it, if that gives you any indication as to how I liked this book.

It was fast paced, and interesting. The plot involved a flock of mutant bird children. Details were good, and sounded reasonable intriguing for the intended age bracket. The plot itself was a little predictable, but the author hits you with suprises along the way. Dead ends are plentiful, but oddly fortuitious gains are also present.

A close comparison might be with the Rats of Nimh???


story code


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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Children of Men-P.D.James

This was an interesting book about the future. This book is about what would happen if all of a sudden our race stopped producing children. What would the reaction of the general populace be? This book focuses solely on the reaction to this kind of an epidimic in england. The theme recalls Herbert's "White Plague" without the whole vengeance angle.

Specifically the story details the accounts of one man who has intimate connections with the leader of England, but has also been contacted by members of a rebel group. The story flows at a decent pace, and doesn't let the reader down when it comes time to make hard choices. However, I feel that the author stumbled at the end, and produced an inadequate solution. That is just a fancy way to say I despise how this book was ended. So if you want I can rewrite the last 3 pages for you.

I believe that an erroneous observation was written into the entire latter portion of the book, but I can look past that for the most part. I believe that the author is trying to insinuate that everyone would love for a baby to be born, after 20 some odd years of no babies, and no hope for babies. It is my hypothesis that the general populace would prefer at that point to just let the race die in peace. I don't know maybe that is just me.But again, the very end did not sit well with me.



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Monday, May 16, 2005

Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things

I'm a big fan of blogs like Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools that are about things that enable you to do interesting things, rather than about the interesting things themselves. I figure that I'd rather make my own fun.

So Kevin recommended Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things (the official website) a while back and I immediately ordered it, after all how could I resist a book that proffered an easy way to turn into the neighborhood MacGyver? Well, I probably should have saved my money. This book is pretty disappointing. There are exactly two interesting things that you can make, one of which I'll tell you about.

The next time you have 8oz of spoiled milk on your hands dump it in a pot and heat it short of boiling. Add in a tablespoon of vinegar and stir until it gets lumpy. Strain out the lumps, press, and allow to dry overnight. What you have is casein, the primary phosphoprotein in milk.

By precipitating it out and allowing it to dry you've formed a "plastic" that can be further dried and supposedly used for a variety of household tasks.

So aside from the casein trick, which I've now given you, there's no real reason to read this book.

If you're still trying to hone your MacGyver skills I'd recommend that you read the American Boy's Handy Book, which I'll review at some point in the future.


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Friday, May 13, 2005

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

I'm just not sure if I really liked this book. I do need to re-read it, since I finished it in one of those hazy, late-night marathon reading sessions last night. So the latter fifth of the book is not as clear as the first part. But still...

First and foremost, I truly appreciate the fact that Our Protagonist is a punk librarian. And apparently pretty damn hot. But I didn't need to be hit over the head, again and again, with just how legit his musical tastes are. Strangely enough, this kind of attention to detail doesn't quite carry over into fully-realized characterization. I can picture the characters' clothes, where they go for dinner, what their houses look like...but I don't get a great sense of emotional depth. There's an illicit love affair somewhere in this novel, but it never has any real impact until a scene where the whole point of the scene is how very removed and emotionally dead one participant is.

I found some of the character's "turning points" interesting reading, but again, not incredibly compelling. Clare and Henry take a guy out to the woods, strip him, threaten him? Ho hum. Didn't see it coming, true, but it didn't seem to follow from anything either. Set, scene, over.

The book does bring up some interesting questions like the hoary "What is free will?" as well as some neat causality questions ("Who's fault is this anyway?") For example, if, when I meet you, I tell you we're destined to fall desperately in love, did I kinda just force it to happen? Better yet, what if I'm so convinced we're gonna fall in love because you visited me as a child and told me we would?

I came away from the book not really liking Henry or Clare. Henry's kind of a self-centered, sociopathic jerk. Clare's a little more interesting but, since she met this sociopath at such a young, impressionable age, unhealthily obsessed with waiting for him. I mean, girlfriend slept with, what, one other guy while Henry was plowing his way through the 1980s Chicago scene?

I really thought one Amazon reviewer put it quite well; I'll quote at length:
Ultimately I was left feeling that the titular Wife wasted pretty much her entire existence, waiting on the return of her time-traveling husband one way or another. I could almost believe that the point of the book was that, as others in the story insisted, Henry was indeed a destructive force who couldn't really care properly for anyone but himself. Perhaps she didn't actually exist except as a shadow of him which would explain why a Catholic schoolgirl raised in the suburbs on a spacious estate with a houseful of servants would express herself in a way indistinguishable from a city kid raised by his alcoholic (yet musically talented) father. You know he's smart, though, because he has a lot of books.

But wait! It sounds like I'm really trying to rip this book to shreds. I'm not. I totally enjoyed it. I'm hoping others read it. I just came to it with such high expectations, and parts of the book were so stunningly good, that the flaws seemed to sting that much more. I'm gonna use what Brian said on David Markson, the "actual process of reading is intensely pleasurable, although what passes as a story isn't as affecting."


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Reader's Block - David Markson

David Markson's writing is...unique.

For the past decade or so he's been writing books that only vaguely have a narrative structure, anything resembling characters, or any characteristics of fiction. They consist more and more of two-sentence bits of trivia about writers, scientists, and philosophers.

Reader's Block seems to be one of the earliest of Markson's novels written in this way. There are a few lines here and there that refer to "Reader" (Markson) and "Protagonist," who is the main character in a story that Reader is thinking about maybe, one day, writing. Actually, considering that we know so little about them, Reader and Protagonist are only barely characters and the little that we know about them tends to meld into the surrounding trivia.

The overall effect gives the reader a peek into what may be a parallel stream-of-consciousness to the two main characters. Or I may be reading too much into it, and the whole technique could be the result of a writer who has gotten lazy, who has become more interested in the particulars of other people's lives than in creating a novel.

Here's a taste of what Reader's Block is like:
Not one of the violent moments in Greek tragedy occurs on stage. Medea murdering her sons, for instance. Or Orestes bloodying Clytemnestra.

Does Reader yet know how long Protagonist has now been alone?
Who, when, the last woman in his life will have been?

Treat nature in terms of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone.

Pio Baroja was an anti-Semite.

Melville. A little heterodox in the matter of clean linen.
Said Hawthorne.

And that's a typical section from page 70 in the trade paperback edition, if you're interested.

And so I realize that this review makes Markson's writing sound... obtuse. Or maybe just pretentious. But it's really good, and I mean really really good. It's like Infinite Jest, which I also love, in that the actual process of reading is intensely pleasurable, although what passes as a story isn't as affecting.

Also, if you're going to read it, which you totally should, try and set aside 2-3 hours and just read it straight through. Although many of the passages are entirely singular, many of them aren't, and there's a lot of repetition in subject and in description.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Lovely Green Eyes-Arnost Lustig

I just finished reading Arnost Lustig's "Lovely Green Eyes"

Very enjoyable read, but depressing of course because of the subject matter.
As it turns out I was reading this on Remember the Holocaust day. Yom Hashoah

Told from the POV of the future associate of a former jewish war time prostitute. I guess the Nazi's never knowingly put jewish women to work in their prostitution camps. This is a story of survival by any means.

Gives you a good insight into some of the atrocities you don't usually hear about.

Story Code


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Sunday, May 08, 2005


If I don’t have the energy to cook or even go to the grocery store, why would I read cookbooks? Two reasons. First, I can usually sweet talk my sister into making the recipe I’m interested in. Second, Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks are more inspirational than they are instructional.

If you’ve seen Nigella on the Style Network, you know that she’s British, gorgeous, and chatty without being (ahem, Rachel Ray) psychotic. She used to be the food editor of British Vogue, and now writes a food column in the New York Times. Her personal life is tragic – lost her mother, sister, and husband to cancer. But her outlook on life is simple: be practical, don’t fiddle, and enjoy yourself. Her books reflect this philosophy; she doesn’t suggest making exquisite canapés or braided pie crusts. She doesn’t make pronouncements about the futility of cooking with sub-par produce. (The woman lives in England, for crying out loud – their growing season for fresh local produce is about a minute and a half in July.)

I find Nigella ultimately believable. When she says that it’s actually quite easy to pop a roast chicken in the oven when you get home from work and entertain 6 for dinner, I believe her. When I feel up to that, I will turn to her recipe. Again, I return to the contrasting example of Rachel Ray – to complete one of her menus in 30 minutes requires 30 minutes of preparation (the recipes start by saying you need julienned carrots, or peeled potatoes, or chicken breasts sliced into thin strips) and 30 minutes of mad multitasking. Nigella would rather let her dinner bake all day, lounging and snacking while the oven does the work.

She has written five books, of which I have read four. How to Be a Domestic Goddess focuses on baking, which I loathe, so I skipped it. How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food has replaced Joy of Cooking as my go-to guide in the kitchen. It’s really a series of essays with recipes included. In the introduction she explains her motivation for both the title and her approach: “I don’t believe you can ever really cook unless you love eating. Such love, of course, is not something that can be taught, but it can be conveyed – and maybe that’s the point. In writing this book, I wanted to make food and my slavering passion for it the starting point; indeed, for me it was the starting point. I have nothing to declare but my greed.” This book is arranged into chapters that relate to the occasions for which you want food, and they are the stuff of everyday life: cooking in advance, cooking for one and two, fast food, weekend lunch, dinner, low fat, and feeding babies and small children. There are whole menus included for each occasion. She makes the point that meals that require quick, last-minute preparation are actually more stressful than those that hang out in the oven while you read the mail, set the table, and watch the news. So while you will find instructions for quickly heating canned beans with herbs, onion, celery and garlic in her “Fast Food” chapter, you will also find a recipe for cinnamon-hot roast rack of lamb. If you have kids, the chapter on kid-friendly food is outstanding. This is where my deep trust of Nigella was confirmed: when I read that she fed her children their first peanut butter sandwich in the doctor’s office because she was afraid of peanut allergies. She describes some of the baby-food purees that she concocted for her first-born, and I rejoice – I make all of Daisy’s food myself, and take a bit of flak for not using Gerber. We share the bond of new-mom paranoia, so when she suggests mashing all sorts of things (minced meat, cheese, pesto, poached eggs) into a baked potato I make a mental note to get potatoes next time I make it to the store.

Nigella Bites was the inspiration for the TV series of the same name, and this series is how most people know the author. There are fewer recipes, and they are given more of a glamour treatment: glossy photos, a page-long essay for each recipe. With chapters like “Temple Food” (the stuff you would eat to purify your body after a long night on the town) and “Trashy” (includes deep fried candy bars and ham cooked in Coca-Cola) you can imagine that the essays that launch each recipe are entertaining. My favorite recipe from this book is poached chicken topped with wilted spinach and a mixture of white beans and chorizo sausage. It’s beautiful, simple, and impresses guests. (Right, Justin?) Forever Summer is another gorgeous-looking book. All of the recipes are things you could imagine yourself eating in your fabulous Italian summer home – but in case you don’t have one, Nigella argues that when you eat foods like these in the dead of winter (even if it means using less-than-inspirational produce) you feel like it’s summertime. The cocktails are awesome –I highly recommend the drink that blends a whole (peeled) lemon, sugar, ice, and a shot of limoncello. Feast was just published last Fall, and it is a huge collection for every celebratory occasion, from birthdays to funerals. All of her books have elements of autobiography, but this one more than the rest – lots of memories of her family and how food brought them together. There’s a great, simple recipe for Penne alla Vodka that will save me big bucks – I can’t resist that dish in restaurants, and now I can have it at home for pennies. (Penne for pennies. Can you tell I’m up at 6am to get this post finished?)

Any one of these books is perfect for curling up on a Sunday afternoon, the epicure’s answer to window shopping. Who knows – you might find yourself realizing that you have everything necessary to make spaghetti aglio olio, and off you go.


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