Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I didn't know a lot about Steve Jobs before I started reading this biography. I, of course, knew that he died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. I also knew that he was the founder and leader of Apple, and that he helped create many of the Apple products of which I'm a huge fan.

There are few things I learned after reading this book. For example, Jobs was the CEO of Pixar, the company that brought us such movies as Toy Story, and Up. I also learned that Steve Jobs was quite the crier. He was known to get teared up, sob, and lose his composure pretty frequently. That was surprising to me, considering he was a high-powered CEO.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Isaacson interviewed anyone who might shed some light on the man behind Apple. He didn't just interview people who had good things to say, he also interviewed people who didn't think so highly of Jobs. It made for a well-rounded book, and gives readers a full picture of Steve Jobs. If you'd like to know more about the founder of Apple, I'd recommend Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.


Monday, February 27, 2012

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

Cover imageScrapbookers, family historians and anyone with an affinity for the Roaring Twenties will cherish this first-ever novel in pictures.  Frankie begins compiling the scrapbook novel in June 1920 after high school graduation by typing text on her father's old Corona and incorporating pictures and memorabilia.  The scrapbook details the next eight years of her life, including her studies at Vassar (where she meets Edna St. Vincent Millay) followed by her life in New York and Paris and her return home.  It vividly brings to life the New York literary scene as well as the bohemian lives of expatriots (think Hemingway and Joyce) in Paris.  The reader feels like she is paging throuogh her grandmother's scrapbook instead of turning the pages of a novel, and thus the pure genius of the book arises.  (Gertrude Stein types may be dismayed by the book's ending, but Romantics will sign with delight.)



Monday, February 20, 2012

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan

Cover imageThe odds of a contemporary middle-aged couple relating to the characters and events in this book?  About 1 in 2.  O'Nan's gem of a book, set appropriately in Niagara Falls on Valentine's Day, is about Art and Marion Fowler's attempt to "go for broke" to save their marriage and their dignity.  As empty nesters dealing with unemployment, an unpayable mortgage and an impending divorce, they cash out their life savings and risk it all in a casino in the Canadian Falls--the same casino they visited on their honeymoon 30 years earlier.  As they stumble along from one fiasco to another, the reader is rooting for them to beat the odds, perhaps thinking "there but for the grace of God go I."  Reading this book during Valentine's week made it especially timely, but anyone who is a romantic at heart will be cheering for the Fowlers to succeed.



Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius

Cover imageContinuing in a line of books that play with the title of James Joyce’s novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (my two favorite titles of this sort are William Eastlake’s Portrait of an Artist with 26 Horses and Laurie Foos’ Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist), Friedrich Christian Delius’ Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman has the distinct achievement of containing only one sentence. Yes, you heard me right. There is only one sentence in this book. Of course that sentence is very long, continuing for over 100 pages. The book ends up flowing like an extended series of thoughts on the part of the young German woman at its center. For me at least, the single sentence really didn’t make for challenging reading, beyond the fact that it’s hard to find a good place to take a break from the novel. There are still paragraphs in the book, and the paragraphs make Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman more reader friendly than it might have been otherwise.

What really made the book off-putting and a challenge to get through, despite its short length, was its almost complete lack of plot.  The book takes place in Rome during World War II. The woman is pregnant and her husband is stationed in North Africa. The woman wanders around Rome pondering her life, interacting with next to no one, and successfully putting this reader to sleep. It reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, another book that seemed to go on for ages and has little in the way of a traditional plot. Despite my dislike of Virginia Woolf’s writing in general and Mrs. Dalloway in particular, I have talked to many people over the years that like or even consider themselves fans of Mrs. Dalloway. It could be that I’m just missing something.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mozart's Last Aria: A Novel by Matt Rees

Cover imageThere has long been rumors that the great composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was poisoned to death at the age of 35. Historians today believe that he actually died from complications of rheumatic fever. However, Mozart's Last Aria asks the question--if he indeed was murdered, who did it and why? The novel is narrated by his sister, Madame Maria Anna Berchtold. She travels to Vienna to pay her respects to Wolfgang's wife and starts asking questions about her brother's death. It turns out that one of Mozart's greatest works, The Magic Flute is full of clues and may hold the key to solving this well done mystery. Readers that enjoy a sense of place and lots of details should really enjoy this.


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Cradle: A Novel by Patrick Somerville

Cover imageI found The Cradle to be an interesting but extremely odd novel. This is the story of a young couple, Matt & Marissa, who are expecting their first child. Out of the blue, Marissa tells Matt that she simply must have the cradle that she herself slept in as a child. OK, that's the first odd thing. Matt agrees with little hesitation to track this cradle down. Second odd thing. Then suddenly, a storyline with new characters start. Third oddity. The rest of the novel tells of Matt's journey to get the cradle, as well as what is happening with the lives of the other people in the adjacent storyline. The ending (you guessed it!) is as odd (besides a little creepy) as the rest. But here's the oddest thing of all - I liked it.


Friday, February 10, 2012

The Wedding Writer by Susan Schneider

Cover imageThe Wedding Writer is simply a fun chick-lit novel. It tells the story of four women, Lucky, Sara, Grace, and Felice that all work for a struggling bridal magazine. At the core of all this is Grace Ralston, the powerful Editor-in-Chief. When she is fired and replaced by Lucky Quinn (who happens to be her protege), well, the fireworks and claws come out. Friendships and personal lives are quickly evaporated as each woman struggles to find a niche of her own. This may be chick-lit, but I found it to be well done and intelligent.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Ameritopia by Mark Levin

Cover imageThe author of the best-selling treatise "Liberty and Tyranny" continues his defense of republican government in his new book.  Levin analyzes classic works of government such as Plato's "Republic," More's "Utopia," Hobbes' "Leviathan," and Marx/Engels' "The Communist Manifesto" to show how they can lead to totalitarian societies.  He then discusses works by Locke and Montesquieu and illustrates how they influenced the Founding Fathers in creating the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Levin posits that governments based on the principles of natural law, liberty, private property and separation of powers can best preserve the rights of their citizens and lead to prosperity. This is compelling reading for anyone who missed philosophy and political science class in college.



Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman

Cover imageLet me start off by saying, to be fair, that I read this immediately after I read The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. So of course, if you compare the two, this is lukewarm. I believe much of this story was fashioned after the original, but of course done with a very different style and a lot more technology. The Accidental Time Machine is the story of an underachieving and mildly depressed M.I.T. grad student, Matt. He discovers that a machine he built can actually "jump" through time. After a series of experiments, Matt decides to give it a go. Off he goes into a very, very strange future, with a religious dictatorship in the U.S., dinosaurs, talking bears, and lots of A.I.s. Did I mention that there are two Jesus Christ figures in his travels?

This novel was entertaining, but I would recommend the classic if you want to travel through time.


The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman that Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Cover imageThe Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a fascinating story of one woman's determination to stay alive and take care of her family during Afghanistan's Taliban rule. This was truly a dreadful time for Afghans; particularly for women. Women had almost no rights at all. They could not work, go to school, or be seen in public without a family male escort. With so many men having been killed during the war, what were widows and mothers to do? Kamela Sadiqi is one of these women. Only 19 years old, well educated but unable to use her teaching certificate, takes the very risky step of creating her own business by working at home.

This is her story.


The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

Cover imageFirst published in 1895, The Time Machine is a true classic. For those that have not read it (and you should!) this is the story of a man, known as the Time Traveller, that meets with friends at his home to discuss a machine. This machine, he says, can travel through time. Now, the novel is set in Victorian England, so of course his friends are skeptical. However, they are proven wrong. The rest of the book recalls the Time Travellers adventures as he crosses hundreds and hundres of years. It actually turns out to be an amazing journey! And there are many things we can all learn from this.