Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World, by James Geary. HarperCollins, 2011

I have always tended to think of metaphors as statements like “ran like the wind” or “raven haired”; statements that are obvious comparisons. Geary points out that metaphor goes far deeper in our language; stocks ‘climb’ despite not having limbs, time races by or crawls, a person or situation can be a ticking time bomb while having nothing to do with actual explosives. Metaphor is so ingrained in humans that we aren’t even aware of it. Metaphors help explain the world to us; new things are explained by comparing them to things we already know. Metaphors are so deeply ingrained in our brains that we can easily be manipulated by others using them; advertisers and politicians use them all the time. The book is very interesting; the man knows what he’s talking about if the gigantic bibliography tells us anything. Recommended if you are interested in learning about how your brain works and perhaps making you aware of how metaphors can ‘prime’ you to feel and act in certain ways.


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Friday, January 24, 2014

Steampunk Voyages, by Irene Radford. Book View Café, 2013

Radford presents five short steampunk stories and an excerpt from her upcoming novel in ebook format. In Radford’s steampunk world of alt history, air ships were invented and came into wide use early in the 19th century; Lord Byron was working on immortality before he died; automatons are no longer novelties; Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage perfected their difference engine; and the map of North America is very, very different from our historical version. Four of the stories are related, featuring sisters Trude Romanz and Madame Magdala, one an airship pirate, the other an owner of an incredible bookstore and governess/assistant to Ada Lovelace. The fifth story is set in the same universe but with different characters, and is, in my opinion, the best of the stories.

The stories are fairly brief; they read like selections from a larger work or perhaps installments of a series. They could really use a little filling out, a little more plot. Some of the self-description of the heroines- four of the stories are told in first person- need some work; there are passages in them that are Mary Sue-ish. Radford is an experienced author, so I’m not sure why she had a problem with this. I’ve not read anything else by her; perhaps this is her first time writing first person POV? I don’t know. But this world she’s created has great promise and I love that the main characters are women. 

I received this book free in return for an unbiased review. 

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett. Harper, 2003

Borogravia has been at war so long, and with so many countries, that they’ve nearly run out of men and boys to send into battle. They aren’t very picky anymore about who they get to enlist.

Polly Perks, who is running her widowed father’s inn, wants to know what has happened to her brother, who enlisted and marched away a year ago. So when the recruiter comes to town, er, village, she cuts off her hair, dons men’s clothing, takes a male name, and passes for a boy. She knows how to act like a man: fart loudly and proudly, don’t be graceful, and punch your friends instead of hugging. She finds herself in a small band of recruits that includes a troll, a vampire who has sworn off blood, and an Igor- the race of people who are masters of sewing together bits of people who normally serve mad scientists. Leading them is Sergeant Jackrum, a large, loud, but smart and sympathetic, person who sets out to make men out of them- or at least, make soldiers out of them.

The story takes aim at gender inequality, war, religion, and government- with potshots at a few other things along the way- in Pratchett’s usual witty manner. To go into detail would be to go into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that the recruits prove to be fast learners- very fast learners.

The pace of this novel is different from most of the Discworld series; despite being about war, it’s a little more low key. And that’s fine. The quieter mood fits perfectly with young recruits sneaking through the forest and infiltrating a castle

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, by David Barnett. Tor, 2013

The first volume in a projected trilogy, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is set in a fairy typical steampunk world: Victorian era, airships, wild inventions, paranormal beings, historical characters mixed in with fictional ones.

Gideon Smith is a teenager living in out of the way Sandsend, son of a fisherman and addicted to the penny dreadful adventures of Captain Lucian Trigger. When Smith’s father and crew disappear off his fishing boat without a trace, things don’t seem right. He vows to go to London and engage said captain to investigate. Along the way to London, he meets (and intrigues with his story) Bram Stoker and rescues a mechanical girl, Maria, from slavery. Soon a band of adventurer’s is collected, with multiple aims: to again rescue the now kidnapped Maria, to seek vengeance for various deaths, to follow an exciting story; it’s all very exciting and at times confusing. But it’s well constructed, the characters are great fun (although I had a little trouble getting my mind around Elizabeth Bathory as a grieving and vengeful widow- okay, the vengeful part is easy to see), some fairly unique supernaturals are introduced, there are airship pirates, the women are as strong and resourceful as the men, and Barnett doesn’t seem to drop any of the plot strands. I eagerly await the next volume. 


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Black Wine, by Candas Jane Dorsey. Five Rivers Publishing, 2013

I found this book a difficult read. We don’t learn the names of some of the characters until late in the game, and the story jumps from plot line to plot line. Some names are very similar to each other. And absolutely nothing is explained; it’s just action and dialogue. The setting seems to be a future earth, where settlements are far flung and have very different languages and social customs from each other; some are horrendously authoritarian, some easy going; some have people who never touch each other if at all possible while in others, sex is casual as breathing.

The story follows several generations of women, all but one of whom live horrible lives; some are the horror, while others are on the receiving end of it. It does seem that with each generation, life gets a bit better and each woman is freer to be herself, even though the oldest woman in the chain is a ruler of a city/country and the youngest works in a warehouse. This is a novel where the characters are very real; no one is 100% likeable- although there are one or two who are 100% loathsome.

This is not fantasy (other than one character), but rather the type of science fiction that isn’t fun to read but makes one pay attention and think. 

A copy of this e-book was provided to me for free in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my review. 

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Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, by Eben Alexander, M.D. Simon & Schuster, 2012

Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon. In 2008 he contracted a rare illness that struck with unusual rapidity and put him into a coma hours after it struck. He remained in that coma, unable to even breathe for himself, for seven days. His doctors considered him brain dead and unable to wake up; or, if by some miracle he did wake up, he would be severely brain damaged. But he did wake up, and within a short time regained all his abilities. How did this happen?

While the pathogen causing Dr. Alexander’s illness was discovered- it was the common E. coli- they never did figure out how it managed to get into his brain and spinal cord fluid. Nor did they figure out how he survived it when his neocortex was shut down for days- or how he felt himself to be conscious through out the seven days and had memories of being in heaven during that time. He is convinced that his survival and his memories of heaven are proof that God exists, that the soul exists after death, and that his survival was a miracle. There is also the fact that he knew a couple of things that went on while he was in a coma that he shouldn’t have been able to know. He states that God loves us all, and his illness was for a reason.

I’m not automatically against the possible reality of near death experiences – NDEs- but I don’t automatically believe them, either. Alexander’s recovery from his illness was unlikely but there are other cases of people recovering from illness that should have killed them. And we certainly don’t know everything about the brain; neuroscience learns surprising things every day. What happened to the author was remarkable and some aspects are unexplainable at this time, but there is a chance his interpretation is colored by his religious training.

Then there is the problem that some of the things in his book just aren’t true; he took some liberties with the truth here and there. Alexander did not lapse into a coma on his own; because he was delirious and thrashing around to the point he couldn’t be treated, the emergency room doctor put him into a medically induced coma which necessitated putting him on a ventilator. He was kept in that coma, and the doctors periodically tried to bring him out of it, only to find him still delirious; he was never ‘brain dead’. He states that as he was about to be transferred from the emergency room to the ICU, the rallied for a moment and shouted “God help me!”, but the emergency room doctor, a friend and co-worker of the author, says that is impossible because he was already intubated, and with that hose down your throat, you can’t speak. There are a few other examples of dramatic license here and there, but most of them aren’t serious. Do these lapses of verity invalidate the author’s message? I don’t know.

Was the author’s recovery near miraculous? Pretty much. Does his NDE prove life after death? No. Does the fact that he apparently had mental contact with other people, learning things he couldn’t have known prove that *something* science can’t explain yet happened? Possibly; but because I now cannot trust his version of events, I don’t know. I wish he’d put forth the true version of events rather than try and make them more dramatic; his story would have been a lot more convincing then. 

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Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol, by Gyles Brandreth. Touchstone, 2013

In 1895 Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for homosexuality. He spent two years at hard labor, in a dismal setting where the prisoners starved, were beaten, died of untreated illness, and were not allowed to talk or even look at each other. Despite being in proximity to others a couple of times a day, they were effectively in solitary confinement. This is the setting for this novel, the 6th in the series that feature Wilde as a detective so clever that his friend Arthur Conan Doyle based Sherlock Holmes on him.

The story is told by Wilde to his biographer Robert Sherard (a contemporary of Wilde’s), but it’s a retelling of how he told the story to a stranger in Paris, where he fled after his release from prison. In this tale, two gaolers were killed, perhaps murdered. Brothers, one was known as vicious while the other accepted sexual favors from prisoners in return for leniency. Someone higher up wants to know if it was murder, and if so, is the person being blamed the real killer? Wilde is given some leeway and preference in the name of figuring this out.

It’s a good mystery story, and Brandreth uses a lot of historical detail to bring the dank, stinking, horrible prison to vivid, unpleasant, life. There are a couple of nice twists in the tale. All in all a very entertaining adventure. 

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Grace: A Memoir, by Grace Coddington. Random House, 2012

Grace Coddington was a fashion model in the 1960s, appearing in Vogue and other magazines. When she was 28, she moved to the behind the scenes side of fashion magazines and became a junior editor at British Vogue, later moving to photo editor. After a brief stint with Calvin Klein, she became creative director of American Vogue. Her whole life has been about fashion and photography. Along the way, she’s met and worked with many of the greats of fashion. Given my fascination with the subject, I thought I’d love this book.

The book, sadly, is merely ‘okay’. It’s flat, told in a ‘and then I’ format that brings to mine youthful ‘what I did on my summer vacation’ writings. Grace admits that she’s only read two books in her life (although obviously she’s had to have read hundreds of magazines in her work life), so it’s no surprise that she doesn’t have a fluent writing style. If you’re interested in the fashion world, you’ll like this book despite the lack of flow. Just to know who was doing what when is kind of interesting.

The most fascinating part of the book, to me, was that I finally know the why behind photo spreads in fashion magazines that barely show the clothing and are sometimes down right surrealistic. The spreads are art, not a catalog, and they have themes that have nothing to do with the clothing shown. Exciting to look at, they draw the reader into the *idea* of the clothing.

The book has many photographs, and is illustrated with Grace’s cute little drawings. 

This book was provided to me free in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my review. 

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The Sewing Machine Classroom, by Charlene Phillips. Krause Publications, 2011

 A very good, basic, introduction to using a sewing machine; written clearly enough that a teenager would have no trouble with it but thorough enough- and with enough handy tips- for the sewist who is beginner to intermediate. Introduces basic stitches and feet that are usually provided on a modern machine, as well has having sections on fabrics, threads, installing zippers & buttonholes, types of seams & hemming, and simple decorative techniques like tucks and smocking. The spiral binding allows the book to lay open for easy reference while trying out the techniques. 

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett. Orbit Books 2013

Mona Bright is a middle aged ex-cop with who has been drifting from job to job for awhile. When her father dies, she discovers that one of his assets is a house her long dead mother had in a tiny New Mexican town called Wink. Wink doesn’t show up on any maps, but the government quantum states research facility her mother worked at proves to be-barely- findable. Mona takes a road trip in another part of her inheritance: a red 1960s muscle car.

Once in Wink, she decides to stay in her mother’s house for a while. But right away, things seem odd. People never go out after dark. There are areas that no one goes near. The moon is pink sometimes. One man does nothing but work on his car, going so far as to start attaching household appliances to the engine. And Mrs. Benjamin would qualify as a slightly eccentric old widow if it weren’t for her mirror that moves things and her pantry that seems to be some Lovecraftian hell. There are a number of plot lines to keep track of, which slowly converge into bloody climax.

The writing reminded me of something Dean Koontz might write, or perhaps Steven King. There is a palpable atmosphere of not-rightness about everything, and everyone and everything seem to be in on a big secret she isn’t supposed to know. But chinks develop in the armor that the residents of Wink hide in, and ‘otherness’ soon gets loose big time. It’s a creepy book; a blend of science fiction and horror. It starts out slow- perhaps too slow; it could have used some pruning- but turned into a can’t-put-it-down story. 

I received this book free from the Early Reviewers program in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my review.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Crown Publishers, 2013

Writer James Finney-Boylan had been a father for six years when he decided that he could no longer continue the charade of living as a man. She spent six years in the transition process, then underwent gender reassignment therapy and became a mother named Jennifer. She and her wife, Deirdre, remained married and raised their two sons as a couple. Jennifer has written her transition story elsewhere; this is the story of them as a family. Told in alternating sections by Jennifer and via interviews with other writers about family and raising children, we discover that Jennifer’s worries that her transition would damage the boys were unfounded: they are happy, well adjusted young men who do not think that their family is even slightly unusual. Amazingly, given how cruel kids (and adults) can be to anyone even slightly ‘different’, the boys were not bullied or maltreated by their schoolmates. She admits that her transition was very lucky because most of the many, many things that could have gone bad did not.

The book is an easy, interesting read. While I have read other transition stories, none have focused on the family like this one does. The interviews show that families and parenting styles come in all shapes and methods. This book adds a new facet to the huge array of parenting books. The only problem was a little bit of choppiness in the flow.

"Stuck in the Middle with You" was provided to me by the Library Thing Early Reviewers program in return for an unbiased review. 

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Whispers Underground, by Ben Aaronovitch. Ballantine 2012

London Police Constable Peter Grant returns for the third volume of this urban fantasy series with a well connected American murder victim that has a trace of magic attached to him. The complex plot weaves together a born again Christian FBI agent who does not like the idea of magic, some very special pottery, a teenaged girl who is catching on to the whole magic thing all too quickly, an underground world and the larger story arc of the deadly rogue magician- all told in the funny, snarky voice of Grant. This volume gets back to the frantic pace that the first in the series had.

I did find myself getting lost at times because of the large number of characters, unable to remember if this or that person was FBI, London police, or counter terrorism. Thankfully the main characters have had three books to flesh out their parts and there is no forgetting them! Character is one of the things that shines in this series; no one is a caricature and everyone is well drawn. London itself is so thoroughly described, history and all, that the city almost becomes a character in its own right. The other strong suite is the humor; a dry, witty way of describing things and great banter between the main characters. I hope this series goes on for many books! 

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Moon Over Soho, by Ben Aaronovitch. Ballantine 2011

In his second outing, young Constable Peter Grant of London is now a magical apprentice and member of the branch of the police that deals with supernatural crimes and events. In this book, jazz musicians are dying off suddenly, with a trace of magic on them- the strains of a jazz song popular in the 1940s. The story brings Grant’s father, a famous jazz musician, into the story. There is also a monster on the loose that is munching genitals- and not in the good way.

This book has a bit slower pace than the first one, which allows for more character development- I enjoyed finding out about Grant’s parents. Grant spends time learning more about magic and having an extremely physical relationship with a mysterious woman. His best friend, hideously injuring at the end of the first book, is learning magic faster than Grant is. While the jazz musician story wraps up at the end of this book, a longer story arc is woven in with it that is obviously going to take place over several volumes.

I didn’t enjoy this funny, violent, magical story quite as much as ‘Rivers of London’ but it’s still a great work of urban fantasy. 

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Wellness and Recovery: Interventions and Activities for Diverse Client Needs, by Andrew Bein. John Wiley & Sons, 2014

This book was written for therapists, but in simple enough language that it is accessible to mental health care consumers. It does presuppose a familiarity with DBT but it’s not necessary to use the book; Dr. Bein explains things well enough to get through it even if one has never been exposed to DBT or similar therapies.

Bein’s version combines the therapy of DBT with a philosophy of mindfulness similar to Buddhism and other spiritual paths, which offers great help in emotional regulation. This mindfulness teaches the client to not judge themselves or their thoughts & emotions, but to simply observe the emotions as they occur and take the time to decide how (and if) to act on them. It also teaches that thoughts & emotions are just that: they are not truths. The client does not have to react to the thought because it is not the truth. It can be ignored.

This method also teaches the clinician that they don’t get to be the one to set the goals for the client. Rather than striving to make the client compliant in taking his meds and showing up for group reliably, the client gets to set the goals. Does the client want to live on their own? What will they have to change to do that? Do they want to have a job? What do they have to do to manage that? The clinician has to accept the client, not remake them into a good little success story.

The first part of the book talks about the therapy and how it works. Chapter 6, however, is a set of 15 lessons and activities for the clinician and client to work through. They seem to be clearly written and I believe they could be used by a client on their own if they do not have access to a clinician using this system.

I think this is a great system and a great book and I hope it becomes popular. 

This book was provided to me by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review. This in no way influenced my review. 

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