What I'm Reading Now: Belated Edition, 11 May 21

The procrastination equation: how to stop putting things off and start getting things done-- Piers Steel (non-fiction)
Crunch time--Diane Mott Davidson
Sweetheart-- Chelsea Cain
The wire in the blood-- Val McDermid
Neuropath--Scott Bakker
Be different: adventures of a free-range Aspergian-- John Elder Robinson (non-fiction)
Alone together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other-- Sherry Turkle (non-fiction)
Kiss me, kill me-- Ann Rule (true crime)

I don't know why I've been reading so much non-fiction recently, but it's been most enjoyable. (Well, with the exception of Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. I had no objection to her writing, but I found the subject of the book, Louis Zamperini, to be... an unsympathetic character. Then again, I may not have given him a proper chance, but I have other books I'd rather be reading.)

I have to say something about The procrastination equation: how to stop putting things off and start getting things done, by Piers Steel. Steel is a professor at a Canadian university, and he's been studying procrastination and motivation for most of his professional life. In this book, he's pulled together a lot of data, and processed it into some easily-understood causes for procrastination, and comes up with strategies against them. Steel has an interesting, down-to-earth writing style, and it makes me want to sit in on one of his lectures. Now, I have to admit that reading the book did not cause an "Eureka! I'm cured!" moment, but I've learned a few things, and at one point, I did put the book down and go do a few of the things I'd been putting off for a while. For that alone, it was worth reading.

Neuropath, by Scott Bakker, was one of the creepiest books I've read in a long time. It's a thriller that includes a serial killer, and the serial killer is probably the least disturbing parts of the book. It's not so much the graphic violence, or the R rated scenes... it's the whole philosophy: what is real, anyway? If neural stimulation can cause us to feel lust, love, faith, fear... are any of them valid? Neuropath was very well written, but I don't think I'll be reading anything else of Bakker's any time soon.

Sweetheart, by Chelsea Cain, was another thriller I read this week. To my chagrin, it's not the start of the series (it's the second; the first is Heartsick), and this is a series where each book builds on the one previous. I did figure out what was going on, but I kept feeling like I was missing important information. The basic story: detective Archie Sheridan is barely holding himself together with the help of Vicodin. He’s trying to reconnect with his family and get over his obsession with  with incarcerated serial killer Gretchen Lowell, but it seems doomed to failure. Reporter Susan Ward is trying to break the biggest story of the year, but it’s being suppressed by the higher-ups. Then Gretchen Lowell escapes... Yes, I plan on reading the others.

Crunch time is the latest in Diane Mott Davidson’s mystery series featuring caterer Goldy Bear (Schulz).  This time, a private investigator is shot, and his house burned to the ground. Which of his cases pushed someone to murder? Then there’
possible adultery, an animal-rights activist with only eight fingers, a Cuban people-smuggler, and a lot of marijuana... It read like a bit of a mish-mash that never really cohered, but for all that, it was stial a decent read. As a bonus, it includes recipes. I didn’t try any of them, but I got my second-favorite brownie recipe from Davidson’s second Goldy Bear mystery, Dying for chocolate. My advice? If you're not obsessive about reading entire series (as I often am), read the earlier Goldy Bears, and leave Crunch time for some day when you don't have anything better to read.

What I'm reading now: 11 May 13

The distant land of my Father-- Bo Caldwell (literary fiction)
Little princes: one man’s promise to bring home the lost children of Nepal--Conor Grennan (non-fiction)
Target--Simon Kernick (couldn’t get into it)
13 things that don’t make sense: the most baffling scientific mysteries of our time--Michael Brooks (non-fiction)
Think of a number--John Verdon

Think of a number--John Verdon

 I thought it was a rather original twist on a thriller concept: someone tells you (via a letter) that they know everything about you, and proceed to prove it by not once, but twice, predicting which random number you're going to choose. Not long after that, you die a strange and violent death... Dave Gurney, a retired homicide detective, gets pulled into the middle of this mystery by a friend who receives just such a letter, and is incapable of letting it go, despite opposition from the cops running the case and from his wife. There's wonderful character development here, and a beautiful depiction of a marriage that's dying, but might, just might, be saved. It's an excellent read, and the second Dave Gurney mystery is due out this summer.

Little Princes: one man’s promise to bring home the lost children of Nepal--Conor Grennan
Conor Grennan is about to blow his savings on a year traveling the world, but in order to look less self-absorbed, he decides to spend a few months volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal-- the "Little Princes" of the title. He knows nothing about kids, nothing about Nepal. Both manage to win his heart, and he finds himself setting out to reunite families with children taken from them by people traffickers. Grennan seems to have got past his need to make himself look good, and gives us an honest picture of Nepal, the children, and his own efforts to make a difference, however small. It's a good story, well-written, and well worth reading.

This weekend is the library book sale, and I went out and bought books... nineteen or twenty, plus about a dozen movies for my favorite videophile. All but five of said books were mysteries, and two of those five were purchased for other people. Oh dear, is my bias showing? Happily for me, I was able to buy at least one of the books I wanted to replace after they got water-damaged last spring. As for the others, well, I wasn't able to collect them all at once, so there's no reason to suppose I'll be able to replace them all at once.

What I'm Reading Now: 11 May 06

Another week, another list of enjoyable reads...
The mermaids singing--Val McDermid
This is your brain on music--Daniel Levitin (non-fiction; in process)

Clouds without rain--P.L. Gaus

A true princess--Diane Zahler (Junior fantasy)
Faithful Place-- Tana French
Love you more-- Lisa Gardner

Faithful Place, by Tana French. This is, as far as I can tell, a stand-alone novel. Frank Mackey has left his old life behind, growing up poor and on the wrong side of the law in Dublin. But his old life is about to drag him back in... He was going to run away with Rosie  back when they were both eighteen, but Rosie never showed at their meeting place, and Frank assumed that she'd run off without him. Now, twenty-two years later, her suitcase has been found...
No one wants him involved in the case-- not the cops assigned to it, because he's got personal involvements in the case that could get tricky. Not his family and old neighbors, because Frank's a cop now, and you can't trust a cop to do right by you. And certainly not that someone who knows more about Rosie's disappearance than he or she is letting on. But Frank isn't going to let any of that stand in his way. He owes it to Rosie, and to himself.
French's writing is excellent: her characters are vividly real, and the relationships are as messy and convoluted as any that life can serve up. The plot never lets you catch a breath-- I had to finish the book in one sitting.
I'll be reading more of hers.

A true princess, by Diane Zahler. As you may have noticed, I have a weakness for fairytale retellings, and for fairytales in general. This one caught my eye at the library, and I decided to take it home, even though I rarely read anything more junior than young adult fiction. (Amazon.ca classifies A true princess as ages 9-12). It starts off with Lilia, a servant girl, running away rather than have her stepmother all but sell her to a new master. It ends... happily ever after, of course. In between, there are elves, an enchanted wood, a test for any princess who wishes to marry the prince, falcons, changelings, Odin's hunt, and a quest to find an enchanted jewel. It doesn't sound like any fairytale you've heard before, does it? And yet, Zahler finds a way to turn the fairytale of The Princess and the Pea into something new and charming. It's a lovely book, and now that I know that Zahler has also put her spin on the tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (as you may remember, a favorite of mine) in her first fiction title, The thirteenth princess, I'm determined to hunt that one up as well.

Just a side note on the P.L. Gaus Amish mysteries: I've noticed that, although the series hasn't had a lot of notice yet, those people who read one of the mysteries almost always come back and ask for all the others...

And another side note: once I finally finish reading This is your brain on music, I'll make sure to review it. I have a few other non-fiction titles in my to-read stack, so that should get interesting.

What I'm reading now: Twofer Edition: 11 April 29

My apologies for the lack of a post last Friday-- what with the holidays and all, the whole weekend was a little busy. By the  time I remembered to post, it was Wednesday. At that point, I decided I'd just wait the two days and post as per the usual schedule.
I haven't been reading as much recently, so my list isn't twice as long as usual. I did read some excellent and thought-provoking books, though...

Neurodiversity: discovering the extraordinary gifts of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other brain differences--Thomas Armstrong (non-fiction)
City of Tranquil Light--Bo Caldwell (literary fiction)
Grammar matters: the social significance of how we use language-- Jila Ghomeshi (non-fiction)
Satori--Don Winslow
I, Sniper--Stephen Hunter
War is a force that gives us meaning--Chris Hedges (non-fiction)
The sins of Brother Curtis: a story of betrayal, conviction, and the Mormon church--Lisa Davis (non-fiction)
Beneath the Bleeding--Val McDermid
The hero and the crown--Robin McKinley (YA Fantasy)
Flight of a witch--Ellis Peters

Neurodiversity, by Thomas Armstrong, is a discussion of the seldom-considered positive side of various brain differences. Without minimizing the difficulties and pain for those who are affected (directly or indirectly) with brain differences like autism, dyslexia, or depression, Armstrong points out that these conditions have their strengths, too. Autism, for example, brings with it a powerful focus on the object of one's interest, and the ability to note and pick out details without being distracted by the whole-- something extremely helpful in, say, accounting, or checking tissue samples for abnormal cells. Dyslexia often includes greater-than-normal ability in the arts and in visual-spatial abilities. Armstrong finishes with a discussion of what kind of classroom might be most helpful in teaching the neurodiverse. This would be an excellent starting point for any parent with a neurodiverse child, because it also offers lists of resources: books, websites, and adaptive technologies.

City of Tranquil Light, by Bo Caldwell, is a beautiful book. I read it on the advice of my mother, and immediately on finishing it, passed it on to two of my friends. It's the story of a couple who are missionaries in China. That's the short version, and it doesn't do the book justice. It's a love story; it's friendships across cultural lines; it's adventure and fear; it's the growth of faith; it's putting down roots so deep into a country that the place where you were born is never home again. Caldwell's writing is... I've sat here for five minutes trying to put it into words, but I can't. Just go read the book, okay? You can thank me later.

Grammar matters, by Jila Ghomeshi.  Ghomeshi (sister, by the way, to Jian Ghomeshi, who is ubiquitous on the CBC) discusses what actually matters about the way we use language, and what does not. She argues that many of the rules of "proper" grammar  are arbitrary, and don't really make any difference in one's being understood. The telling difference of grammar is more in how one is perceived. "I ain't got any," Ghomeshi says, is as easily understood as "I don't have any," but the first speaker sounds less intelligent and capable. I didn't agree with all of her points, but I think I will be trying to be a little less of a grammar snob than I have been. (Cue quiet celebration among my friends and co-workers.)

Satori, by Don Winslow. This is the second book I've read this year where a writer continues the story of characters created by another-- in this case, the character of Nicholas Hel from Trevanian's Shibumi. (The first was The Attenbury Emeralds  by Jill Paton Walsh, based on the characters by Dorothy L. Sayers.) It's been a few years since I read Shibumi, but what I remember of Nicholas Hel, as well as Trevanian's writing style, was well-served by this prequel. Satori is an excellent thriller, with lots of plot turns and cliff-hanger chapter endings, and you almost need a chart to keep track of the double-crosses and triple-crosses that come up as Hel tries to execute a mission for the Americans in Vietnam and get out alive. An excellent read, and I would also recommend one of Winslow's earlier books (the only other one of his that I've read), California Fire and Life, as well as Shibumi, by Trevanian, which is where this all started.

I'll just mention, briefly, that if you want to have a better understanding of some of the conflicts going on around the world today, read War is a force that gives us meaning, by Chris Hedges. Hedges was a war reporter for years, and has had plenty of up-close-and-personal experience with war.

I've got a number of interesting books in a stack beside my reading lamp, and more on hold and on order at the library, so check back again in a week (or two), and I'll have more to tell you about. There are more non-fiction titles (I seem to be reading more non-fiction than usual), and some very interesting-looking thriller authors that I've just come across....