Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Report #127 - Steal Like an Aritist and Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon
Book 51 of 52
Book 51 1/2 of 52
Page count 160
Page count 224

I decided to group these two books and call it one simply because they were very quick reads and work incredibly well together.

Steal Like an Artist -  is a cheerful look at creativity.  Kleon demonstrates how art, or any other human endeavour, is pushed forward by stealing the ideas of others and building on them to create your own work.  Basically he gives the reader permission to be influenced by others.

It is terrific.

Show Your Work! - takes a practical look at how to make yourself known to a wider audience by using the great power of the internet.

I found this book incredibly illuminating and have started to use some of his ideas on my other blog.

Read them both.  You won't be disappointed.

You should also visit Austin Kleon's website you may find yourself diving into his world.

Also Austin Kleon

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Report #126 - The Martian by Andy Weir

Book 50 of 52
Page count 369

This is my kind of science fiction.  It's known as Hard Sci Fi in that it is rooted in current science.  What I loved about this story is that it was firmly rooted in today's engineering.  Yes, the nuts and bolts of it all.

If you remember the movie Apollo 13, then you remember the scenes where the crew and engineers on the ground, would come up with all kinds of unique, ad hoc solutions to problems.  Well, this book is a lot like that, but on Mars.

Astronaut Mark Watney's crew leaves him behind during a mission-ending dust storm.  He was hit with some flying equipment and and blown down wind.  All his environmental suit instruments indicated that he had died and his crew mates were forced to evacuated the surface without him.

What follows is a story of survival filled with problems, interesting solutions, setbacks and dark humor.

I loved this book.

Andy Weir

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin


Oh my god!  This story is just as chilling as it was when it was first published in 1954. 

As the title suggests, the universe does not care about good intentions. There is no compromise when it comes to physics and mathematics. 

In this story we run into the desire of a young girl to surprise her older brother. But the laws of physics and the good of the many, to borrow a quote from Star Trek, has something to say about it. 

This is an excellent story and one that should not be missed by any science fiction fan. 

I read this in the July 2011 issue of Lightspeed magazine which includes a follow up short story called The Old Equations by Jake Kerr. 

The original story is now in the public domain and can easily be found with a Google search. Or, if you like you can find it HERE.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Report #125 - The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book 49 of 52
Page count 550

I have no idea how to do justice to such a lyrical, beautiful, desperate, tragic and important work.

Zusak's use of language is a thing of beauty.  The narrator was unique and I thoroughly enjoyed the style of story telling.

We follow the life, triumphs and tragedies of Liesel Meminger a young German girl caught in the circumstances of the Second World War.

I believe this novel will stay with me for weeks before I can shake the effects of it.  As sad as it was I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to read it.

Highly recommended.  Not for the faint of heart.

He does not have a dedicated website.  His Wikipedia page is HERE.

Markus Zusak

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Without a book, Gasp!

I feel naked. 

I left my book behind and now I have nothing to read on my commute. 

This feels very strange to me. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Book Report #124 - This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Book 48 of 52
Page count 339

What a wonderful book.

Ordinarily I don't gravitate to literary fiction, not enough happens, but this one was a delight to read.  It was also made into a film that I am looking forward to seeing. 

Judd Foxman's father has passed away and the family has been asked to sit shiva in his memory.  At the same time his marriage is also falling apart.  The ritual brings his entire family together, for a week of conflict, resentment and, ultimately, understanding.

Both my daughter and wife have read it, loved it, and wanted to hear my take on it.  Jonathan Tropper writes with the honest voice of every man.  This is an author who understands how to articulate the way men think and view the world.

Although the foundation of the story is completely sad it is an uplifting, funny and honest look at relationships.    Through the forced proximity of sitting shiva we get to see the cracks in the lives of everyone else.  It is the distance we keep between each other that promotes the belief that other people have their shit together better than we do.  Tropper reminds us that everybody's lives are a mess.

Tropper also has a way of turning a phrase that I fell in love with.  Here is how he opens the book:

"Dad's Dead," Wendy says offhandedly, like it's happened before, like it happens every day.  It can be grating, this act of hers, to be utterly unfazed at all times, even in the face of tragedy.  "He died two hours ago."
"How's Mom doing?"
"She's Mom, you know?  She wanted to know how much to tip the coroner."

In another moment Judd describes just how hurt and angry he is his wife's lover (who happens to be his own boss):
 "Wade could not get enough pancreatic cancer to satisfy me."

These are dark, funny and insightful lines and the book is filled with such gems.

Highly recommended.

Jonathan Tropper's website is HERE.

Jonathan Tropper

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Book A Week Challenge.

As I near the end of this challenge I find myself thinking about what to focus on next.

A book a week may not be a stretch for some but it was for me.  It kept me focused on the act of reading, which was what I wanted to cultivate all along.  Now I seldom find myself without a book within easy reach.

Some weeks were more difficult than others; there were times where I started two or three books but not latching on until I found the fourth one.  I found myself looking first a the page count before considering it.  If it was too long I'd add it to the "after the challenge" pile.

For 2015 I plan to slow it down a bit, I think 25 to 30 is plenty for me.  I also want to take up the challenge of reading more short stories.  I've got loads of collections and fiction magazines that are just begging to be read.  I find shorts to be a challenge all by themselves; without the room of a novel to explore characters or multiple plot lines - they are a different kind of read.

I'm going to make the target of 100 shorts for 2015.  That's only two a week which I should be able to do easily enough, at least I hope so.

I will still dive in to the Star Trek universe on a regular basis but my love of science fiction has lead me back to my first love: the space program.  Over 2014 I've been collecting many books on the subject of the Apollo program and today's robotic space exploration so I'll be reading through all of that.

My unofficial goal is to read more history, it could be related to the space program, Canadian history or the Cold War. I also like reading "this is how our world works" offerings.

Like always; I will follow my nose but I will slow it down so that I might have the luxury of savouring something instead of having my next book in the back of my mind.

What the Book-A-Week Challenge has taught me is that I love reading and it has helped me develop the skill to be continually doing so.  For that I am exceedingly satisfied with the result.

All the best for 2015.

Keep turning pages.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Report #123 - Star Trek: Seekers 2: Point of Divergence by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore

Book 47 of 52
Page count - 351

Part two of the new Seekers series, which is itself part two of the Vanguard epic.

This book takes up where Seekers 1 left off.  The Sagittarius is stranded on the surface while the Endeavour has arrived to help in a rescue and to solve the mystery of the Tomol, who are now running amok and making a large nuisance of themselves.

To be honest, this book was a bit of a one-note experience.  The Tomol keep evolving, gaining new powers and generally making things more and more dangerous for the humans.  This goes on for well over 200 pages; just more and more power gains until the Tomol have evolved into X-Men.  It was a bit much, especially considering the Klingons were also in orbit, trying to be menacing but largely being ignored by Ward & Dilmore.

There was something about this book that just fell a bit flat, for me.  The end was satisfying in that Star Trek way and I enjoyed THAT enough to say it was a good read.  But, yea, those middle 200 pages were a bit of a slog.

Dayton Ward (left) & Kevin Dilmore (right)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Report #122 - The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten. by Steve Martin

Book 46 of 52
Page count - 103

What a wonderful little book.  Sometimes these little gems just make reading something special.

This is a collection of "Best Of" Steve Martin tweets.  It starts right from the beginning; when Martin discovered Twitter.  Some of his tweets are laugh-out-loud, it also takes a fun turn when Martin tweets Christmas carol sing-a-longs, getting his followers to finish the verses.

Once he caught the bug of crowd sourcing, the book moves on to tweets that have garnered some of his favourite responses.  The world can be a creative and funny place under the proper direction.

Steve Martin does it again; providing you with a fun and insightful distraction to your day.  Many smiles were prompted by reading this book.


Steve Martin

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Report #121 - Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

Book 45 of 52
Page count - 223

Classic SF!  You know, for 1948, the author got much of his speculation right, except for Venus.

This is one of his juvenile books where we follow the adventures of Matt Dodson, a teenager who joins the Space Academy in the hopes of joining the Solar Patrol.

Matt is a very straight laced kid who makes good friends along the way.  The academy is not an easy place to learn and he is challenged continually.

I liked the book quite a lot but I found the ending bogged down and I did not enjoy it as much.  With the explosion of Young Adult fiction these days this book can hold it's own, even though it may read a bit stiff compared to more contemporary works.

Robert A. Heinlein

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review #120 - The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block

Book 44 of 52
Page count - I don't really know; I read it as an e-book and the page count depends on the font size chosen.

This is the first Matthew Scutter novel; a series that is wildly popular with mystery fans.

Scutter is an ex-cop turned "private eye."  He is not a licensed PI but does "favours" for people for money.  By not being a legitimate investigator he is not restricted by the laws and regulations of that profession.  Even though he solves mysteries he is not doing it for the justice system (at least not in this book) but to help his client.

Scutter left the police department after a truly unfortunate accident.  He is an alcoholic; although he was never drunk he was never without a drink.

The novel was set in present day 1975 back when New York was a scary, dirty and dangerous place.  The sense of place was vivid in my imagination.  The story itself moved at a quick pace and was completely engrossing.  I tore through the book in a very short time.

A young woman is brutally murdered by her roommate.  She was estranged from her father and it is he who hires Scutter to discover what her life was like from when he lost contact to the time of her death.  This proved to be an interesting angle since he was not hired to solve the murder; the cops already had the man who was covered in her blood.

As Scutter learns about her life, he keeps bumping against the crime itself, which does not quite fit together neatly.

It's no wonder I like Block so much; his writing flows like water over a smooth rock - it is effortless to read.  I just love it.

Lawrence Block

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Winner Lose All - A Lando Calrissian Tale; Star Wars Legends by Timothy Zahn

Fun story (mine, I mean) I bought Scoundrels in paperback a few months back.  I've been looking over the bookcase, trying to find another book for the Book A Week Challenge.  The new trailer for Star Wars Episode VII was just released and it got me thinking that I'd like to read something in the Star Wars universe.

I went on line to see where Scoundrels fit in the time line when I found Winner Lose All described as a prequel to the book and since it was a short story it was only $1.99 for Kindle, so I bought it.  It was when I was half way through the ebook that I noticed a badge on the cover of Scoundrels that said: "Includes the bonus novella Winner Lose All."

Well, damn; I bought it twice.

No matter, it was a fun story and I enjoyed it very much.

I'm a sucker for a heist story and this one involves Lando Calrissian, high stakes gambling, a valuable work of art and two thieves who are trying to steal it.

Lots of fun.

If this is a taste of the book I bought I think I'll enjoy it very much.

Timothy Zahn

Monday, December 1, 2014

Book Review #119 - Hector and the Search for Happiness by Rancois Lelord

Book 43 of 52
Page count -164

What a lovely little book.   

Hector was recently made into a movie, which is how I came to know of the novel. 

Hector is a psychiatrist living a good, if dull life.  Like many of his patients he is not feeling particularly happy, so he sets out on a trip around the world to try and discover what makes people happy.

The chapters are short and told in a tone used in childrens' books.  I kept thinking that the book would lend itself to being read out loud.  The target audience is definitely adults even though there is absolutely nothing in it that would offend younger readers.

I found myself smiling throughout and kept looking forward to reading it every time I had to put it down.

Highly recommended.

NOTE - This novel was originally published in French in 2002 and was translated to English and released by Penguin Group USA in 2010.

NOTE 2 - If you enjoyed the movie of Hector you may also like the Bill Murray version of The Razor's Edge.

Francois Lelord

Movie Poster

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review #118 - Star Trek: Enterprise: The Good that Men Do by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin

Book 42 of 52
Page count - 446

I really enjoyed this book. 

This is truly the first book in the continuing story of Star Trek: Enterprise with Jonathan Archer and his crew.

Most people agree the last episode of Enterprise; "These Are The Voyages ..." was terrible.  What made this book so enjoyable was how the authors used the same kind of framing of the story as the TV finale but tweaked it to give us a more satisfying story and jumping off point for the next "season."

The entire book is really a reworking of the finale; setting the story straight and allowing the authors to set the scene to continue the stories of the crew of the Enterprise NX-01.

I look forward to more in this time period of Star Trek.

Andy Mangels

Michael A. Martin

Mangels and Martin with Armin Shimerman AKA Quark

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review #117 - Insanely Simple by Ken Segall

Book 41 of 52
Page count 213

I'd have to say that this book is a good read.  However ...

The author spends a lot of time beating you over the head with his Simple Stick; constantly repeating the idea that Simplicity Is Very Important.

The book is also a bit of a gushing love letter to Steve Jobs.  Man, the author loved Steve.

Okay, enough basing the book.  There were many insights into Steve Jobs and Apple that I found very interesting.  The best take-away from the book is: Keep It Simple and Stick To Your Guns.

I most enjoyed the many comparisons between Apple and IBM, Dell and Intel.  Apple is a unique entity in the business world.  It will be interesting to see if they can survive without Jobs in the picture.

Unfortunately I found the book a bit preachy.  I only skimmed the conclusion because I really, really wanted it to end.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review #116 - Black Code by Ronald J. Deibert

Book 40 of 52
Page count - 312

The author tackles a very large and very complex subject here.  On-line security means something different depending on who you are addressing.  Individuals may not want to use their credit cards on dodgy websites; national leaders may want to protect military secrets; criminals may be looking for ways to exploit vulnerabilities.

Since the world is largely migrating to the internet the subject of security needs to be studied very seriously.  We are living in the cave-man days of the internet and it's very important to remember that and to understand just how vulnerable things really are.

Black Code is a scary book.

My blood was chilled after reading Chapter 3 about big data and how all these cherished free services (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are just sucking up so much information about us, individually.  What we choose to share on-line can go further than we know;  upload a picture and all the meta data goes up with it.  This includes the date the photo was taken, the GPS information, the type of device used to take the picture.  Facial recognition software can work to identify everyone in the photo ... and on it goes.

It's not just what were posting but many mobile apps are also uploading our contact lists, our movements in and out of cell towers and WiFi hotspots. 

It truly feels like an invasion of my privacy when my whole day can be reconstructed from where my phone has been and how I've used it.

The book continues to expand on the subject by moving into the world of governments, hackers, military espionage, organized crime and oppression.

The subject is so large I found myself starting to gloss over what I was reading.  But I believe it to be a very important book if you are interested in the subject.  What it will do is change how you look at what you are doing with your cell phone or computer.  It will also point you in directions for further reading.

Here are some websites I visited after reading this book.

The Citizen Lab

Canada Centre for Global Security Studies

National Cyber Security Awareness Month. 

Ronald J. Deibert

Paperback cover