Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Reading time: 5 hour
Rating:
New knowledge 7/10
Need to pay attention 5/10
Emotional connection 3/10
Unquantifiable satisfaction 9/10
Overall 8/10


 Mary Roach is hilarious no matter what subject she takes on - so far she has managed to bring her dry wit and casual humor to such subjects as the paranormal, the dead, and sex. In this latest research project of hers, Roach tackles the topic of space exploration. Though she provides more than enough history that even someone who didn't know the first thing about traveling to space and landing on the moon understands the historical context perfectly, she manages to tell these somewhat dry accounts through the most interesting tidbits and anecdotes she can find. She delves into the memoirs of many astronauts and schedules interviews with NASA officials so that she can tell us about all the little human details of space exploration. 


As most her books, this one is divided by chapters that are little mini-research projects of their own, so there's no issue with putting down the book for days and coming back to it when you have the time. Although I guarantee that once you start reading you won't want to stop. Roach is brilliant at injecting humor into the driest of topics through her own personal observations and opinions - a human element that is far too often missing from non-fiction books.

Packing for Mars on Amazon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If you ask me by Betty White

Reading time: 1 hour
Rating:
New knowledge 3/10
Need to pay attention 3/10
Emotional connection 5/10
Unquantifiable satisfaction 5/10
Overall 6/10



Betty White has written several books already, about her life, acting roles, and marriage. This latest book is more of a status update to let us know that she's ok than a full blown memoir. She offers us a candid look at the last few years of her life, from doing Saturday Night Live to starting a new show at the tender age of 88. She peppers the pages with her witty observations about life as well as tidbits of wisdom coming from a 90-year old soul. 


Even for someone who has never seen Betty White in anything besides SNL and didn't know the first thing about her life, this was a fun read. I expected it to be a funny book, and it mostly was. I think there's a certain expectation that not everyone reading it will be familiar with Betty White's life, as she's gained a new following in people who watch Hot in Cleveland and have no idea what The Mary Tyler Moore Show was. 

If you ask me on Amazon

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

After the Fall by Kylie Ladd


Reading time
: 4 hours
Rating:
New knowledge 1/10
Need to pay attention 2/10
Emotional connection 6/10
Unquantifiable satisfaction 4/10
Overall 4/10



This supposed psychological drama has a solid premise - the book is told in four narratives which are clearly labeled by each person's name and given equal time on a rotating schedule throughout the book. The story told involves two married couples - how they meet each other, the circumstances of each wedding, the minutia of each relationship as well as the tensions that begin rising between all four characters when an affair is introduced into the mix. 


While the premise is solid, the execution disappoints. The story becomes slightly sordid and tawdry towards the end, failing to deliver a satisfying ending. However, the subject matter is never light and the characters are there for you to root for and relate to. The book is very easy to read and has emotional appeal. I'd wager that the target audience for this one is primarily those who enjoy overanalyzing relationships.

Monday, October 10, 2011

You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore


Reading time
: 4 hours
Rating:
New knowledge 2/10
Need to pay attention 4/10
Emotional connection 5/10
Unquantifiable satisfaction 7/10
Overall 8/10



This hilarious take on the vampire genre doesn't require that you pay attention or care about vampires - all it requires is a dark and sarcastic sense of humor. The story concerns two modern-day vampires who have to worry about things that never bothered Dracula or Lestat - how to pay rent and where to make friends. They have to balance their social life and manage to keep their young relationship afloat - not to mention having to deal with the annoying vampire fad that is sweeping the nation. 


You will know from the first few pages whether this book is for you. If you don't laugh once, this book isn't for you. However, if you smile to yourself while thinking "Why hasn't anyone ever written this before?" - you will devour this book within hours and have a higher standard for humorous fiction from then on. This is not a novel to pick up when you want something to get your intellectual juices flowing, nor will it provoke any deep thoughts within you (except for "What would I do if I was a vampire?"), but it will give you many laughs and help you relax if you've spent all day reading boring memos or impossibly tedious documents.

You Suck on Amazon

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs


Reading time: 7 hours
Rating:
New knowledge 7/10
Need to pay attention 3/10
Emotional connection 5/10
Unquantifiable satisfaction7/10
Overall 8/10

A.J. Jacobs' first foray into writing a non-fiction novel follows his year-long quest to read The Encyclopaedia Britannica in its entirety. The book is structured by letters of the alphabet, with him pointing out the most interesting tidbits he comes across (from history of fashion to Renee Descartes' love for cross-eyed women). Alongside quoting the most fascinating of trivia, A.J. allows us into his personal life to show how his newfound knowledge is changing his relationship dynamics and his life philosophy. As we learn about gods of fertility in many cultures we also watch as A.J. and his wife struggle to conceive a child. As we read about learned scholars and their hapless relatives, we watch A.J. try his hand at Jeopardy and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

This is a handy book to have for those who have short periods of free time during which to read. With no plot to speak of, you only need to concentrate on the entry at hand, which range from a paragraph to several pages. A.J. is an extremely likable narrator and we learn to love him and his idiosyncrasies early on. You will emerge from this book knowing a lot about a lot without feeling overwhelmed, because the entirety of the greatest encyclopaedia in the world has been filtered through a man who writes fluff pieces for Esquire.

The Know It All on Amazon



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson



Reading time: 4 hours
Rating:
New knowledge 7/10
Need to pay attention 4/10
Emotional connection 3/10
Unquantifiable satisfaction 8/10
Overall 7/10

This non-fiction tale about a one-man quest to understand psychopathy reads like a journal. Jon Ronson - an anxiety-ridden journalist who gets the bug to find out as much as possible about the history of psychopathy as a mental disorder takes us around the world as he visits not only the man who came up with the original psychopath test to several psychopaths - from convicted criminals to powerful CEOs. He presents all his information in an amusing manner and annotates historical vignettes and psychological jargon with his own witty remarks.

I read this book in one sitting - it is a fascinating and an easy read that will have you knowing a little more about a strangely specialized subject. It's probable that you will start suspecting yourself and others around you of being a psychopath, but that will fade after a few days. If it doesn't face - here is a link to the psychopathy test that Ronson provides in the book. Just in case.


The Psychopath Test on Amazon

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick


Reading time: 14 hours
Rating:
New knowledge 7/10
Need to pay attention 4/10
Emotional connection 7/10
Unquantifiable satisfaction 8/10
Overall 8/10

The Forever Queen is a historical fiction novel that follows the story of Emma of Normandy, who marries into England in early 1000s and becomes intertwined with England's fate and history for the next six decades. As most historical fiction, this tale builds upon events that actually occurred - births, deaths, wars - and takes a a bit of an artistic license to imagine what might have happened within friendships and romantic encounters.

Though quite long, this book is an easy read. Despite many characters to keep track of, the sole narrative manages to keep the reader from getting too confused and conveniently locates reminders regarding historical events and roles of different characters throughout the book. The character development is the main focus of this book, as it demonstrates how wars and power change people as they age from innocent children to power-hungry individuals. Though there are many romantic relationships described through the novel, the primary theme is emotional tolls of war and battle.

This is the first novel in The Lost Kingdom series. The series consists of two books - The Forever Queen and I am the Chosen King.

The Forever Queen on Amazon

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho


Reading time: 5 hours
Rating:
New knowledge 5/10
Need to pay attention 4/10
Emotional connection 6/10
Unquantifiable satisfaction 6/10
Overall 7/10

This latest novel by Paulo Coelho is reminiscent of his earlier work in that it is incredibly spiritual and infused with little nuggets of wisdom. Its difference from his earlier novels like The Alchemist and The Devil and Miss Prim is that it is not written as a fable.The Winner Stands Alone is almost ruthless in its portrayal of harsh reality. It takes an old cliche of a story with many characters whose lives inexplicably intertwine and puts a spiritual twist on it. The action is set at the Cannes Festival and our characters are both the powerful and the hopeful - directors, models, actresses, screenwriters. The plot line consistently moves forward, but the beauty of this novel is in the tangents from the plot, where we contemplate the human condition.

This is an easy book to read and understand - its only complication is keeping track of the many narratives. It's likely that you will not read this book in one sitting, as it's very dense with thought-provoking scenarios that will no doubt make you space out as you wonder how your own human nature would act in all of these situations. I have spaced out while reading this book everywhere from subways to waiting rooms, drawing it out for nearly a week, despite the short active reading time.

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground by Kevin Poulsen


Reading time:7 hours
Rating:
New knowledge 6/10
Need to pay attention 7/10
Emotional connection 3/10
Unquantifiable satisfaction 5/10
Overall 6/10

This non-fiction tale of one of the original hackers of the 1990s reads like a novel. The story centers around Max Ray Butler (whose Wikipedia biography doesn't do him justice) who grows up playing with computers and quickly turns to a life of crime when he realizes that it will give him reason and resources to live his passion.

Despite being a true story and thus occasionally venturing over into the technical side of hacker culture, this book is an easy read and does not require any advanced knowledge of computers. Instead of being a commentary on the hacker culture, it focuses on one man whose life was turned upside down by the advent of Internet and the various security features that were introduced into e-commerce in the last 20 years. It is a nice, albeit brief, history lesson for those who don't know much about the evolution of cybersecurity. The book covers all bases, flawlessly transitioning between Max's emotional state to a how-to in credit card fraud. The story is well-researched and put together from interviews with the man himself (who is now in prison for credit card fraud), correspondence, and friends' testimonials.

Why read book reviews?


Sometimes I go to the library with the sole intention of browsing the aisles until the perfect read jumps out at me. Yet other times I have less than ten minutes to grab a book and an hour long subway ride ahead of me - and I desperately wish I knew that the book I was grabbing off the shelf would entertain me for at least that long. Most book reviews and most book reviews websites concentrate on glowing positive reviews that are of no help when it comes to actually choosing a book that will monopolize your precious free time. I want to provide the world with reviews that will actually make them realize, before they even crack open the book, whether it's for them.

I will describe the plot and feel of the books in short concise paragraphs. I'm not here to tear apart the book or criticize specific elements - this blog will serve exclusively to give you a feel of the book. My multi-rating system caters to several different reasons why people pick up books. I will rate each book on the amount of

  • knowledge that could be garnered (1 - absolutely nothing could be learned, 10 - it's a veritable goldmine of new facts and trivia),
  • need to pay attention (1 - book is easy to read, something for the beach, 10 - a more dense and complicated creation, requires more attention),
  • emotional connection to the characters or situations (1 - the book doesn't focus on the emotional, 10 - feeling connected to the characters as if they were old friends),
  • unquantifiable satisfaction - that part of reading where you finish the book, put it aside, and feel either satisfaction or disappointment without knowing what elements brought this feeling about (1 - the feeling of time wasted, 10 - the feeling of time well-spent)
  • and the overall rating, which focuses on how the book worked overall, taking all elements into the account (1 - a not particularly enjoyable read, 10 - a most brilliant maserpiece). I will rarely assign 10s to any category, leaving them to books that truly wow. Anything above a 5 should be considered a worthwhile read, whereas anything under a 5 is not recommended by me.