Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much - The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Reviewed for Edwards Magazine Book Club
Published by Penguin Canada

Allison Hoover Bartlett has written a remarkable piece on this true story of "World of Literary Obsession". The research is deep and personal; the reader becomes involved in the research through her words. This is her story almost as much as John Gilkey's, the book thief she is writing about. It all begins with a beautiful, nearly 400 year old book that has been brought to her by a friend who found it while clearing out a house. She believes the book was stolen which sets her off on a search of discovery about thefts of rare books, wondering if there might be a piece she, as a journalist, can use for an article. Unfortunately, by involving both herself and the reader in her research and interviews, the first part of the book becomes tedious at times.

The book really takes off when the chase to catch Gilkey begins. The sting set up progresses with the same intent as any other criminal chase, and indeed, antiquarian book thievery is no less criminal than the theft of fine art from a museum. In some cases of extremely old manuscripts, they are a work of art. The thief is an amazingly complex yet simple character. The in-depth interviews the author has with Gilkey are quite revealing and yet it is difficult to determine, even to the interviewer, what he really is revealing. When he is working at Saks with all its well-heeled customers, which he does every year around Christmas, he is secreting credit card slips (this at a time before electronic credit card machines, and there was a second slip of paper usually torn out and thrown away). This is how he "purchases" the books. Even prison sentences do not deter him because in his own mind he is not stealing, How much is he lying? His responses are contradictory at times but mostly he speaks as an authority on collectible books.

An intriguing non-fiction look into the antiquarian book world, both dealers and thieves, and how obsessive it can be. I did enjoy the book for the most part, but was disappointed in others. This is a book that many readers will find compelling and others may not be quite so satisfied. Definitely informative, however.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gypsy Crystal by Lorrie Unites-Struiff

Reviewed for Keith Publications
Review based on ebook (pdf)

I love this off-beat murder-mystery. Secrets abound from all directions. The characters are consistent throughout the book, and what fascinating characters they are. With Detective Rita Moldova's Roma background, and as a "trailer park" kid in her school years, the stigma still sticks with this main character, especially with certain old classmates. Her mother is the keeper of tradition and maintains extraordinary senses and powers. I always enjoy learning something from all books I read and this one did not disappoint. The tradition and ancestral life of the Romanians tweaked my historical nerve. I feel there is more to be told with this family.

What is going on in the town of Keyport? Women's bodies are turning up devoid of blood with no signs of struggle, no signs of needle marks. Who will be the next victim? Enter our heroine, Rita, a most unusual member of the local precinct. She is able to see the victim's last view prior to death. Yet, so far, her "special crystal" has failed as never before, no longer sending the killer's face to Rita's perception. A special investigator, handsome Matt Boulet, is sent in from an elite yet secret section (PCU) of the FBI. He has an immediate profound effect on Rita, physical, mental, and sensorial, setting the stage for a beautiful sexy and loving relationship as a background to the action. The crystal appears to have decided these two are soul-mates and the attraction is tangible. A cross between police procedural and paranormal, this story works well. The writing is taut, fascinating, terrifying and exciting. This genre definitely fits Lorrie Unites-Struiff's writing style like a glove. I would love to see a sequel or series, it is that good, and leaves this reader wanting more.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

One Deadly Sister by Rod Hoisington

Reviewed for Review the Book
Published by Entera Books

A very creative and enjoyable first novel, Rod Hoisington has created a complicated whodunit with red herrings to spare. At the basic root we have the remaining two members of a family, a brother and sister, who have had no real contact since the day their parents died several years ago. In fact, sister Sandy is living her well-ordered life quite satisfactorily, thank you, doing legwork for a highly respected law office. A late night call brings her brother Raymond back into her life like a slap in the face, she has all but disowned him and the call is like a blast of ice. He is calling from a Florida jail in a small town, with a murder rap hanging over his head. Sandy is determined that in no way is she going to help him, she is still too angry about his lack of support for her when she needed it.

A quick look at the News, and she starts to get second thoughts. Too many questions, Ray is not the type to murder anyone, much less a high-profile Senator. Confusion reigns as she arrives to find her brother being railroaded through the system so that State Attorney Moran can win a famous trial whether his "held in custody" suspect is guilty or not. Moran is ignoring the many other possible suspects and zeroing in on his target, creating a case for conviction. A stranger in town? What a break for him, everyone will hate this guy Ray for assassinating their Senator!

From this point on, there are misunderstandings, misdirections, underestimations, especially underestimating Sandy, a pit-bull in a sexy body. Ludicrous statements and outright lies are flying everywhere. Not only are there lots of twists in the case itself, but in the many strange relationships that show up here and there throughout. This book is written almost tongue-in-cheek and I loved it. It grabs hold of you early on and you can't get away from it. The action suddenly takes off with a few diverse leads and builds very quickly toward the final setups, lies and implausibilities that give the reader a sense of fun and satisfaction as the story finally wraps up all the loose ends, finding more to deal with than meets the eye. I will definitely be looking for another novel by Rod Hoisington!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Books Campaign: Future Babble - Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway by Dan Gardner

Reviewed for Eco-Libris Greenbooks Campaign
Published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
This book is printed on acid-free paper that is 100% recycled, ancient-forest friendly (100% post-consumer waste)

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco-friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

My Review for Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway by Dan Gardner:

One of the first things I've learned from this fascinating book is that the more you know, the less you know. You can not base the future on the past. The reason for this is that there are too many variables, the future is not linear. Too many things can cause hiccups in the reasoning. I learned that the economic and political experts who make forecasts for the future are rarely right, which leaves me to wonder if half of them predict something positive for the future, and the other half predict something negative, does that mean man would never progress? Nothing would ever happen? The section on randomness I thought was particularly interesting, I learned how the subconscious often overrides the conscious in making decision, but the conscious eventually gets there, it's just slower than the subconscious. In other words, the idea that is your first automatic thought is probably the right one, as in hunches or intuition. I've found that in my own life, if I am writing a letter, a story, or a comment to the newspaper, if I think about it after it's written, I start to overthink it and eventually go back to my original (if I haven't lost it, because that overthinking often messes up my clarity).

Foxes and Hedgehogs, Dan Gardner's names for the experts we place our faith on. The Foxes are the popular (right or wrong), confident, and probably entertaining; Hedgehogs, quieter, more careful and technical in their precision and declaration. Yet few predictions of the future based on the past and the present can come to pass. Hedged in wording that is not on a timeline or precise, but full of confidence and great presentation, the Foxes seem to do no wrong in their predictions, yet they are rarely right. When they are, because of their popularity, they are only remembered for their hits and their misses disappear in the human mindset. In Garner's words, "Be simple, clear, and confident. Be extreme. Be a good storyteller. Think and talk like a hedgehog." The author has chosen a few experts from each type of thinking for his examples. In his findings, though, there appear to be too many examples of misses and too few hits, exactly his point. Surprisingly, they almost all think they were right. Somewhat like proofreading your own words, you see what you thought you wrote, they, too, see their own predictions the way they think they presented them.

What I enjoyed most about this book is the section on experiments performed to learn how people are influenced in their decisions of what or who to believe. A wide variety of these experiments will no doubt amaze the reader as to how the mind can be manipulated or simply change sides by what they perceive in the first examples. An unusual book for a mostly economic, environmental, and/or political evaluation of future predictions, but the second part of the title tells it all: Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway. Based on no more information than what has been predicted by experts, I have decided, thanks to reading this book, I will no longer worry about the world in 2012.

Thursday, November 4, 2010