What’s with the Proofreading?

May 12th, 2018

I cannot remember the last time I read a new book devoid of errors — often glaringly bad ones. Have publishing companies quit hiring proofreaders? What is going on?

I’m not the most careful reader in the world, but I constantly spot mistakes. I’m actually a notoriously poor proofreader (especially of my own writing so no kibitzing about any mistakes you see here) so if I can spot the errors even a casual proofreader should be able to do the same.

I’m not talking about self-published or ebooks either. Even massive best sellers like Dan Brown’s Origin have their share of errors. The publishers don’t need to cut corners on big sellers like that.

So, what’s the excuse? Have the shortcuts in texting somehow had an influence on book editing? Are a certain number of mistakes considered acceptable in a book, rather like the FDA’s acceptance of a certain amount of foreign matter in food? Is it simple laziness? Indifference?

Whatever it is, I know one thing it isn’t: you can’t blame this one on millenials.

 

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Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

April 19th, 2018

By Salman Rushdie

The Short Take:

This delightful, engrossing novel is a Chinese Box of stories — one inside the other inside the next. Fantastical yet also deeply philosophical there are reflections of  Rushdie’s personal experience as well as our current chaotic society. Not to mention magical jinn (genies).

Why?

This book is a few years old (I nabbed my copy from a remains discount table) but so excellent I wanted to give it a few extra pixels of attention than my “What Else I’m Reading Now” page.

Humorous, bawdy, satirical, insightful — this spellbinding a novel has it all plus. More fairy tale than magical realism, the novel’s roots reach 1001 years into the past, its epilogue takes place 1001 years in the future and the War of the Worlds is right now.

However, all the madness of people suddenly floating and jinn appearing in our world is actually about the battle between reason and unreason. From the arguments of two genuine, ancient philosophers (Ibn Rushd and Ghazali) to the bizarre battle for earth that takes place between the dark Ifrit jinn and one human-loving jinn queen, greater  themes are presented and explored.

It doesn’t get much better than this. But that’s what I expect from Rushdie.

A Little Plot:

The powerful princess jinn Dunia loves the mind of the great Ibn Rushd and becomes human to give him lots of children. She returns to her kingdom of Peristan and the passage between the two worlds is blocked, until 1001 years later when the “strangeness” begins.

For more about Salman Rushdie and his work, click here.

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Bishop’s Pawn

March 24th, 2018

By Steve Berry

The Short Take:

Berry’s 13th Cotton Malone thriller wasn’t a lucky outing for me. By switching to the use of first person and a single point of view he both slowed things down and made narrative repetitions more obvious. That’s too bad, because the basic idea for this novel was very solid.

Why?

This book’s release coincides with the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr.’s assassination, which occurs April 4th. Berry created a conspiracy behind King’s death, with plot twists and surprise revelations throughout. FBI operatives past and present are the major players, with secrets to protect at any cost.

While the novel opens in the present, the bulk takes place 18 years earlier. This predates all the other Malone outings. In fact, it’s Malone’s first assignment with the Magellan Billet. He’s a rookie and it shows.

Berry always takes a historic reality and wraps it in imaginative conspiracies and dangerous conflicts. I worried this particular reality was too recent and too raw for that treatment. However, his story line was respectful and even believable. By incorporating some of the genuine disgraceful tasks the FBI carried out during the J. Edgar Hoover years, Berry reminds readers of some largely forgotten history.

Unfortunately by eliminating the multiple points-of-view of his previous novels, Berry limited what could his characters could do and say, which led to some stilted scenes and repetitive dialogue.

A Little Plot:

Cotton Malone is asked to retrieve a rare gold coin from a recently sunken boat. He’s barely gotten in the water before the shooting starts and the chase begins. The numerous antagonists all have different objectives — none of which are good for Malone’s well-being. And, it all revolves around King’s assassination.

For more about Steve Berry and his books, click here.

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Queens of the Conquest

March 17th, 2018

By Alison Weir

The Short Take:

This hefty biography of Matilda, the wife of William the Conquerer, and the next four Medieval queens of England (as well as the frustrated Maud, who should have been queen) was long on facts and short on conjecture — as a history should be. You learn quite a bit but it’s a rather dry read.

Why?

When you go back 1000 years in history there’s not a wealth of material to draw from — though Weir includes well over 100 pages of footnotes and bibliography. The result is a presentation of innumerable facts about a queen, but not much that gives you a feel for her personality.

A litany of signed charters, gifts to religious institutions, the founding of abbeys and monasteries, and travel documentation forms the bulk of the book. However, there is also fascinating history from a time that doesn’t gain the attention of, for example, the Tudor dynasty. Plus, the focus is on women who aided, financed, and often acted as ruling regents for the kings they wed.

Weir’s biographies typically focus on English royal women. She also writes the occasional historical novel about them, as well. I would love for her to take these queens as subjects for a novel. I know her history would be sound and it would certainly enliven the story telling. Until then, I’m glad I went on this journey with her.

A Little Plot:

William the Conquerer takes over England, but first he fights more than one Pope over the right to marry Matilda. His son has problems getting to marry his Matilda (not her real name, by the way), as well. Their daughter, Maud, is deprived of her crown by her cousin but wages war to insure that her son becomes king next.

For more about Weir and her books, click here. By the way, her books have different covers in England from the USA.

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Artemis

March 3rd, 2018

9780553448122_custom-d8cf7964d63e6360d66a5d8d7678e514019531f0-s700-c85By Andy Weir

The Short Take:

Once again Weir creates a sci fi world built on solid scientific facts. Even better, his foul-mouthed, brainy, and fiercely independent protagonist is a woman — a rare occurrence in this genre. But be aware, there’s a lot of science in this book — mainly chemical and engineering. You might actually learn some things as well as be entertained.

Why?

This wild action ride of a novel takes place in and around Artemis, a moon colony some 100 years in the future. Like in his debut novel The Martian, this near-future setting make it more relatable to the present day; plus it gives Weir a chance to again demonstrate how scientists and engineers would/could/can creatively solve the problems of living on another, deadly world.

That’s where the similarity ends, however. Jazz, his plucky and slightly criminal heroine, is always out to make a quick buck. Then she gets a chance to make a million of them. That turns this book into a cliff-hanging crime caper where the challenges and risks she faces far outweigh those of any bank or casino heist ever imagined.

This also means a fair amount of information about things like welding in a vacuum, the dangers of mixing various gases, pressure issues, and the like. I admit to glazing over a time or two but it was worth shouldering through to learn what happened next. And, that was what was really exciting about this book. The Martian was pretty straight forward — a guy trying not to die. This time Weir concocted a plot with many twists and turns that had as much to do with human nature — greed, loyalty, ambition, love — as with solutions to deadly situations.

Not to mention Jazz is one heck of a character.

A Little Plot:

Rebelling against constant admonitions to utilize her substantial potential, Jazz labors as a delivery person with a not-too-profitable smuggling business on the side. That could all change when a richer-than-Midas Artemis resident offers her a million to destroy the operating capacity of a lunar plant that produces aluminum — and the colony’s air supply. Don’t worry, he doesn’t want anyone to suffocate. It’s business.

For more about Andy Weir and his books, click here.

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Asymmetry

February 22nd, 2018

By Lisa Halliday

The Short Take:

This novel is amazing! It consists of two very different sections that seem to have nothing in common until a third section brings them together in all their asymmetry. It’s an outstanding first novel. Heck, it would make an outstanding 10th novel.

Why?

From the very first paragraphs you know you’ve found something special. The main character, Alice, is sitting outside, avoiding reading her book with “long paragraphs and no quotation marks.” While not the same words they form a fun-house mirror image of Lewis Carroll’s opening for his Alice. This 20-something Alice indeed goes down the rabbit hole, starting an affair with a 70-something famous and acclaimed writer — a mirror image of Philip Roth.

Part romance, part training for the budding young writer, this section, Folly, glitters with humor, engaging dialogue, and observations on love, life, and the arts. It practically dances forward, brightly skimming the surface of emotions and relationships.

The second section, Madness, couldn’t be more different. It centers on a thoughtful, mild-mannered Iraqi-American, Amar. While detained at Heathrow Airport he reviews his life and his inner self. Here the dialogue is serious, situations are dangerous, but hope endures. Reflections on religion, his family’s history, and news reporting are all a part of his emotional inner journey while he goes nowhere at the airport.

The two sections seem to have nothing but the faintest of connections — until you arrive at the final part of the book. Then you want to immediately go back and start reading all over again, because your second reading will be even richer and more rewarding than the first.

A Little Plot:

This has been largely covered above: A May-December affair between Alice, a young would-be writer, and a very successful and famous one. This is followed by the travails and deep thoughts of Amar, an Iraqi-American with passports for both countries who has come up against endless bureaucracy at Heathrow Airport and uses that time to review his life through his memories.

It’s all about asymmetry — in ages, in circumstances, in everything.

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City of Endless Night

February 14th, 2018

By Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The Short Take:

Halleluia! This Agent Pendergast mystery/thriller gets back to basics: bizarre murders, misleading theories, and Special Agent Pendergast using his formidable mind and unbreakable cool to save the day.

Why?

I’ve read all the Preston/Child Pendergast novels but was ready to throw in the towel if there was another bogus melodramatic volume. In fact, I was dreadfully anticipating the return of Pendergast’s already-twice-dead evil brother.

Whew! This is a legitimate crime spree story. In fact, there are only minimal references to the ongoing Pendergast saga. The only complaint I have is that Pendergast is a minor character for most of the book, ducking in and out of the action until the rousing final chapters.

Recurring characters Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta and reporter Bryce Harriman carry most of the plot. Not to worry, though — again there is no need to have read any previous books. The actual murders are spectacular mysteries. They would seem impossible to carry off, except they happen. It’s all pretty cool.

A Little Plot:

The headless corpse of a young woman is found in an abandoned warehouse. Turns out she’s the playgirl daughter of a tech billionaire. That’s just the beginning of the headless bodies. It’s up to D’Agosta and Pendergast to determine not just who the murderers are, but how many of them there might be, and what possible connection their could be.

For more about Preston & Child and their many books, click here.

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The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

February 2nd, 2018

By Philip Pullman

The Short Take:

This prequel to Pullman’s highly acclaimed (and controversial) His Dark Materials trilogy does not disappoint. He sets the background for his dust story — a strange material that may prove consciousness is matter — causing stress for the church, which now dominates the state. However, it is the rousing adventure of a young boy determined to rescue an infant girl that forms the heart and soul of the narrative.

Why?

Be aware, this is the first book in a new trilogy. However, Pullman isn’t going to pull a George Martin or Patrick Rothfuss — making us wait five or more years for the next installment. The second book is already written. In addition he claims that, while the first book is prequel, some of this trilogy’s content will be sequel. If you haven’t read his earlier trilogy, reward yourself by doing so while you await publication.

The heroine of his previous trilogy, Lyra, is a mere baby in this volume who only does the usual baby things. Twelve-year-old Malcolm Polstead is the story’s tentpole — an extraordinarily strong, courageous, and resourceful character you immediately fall in love with.

While some characters from His Dark Materials return, many others are new. Also returning are the cruel tactics of the controlling Magisterium, the earthly knowledge of the Gyptians, and the relationship between individuals and their daemons (animals that reflect a person’s spirit in some way). It was particularly fun and revealing to read how the infant Lyra and her daemon interacted.

Though positioned as a young adult novel, Pullman’s writing is richly satisfying for all ages. And, his imaginative alternative universe is second to none.

A Little Plot:

Malcolm Polstead is immediately enchanted by the baby Lyra, mysteriously placed in the protective care of a nearby priory of nuns. He feels driven to protect her, which makes him an alert observer/spy. The dangers besetting the infant aren’t only human, floods are sweeping the lands.

For more about Philip Pullman and his works click here.

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God: A Human History

January 23rd, 2018

9780553394726By Reza Aslan

The Short Take:

Aslan’s highly-readable book is not a mere history of religion but a thoughtful look at how we, throughout history and prehistory, have consistently humanized our gods/God while reaching for the divine. Drawing from psychological, philosophical, theological, historical and other sources he explains why this happens, from earliest religious beliefs to the present. It’s fascinating.

Why?

Aslan is a religious scholar as well as a believer whose personal spiritual search has led him from Muslim to Evangelical Christian to Sufism. His scholarship is on full display in this volume, which has almost as many pages of bibliography and notes as it does regular text. In fact, I highly recommend reading the extensive notes. I set two bookmarks so I could read the related notes right after finishing a chapter. That added significantly to my appreciation.

Note that this is not a book for those looking for confirmation of their personal religious beliefs. Also note that if you go looking for corresponding language to passages he cites in your King James Bible you won’t necessarily find them. His sources are much older. However, if you are interested in the evolution of religious beliefs and haven’t already read extensively on the subject this is an excellent place to start.

A Little Plot:

The humanized god has been a part of religions from their earliest times. Aslan starts with the earliest evidence — cave paintings — and moves forward through history.

For more about Reza Aslan and his books click here.

 

 

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Sleep No More

January 16th, 2018

9780525520733By P. D. James

The Short Take:

Wish I’d read/reviewed this book a month earlier — it’s the perfect Christmas gift for mystery lovers. Several of the six stories in this short story collection by the incomparable P. D. James have holiday themes. All reflect her brilliant, literary style.

Why?

I usually pass on short story collections, but when it’s P. D. James an exception is in order. These stories, the oldest of which dates back to 1973, did not disappoint. They just made me miss this legendary writer more. They aren’t all straight-forward whodunits. Sometimes you know the who but not the how or why. Sometimes the bad guy gets away with it. You can always count on James to bring you fresh takes on one of the most popular genres in fiction.

A Little Plot:

Doesn’t really count here, but you can count on people dying from unnatural causes.

If you are unfamiliar with P. D. James (no one should be), learn more about her by clicking here. Sorry it’s Wikipedia. Don’t know why her estate hasn’t dedicated a website to this formidable woman and writer.

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