Book Reviews: The Constitution, The Past, and Brain Stuff

While ordering at the restaurant, she smirked, “You are a man of simple pleasures.”
“Are you a simple pleasure?”
“No comment.” But you could tell her face was saying Oh shit!

Shuttered Life
A woman returns to the ancestral home to confront the family she broke from when her father died. One of her cousins, uncles, or aunt wants her gone, or dead, possible because she looks like her mother.
Beside the protagonist in first person, there’s a different first person narrative in italics, and this mystery is what the reader had to figure out. There’s lots of flashbacks, mostly to give motive to the bunch of suspects; every so often I would change my mind as to who I thought was the bad guy. At one point it’s seemed pretty clear it was a woman, but I didn’t figure it out until one page before the big reveal.
This doesn’t read like a typical mystery, but that’s not a criticism; it feels a lot more like a slice of this woman’s life as we get to know her through her memories and her reactions to how her long-lost family treats her. There isn’t that much plot, but the writing is good enough to keep it from getting boring.
4/5

The Constitution of the United States
The blurb says this important document has been updated and simplified so that everyone can understand it. The main differences are that the amendments had been integrated into where they would go if they’d been included in the original, and that obsolete parts have been taken out and tossed into the heap at the end. There’s also modern terminology at the end of each section, like you see in Shakespeare’s modern versions.
To someone who hasn’t read the constitution in a very long time—maybe since college—I don’t feel like this changes much. I assume for a scholar like the author his changes, particularly putting the amendments in contextual order, would seem like a big step that clarifies a lot, but I simply didn’t feel that way. Definitely nothing wrong with it, but not sure how much of an improvement it is.
3.5/5

Dying to Remember
Like in several movies, the protagonist here has lost his short-term memory; he can remember almost everything before the bad seafood that put him in a coma, but he’s unable to make new long-term memories. Oddly enough, this book is set in the past, and I kept waiting for it to tie into the present, but it never did.
Chapter 8 starts with a huge wham line about his wife, and the dog too. There’s plenty of suspects and motives, which I liked, because it lets my imagination run wild, trying to figure out who the bad guy is.
As one might expect, there’s a lot of repetition here; every few chapters, especially when it’s the next day, the guy has to read his notes and realize once again what happened, which is rather disheartening. If there’s a good thing about what happened to him, it’s that the disease has made him a much better person, or at least less of an asshole. In the end I was a little underwhelmed by who the bad guy turned out to be, but before that I was definitely happy with the plotting and especially the psychology behind his disease and his attempts to overcome it.
4/5

Activate Your Brain
At first glance it seems this is going to be yet another motivational tome, and in a way it is, but it wanders to a lot of places I would not have expected. For example, there’s a bit on neurology near the beginning, as if to show that this is not your average self-help book. Another thing it tells you at the start is that this book is most focused on the brains of businesspeople.
But for the most part it is like others I’ve read in this genre. Each chapter covers something specific, such as sleep, rest, food; there’s even a piece on ego, which as it turns out is not completely bad for you. Also typical are all the personal stories, some better than others. One I clearly remember is about a friend of the author’s learning to ski. The man makes it clear that gathering the courage to go down the same run as his friends wasn’t about comparing himself to anyone, but simply telling himself he could do it. I find this to be a bad example for the simple reason that most wrong choices won’t get you killed, and a beginner skier going down an expert slope is definitely a wrong choice.
Every chapter has activations, small suggestions for the reader to do which will reinforce the lessons of the chapter. But some of these feel too much like homework, while others are rather obvious, common sense. There’s even a paragraph about yawning (which of course made me yawn). There’s some good stuff here, but of course it all depends on how much the reader is willing to do.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Superheroes, Star Trek, Lady Detectives

As soon as she’d said it she knew she’d screwed up.
I eyed her speculatively. “Should I keep walking, or should I wait for the new girlfriend to arrive?”

How to Be a Superhero
In a nutshell, this book is about interviews with actors who’ve played superheroes, sidekicks, villains, antiheroes, and others. . . and it’s 588 pages long, so you can say it’s thorough.
After an intro where the author tries to prove the point that everyone loves superheroes, we go right into the interviews, but it isn’t just all the people who have played Superman and Batman and Spiderman; there’s Flashes and Captain Americas and Hulks, plenty of women. . . even Howard the Duck shows up. Not so much in Sidekicks and Supervillains, but for me the best part was Not All Heroes Are Super, which includes Spock, James Bond, even Agent Coulson. The book closes with questions for some of the creators: comic book artists, movie directors, screenwriters, TV series creators, even Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer. The interview with Stan Lee might be worth the price of admission alone.
Just like another book I recently reviewed on character actors, it’s the same questions over and over, though these are somewhat more pointed to the subject. Still, there are some unconventional questions that pop up every once in a while, and the best parts are when the interviewees appreciate them, especially if they’d never thought of it themselves. I’m not sure how much this would appeal to the causal movie fan, but if you enjoy superhero comic books, TV shows, or movies, this will probably be worth your while.
4/5

Star Trek: The Returned, Part I
For those familiar with the staggering amount of books written about the Star Trek Universe, this is the continuation of the series written by Peter David known as Star Trek: New Frontier. I remember reading the first collection of four stories a long time ago, and after a little research I’m quite surprised to see just how many there’s been since.
This starts with the aftermath of some big happenings in the previous story, which unhinge the main character; the first part is taken up with finding him and convincing him to come back to command his starship. Always fun when the Guardian of Forever is involved, even if only peripherally. Once he’s back the story goes into revenge for that thing that happened in the previous story, as well as a subplot involving his son and a couple of the main characters, who have changed dramatically since the last time I read about them. One of the reasons I originally read this series was the inclusion of the character of Robin Lefler, famously played by Ashley Judd in the Next Generation TV series. She doesn’t get much to do here, but since this story is going to continue past this book, it seems like a good setup for future involvement.
The best thing about the writing is the introductions of characters, which tells the newbie everything they need to know while not being too dull for those who know everything that’s going on. As someone in the middle of those two extremes, I found myself going from wondering who they were to instantly remembering them as soon as their main characteristics were described. But my point is this book can mostly likely be enjoyed by those who are coming in new to the series.
4/5

Rainy Day Women
This is another first person amateur PI story, the main difference from most being that it takes place in the late 60s, though it takes a while to realize that. Perhaps the author assumes you read the first in the series; it’s really not obvious until there’s a mention of the first moon landing. It takes place in Vancouver, which is one of my favorite cities in the world, mostly around the University of British Columbia and its chemistry lab, as well as the woman’s lib movement of the time, which is a huge part of the story.
It starts with a complete fakeout where you think the lead character’s trying to escape from an abusive boyfriend, only to find it’s something else completely. It made me laugh, so I forgive the author this joke.
While I enjoyed the setting and most of the banter, the plot—featuring more murders and attacks—and resolution. . . not as much. The author does a decent job of coming up with alternate suspects, but she stacks the deck too much for the reader to conceive it’s anyone but who it turns out to be (I know that’s vague, but I’m trying not to spoiler it).
3/5

Dead Man’s Legacy
A Royal Canadian Mounted Policewoman—though she mostly works on boats—is sent to the Bahamas to do some undercover work, becoming friends with a rich and famous diva of the past to find out if she’s being abused. . . at least that’s what her boss tell her. Don’t know how she managed to get this job, but I assume it has something to do with the happenings in the previous novel, which I have not read.
The first part takes place in the Caribbean, but then she’s back in Canada and the tone drastically changes. Later on there’s a few chapters in Vegas, but except for the ending and a small jaunt further north everything takes place in the waterways between Ontario and the US, which involve a lot more than someone who hasn’t been there would imagine. Plenty of historical places, as well as the personal history of the not-so-diva’s family, keep the story going, so it’s safe t say the settings are what really work here. The main character deals with no less than four—and maybe more—guys who have crushes on her or just want to sleep with her; at times this was amusing, others cringe-worthy. The famous woman turns out to be the best-adjusted of her screwed-up rich family, and the Mountie is quickly on her side, which I think ruins her objectivity as she tries to solve a case where she’s not even sure what the crime is: fraud, human smuggling, drugs?
A solid 4/5, thought a bit uneven.

;o)

Jetting to JPL

Finally got to do the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tour! Considering I’ve been to Houston, Kennedy, and SpaceCamp, why did it take this long to get to the one so close to me?

Here’s a few images from the almost three-hour tour. . . try not to sing along to that one. . .

!IMG_3148 Cassini !IMG_3150 Voyager !IMG_3164 thermal selfie !IMG_3169 deep space dish menu !IMG_3175 where we at !IMG_3178 control room 1 !IMG_3179 control room 2 !IMG_3180 rover crossing !IMG_3187 scardey

 

;o)

Book Reviews: Sherlock, Sci-Fi, FBI

I wish I could remember where I read this:
It had been said that the likes of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan had been good to their mothers. Tales of bad temper tend to grow with each occurrence of the tale told, just like a dropping of soda can on one corner became a dam bursting by the time it reached the other side of the street, or the casual meeting of eyes was a full-blown adulterous affair when it reached the husband.

Investigating Sherlock
Specifically the current BBC show, not Elementary, the movies, or anything else.
It starts, as one would expect, with a chapter on how the series came to be, with the long train rides during the filming of Dr Who giving the creators time to come up with this idea. There’s also a bit on the casting; it’s hard to remember Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t a gigantic star before this show started, whereas Martin Freeman could at least be called semi-famous. Also a big chapter on Conan Doyle, from his start as a doctor and how he based the character on one of his med school professors to him being fooled by fairies. Nothing new if you’re a huge fan, but concisely done for the newbies.
Finally we get to the episodes, with each of the nine given a chapter that includes a synopsis—forget about spoilers, if you haven’t seen them yet you shouldn’t be reading this—highlights, “Did you notice?”, references to the original books, interesting facts, nitpicks, and bloopers. Since I’m a huge fan of the books, I like how the author compares them to the filmed version; shamefully I admit I missed some. There’s also plenty of interviews to keep things fun.
All in all, there’s really nothing here that a fan wouldn’t like.
4.5/5

Trace Elements
A few weeks ago I reviewed the second book of a series about an actress who wants to become an FBI agent. It was so good I had to read the first one as soon as possible.
While I liked the character of Nikki—and her character of Annika—just as much, the plot wasn’t quite as good. For one thing the story was much slower, with less action until the end. Since it’s listed as more of a romance, the main characters don’t like each other until they give in to the sexual tension. The best part for me was the psychology when trying to get the little girl to talk, and the reasons she doesn’t. From a more personal nature, my favorite moment was Nikki wearing a UCLA cap.
So while I didn’t find it as good as the second book, it’s still a great character-driven story. You’ll fall in love with Nikki’s sense of humor and love of life.
Note: the last quarter of this book is the pilot episode of the series she’s filming, so the book’s a bit shorter than expected.
4/5

Girl From Above
Hard to say no to a book where the publicity blurb proudly compares it to Firefly AND Blade Runner.
There are two main characters, who alternate chapters in first person: we’ll call them the Captain and the Robot. . . no, not a simple robot, but a very sophisticated android called 1001, who is part River, part 7 of 9, and part Pris from Blade Runner. (Wow, who knew I was so genre-savvy?) There’s also a homage to The Empire Strikes Back when they hide in an asteroid field.
It’s all very cute, but it didn’t really grab me like I thought it would, especially considering its DNA. Perhaps I’m just tired of characters who are too stubborn for their own good, but there were too many moments where with a little smarts the Captain would not be in all these messes. So it’s fair to say I liked the android and the Inara/Zoe/Wash copilot a lot more.
Some time ago I read a book that to me seemed like a close copy of Firefly, with just a few names changed. The difference here is that I was told about it beforehand, and in the end it didn’t turn out to be all that much except for a couple of the characters. They also tell you this is the first in a series, so I wasn’t surprised by the lack of definitive ending, unlike others I’ve skewered for exactly that reason.
3.5/5

Star Trek: The More Things Change
This is a novella, and therefore a pretty fast read; don’t be angered when it finishes quickly.
In a nutshell, the Enterprise is taking delegates to a conference—yes, you’ve seen that plot before—when one of them gets sick and needs to be taken to a ship of her own kind for treatment. Piloting the shuttle is Spock, and trying to take care of the secretive delegate without much success is Christine Chapel.
It’s specified, more than once, that this story takes place a few months after the events of the first Star Trek movie, so Spock is still suffering the effects of his mindmeld with V’Ger. He seems to be even more emotional here than in Wrath of Khan, as though he’s trying to incorporate emotions into his life but isn’t sure how to do it yet. Chapel, for her part, is ambiguous about remaining on the Enterprise after McCoy comes back to take over the medical section again. The McGuffin here is a Trill named Dax, though of course not the more famous one; she’s not the one whom McCoy had some fun with in a previous story, but it is the reason he orders Chapel to go on this mission in his place.
There’s one mention of the uniforms they’re wearing, but it wasn’t enough for me to tell if it was referring to the pajamas of the first movie or the silly overdone red things from the second and on. There’s a little action as they’re attacked and followed, but mostly it’s a psychological study on the motivations of the two main characters for continuing their roles on the Enterprise.
It’s a bit difficult reading this while remembering the Starfleeters don’t know anything about Trills yet. There’s also callbacks to the Galileo episode of the original series, as expected considering the plot and Spock’s place in it. Most likely this novella would only be enjoyed by diehard fans, possibly casual fans, but definitely not the place for those who don’t know much about Star Trek.
3.5/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: To Fanny Brawne

John Keats. Not to be confused with “To Fanny” or any of the other similar-titled ones.

The living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That though would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And though be conscience-calmed–see here it is–
I hold it toward you.

;o)