I have to admit I probably never would have picked this up on my own, but someone left it at our house and I was really looking for something light anI have to admit I probably never would have picked this up on my own, but someone left it at our house and I was really looking for something light and fun to read. And it was great! Just the sort of wacky, character-driven shaggy-dog story that Christopher Moore churns out annually. Lots of fun bits about architecture, Microsoft, Antarctica and snobby helicopter parents. The early sections are laugh-out-loud funny, especially the petty back-and-forth sniping between the parents. It gets less obviously comic as it goes on, but never dull, and even a little bit poignant as it draws to a close....more
John Darnielle is a brilliant song-writer, and his debut novel proves he's pretty good at longer forms too. But Wolf in White Van is both a fascinatinJohn Darnielle is a brilliant song-writer, and his debut novel proves he's pretty good at longer forms too. But Wolf in White Van is both a fascinating and a frustrating book. Sean is a young man who suffered a terrible, disfiguring accident as a teenager, and now lives largely isolated from his family and the world. He makes a living by running a complex role-playing game called "Trace Italian", where players send their moves through the mail and he responds, guiding them through a post-apocalyptic landscape toward a safe haven that will never be reached. When two of Sean's players are harmed by taking the game too seriously, it forces Sean to reflect on his own accident years before. The narrative takes place entirely in Sean's thoughts as they swirl backwards in time to that moment.
Darnielle does a great job creating the character of Sean, and he handles the twin storylines and jumbled timeframes expertly. The two stories interact with one another and reveal a certain, unmeltable darkness inside of Sean. It's a fascinating, uncomfortable and unconventional psychological portrait, but unfortunately, Darnielle doesn't seem to know what to do with the character he's created. (view spoiler)[Because the book ends with a flashback to Sean's attempted suicide, we never learn what ultimately happens to him going forward. Sean remains stuck, static, unchanging. It seems that this is in some sense the point of the book. Both the book's title and the structure of Trace Italian seem to indicate that this is a puzzle with no solution, a mystery with a blank space in the center. But this ultimately feels like a huge cop-out. After all that has come before it would be a literary miracle to have written a way forward for Sean that didn't feel like an after-school special, but it's a little disappointing that he didn't even try. (hide spoiler)] Still he's obviously a talented writer and the critical love that the book is getting makes me hopeful that he'll get to keep writing.["br"]>["br"]>...more
A really outdated book about visualization of strange attractors. The vast majority of the text is taken over by pretty pictures and the step-by-stepA really outdated book about visualization of strange attractors. The vast majority of the text is taken over by pretty pictures and the step-by-step creation of a fairly eccentric program to create the visualizations (written in BASIC, of all things). Someone gave me the book as a gift years ago and I only picked it up recently since I was teaching myself python and this seemed like a fun way to learn the plotting libraries. The first few chapters provide a decent introduction to chaos found in simple iterated equations, and a few lines of code can give you some nifty visuals. That said, the book continues for pages and pages of absolutely bone-crushing detail that most people will just want to skip....more
My daughter has been tearing through these books at a pace of one a day (library e-books are awesome), so I thought I would read along with her. I enjMy daughter has been tearing through these books at a pace of one a day (library e-books are awesome), so I thought I would read along with her. I enjoyed the cleverness, the wordplay and gloomy aesthetic of the first 3 books, but the formula really wears thin in this one. You can really tell that even Handler is getting a bit bored with the repetition, although there are some nice moments here and there. However, the online consensus seems to be that the series really picks up somewhere around book 6 and develops into a much more interesting story arc from there on out. At least this one was short....more
The second book in the series that does what good second books do: continues the theme while deepening it. At times the parallelism with the first booThe second book in the series that does what good second books do: continues the theme while deepening it. At times the parallelism with the first book seems a little limiting, but Snicket also starts to reveal a little of the (more interesting) underlying mysteries, which promises the concluding volumes might be pretty cool. We'll see....more
Deborah Harkness's follow-up to A Discovery of Witches offers more of the same romance-fantasy hybrid, plus a big injection of historical fiction. DiaDeborah Harkness's follow-up to A Discovery of Witches offers more of the same romance-fantasy hybrid, plus a big injection of historical fiction. Diana and Matthew have time-traveled back to Elizabethan-era Europe to search for the missing manuscript and to buy time for Diana to learn her witch powers.
This is naturally an opportunity for meeting lots of famous people, from Christopher Marlowe to Sir Walter Raleigh to Queen Elizabeth herself. The name dropping underscores one of Matthew's annoying character quirks, namely that he's perfect at everything and has a Zelig-like ability to pop up behind all the major events in world history. But overall jumping back in time was a smart move for the series in that it lets Harkness play with the world she's created in a way that doesn't seem arbitrary or repetitive. Plus you can tell she's a historian by training and you can sense her excitement at getting to write historical fiction and slip in lots of nerdy details here and there.
Diana and Matthew's relationship continues to be both the heart of the story and slightly ridiculous. I had sort of hoped that they had gotten through the DTR phase of their marriage in the first book. But no. They actually get married *again* in this book, and big emotional blow-ups and revealed secrets keep popping up like clockwork every 50 pages or so. Gotta keep the pot boiling I guess....more
The plot of this book revolves around one fact that is, frankly, not very realistic. The author does what she can to make it as plausible as possible,The plot of this book revolves around one fact that is, frankly, not very realistic. The author does what she can to make it as plausible as possible, but you really have to just hold your nose and accept it. What's remarkable about The Likeness is what the author does with the story, taking that one premise as a given. I suppose there's a logical reason mysteries don't typically have the detective impersonate the victim to solve the crime, but you have to admit it does ratchet up the suspense.
As with her debut In The Woods, Tana French writes wonderful characters. It's nice to see Cassie Maddox return, but the creation of the insular group of four co-dependent grad students is really her most impressive achievement and shows her considerable range as a writer. French also gets a lot of mileage out of the concept of undercover detective work, heaping a minor identity crisis on top of Cassie's precarious work situation. All told, I liked this one a bit better than In The Woods -- probably the best mystery novel I've read in a long time....more
This is book 1 of a new series from Lemony Snicket. I only ever read the first 3/13ths of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I think I like this set-This is book 1 of a new series from Lemony Snicket. I only ever read the first 3/13ths of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I think I like this set-up a bit better (although I understand that ASoUE gets better as it goes on). This time we get an origin story for teenage Lemony Snicket himself, as he travels to an amusingly gothic sea-less town to solve a mystery with his incompetent adult mentor. Much wordplay, punnage and witty banter ensues. The Snicket style is a good fit for mysteries, and it is clear that the author has honed his skills to a sharp point. Each character, each plot point, each line of dialogue feels eerily well-calibrated, like the whirring of some elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. It's a pretty entertaining start to the series, although it seems indulgent to divide one story into 4 short novellas. ...more
I read this when I was a kid (of course I did, because it perfectly combined two of my geeky obsessions) but I suspect a fair fraction flew over my heI read this when I was a kid (of course I did, because it perfectly combined two of my geeky obsessions) but I suspect a fair fraction flew over my head. Now, having studied quite a lot more physics, I can see that it's not really meant to be a popular treatment of the subject, so much as it is a first draft to a thorough technical analysis. As a result, it can be an intimidating read for layfolk, but also a fairly accurate window into how professional physicists attack new research problems.
The book opens with a blast of fluid dynamics, describing the flight of the baseball. By its nature, fluid dynamics is one of the more opaque sub-branches of physics -- the realm of turbulence, chaos and ad hoc empirical approximations. (Turbulence is one of the great unsolved problems in physics, and a solution to it could win you a cool million dollars.) It is a hard topic to present at the best of times but Adair actually does a pretty good job getting to the heart of why a curveball curves. The explanation could probably benefit from just a bit more exposition and explanation of basic concepts, and there are a few sentences here and there that leave you scratching your head, but a solid effort.
The later chapters on pitching and batting have more to do with materials and kinematics than fluid flow, and are less complicated but a bit duller and more repetitive. Much of the content of the book comes from simple models of throwing and hitting baseballs, based on likely approximations and squeezing information out of what little experimental data exists. When things get too dry, the author does his best to spice things up with baseball lore. In fact, one of the really cool things about the book is how he tries to address and assess the opinions and wisdom of pro baseball players, and provide explanations for many of the common features of the game....more