Monday, November 23, 2015


Findings: An Illustrated Collection by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi
Grand Central Publishing: 11/24/15
eBook review copy; 144 pages
ISBN-13: 9781455530496

Findings: An Illustrated Collection by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi is a recommended, irreverent collection of the bizarre and beloved back-page column of Harper's Magazine. What the column does is present a tidbit from a scientific study somewhere and illustrates the often hilarious and absurd fact.

Facts presented and illustrated include little tidbits like:
"Scientists made graduate students provoke spitting cobras into attacking them."
"The faces of Lego people have been growing angrier."
"Vanilla yogurt gives mice glossier coats and larger testicles."
"Pond snails on crystal meth are better at remembering pokes from a sharp stick."
"Croatian boy previously thought to be magnetic was more recently thought simply to be very sticky."

The very short book has a long  A Conversation with the Author section and includes citations for each scientific fact presented and illustrated.
As noted in the Conversation with the Author section: "I think the people who read this column and understand and appreciate it are over the idea that science takes place for science’s sake, to the extent that this idea both is and isn’t true. Findings celebrates the idea that modern science is a tremendously powerful and productive and beneficial and motivating and clarifying force, but the idea that everything that goes on is part of this heroic, conclusive, triumphalist narrative is also silly. You know, the universe defies and denies and startles and confounds us just as our own bodies defy and deny and startle and confound us. Findings’ being funny is partly a corrective to that particular form of triumphalist narrative."

The greatest drawback and reason for many of the low ratings is that this is a very, very, extremely short book. You also may need to take note that some of the facts contain more earthy humor.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Grand Central Publishing for review purposes.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

All of Us and Everything

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher
Random House: 11/24/15
eBook review copy, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385343930

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher is a recommended book about an eccentric, dysfunctional family of women.

Augusta Rockwell was an eccentric mother as far as her three daughters are concerned. Esme, Liv, and Ru all grew up hearing that their absent father was a spy and couldn't have any contact with them for their safety. Their mother devoted her life to starting movements, unsuccessfully. Now all of their lives are in flux and weathering storms that will bring them home and, once there, they are going to learn some truths about themselves and their absent father.

Augusta survives a literal storm, Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane leads to the discovery of some letters that are given to Augusta. At the same time Esme and her teenage daughter, Atty, are reeling from their husband/father running off with his dentist in France. Atty is hyper-connected to social media and tweets incessantly. Liv is done with yet another marriage and needs to go to rehab. Ru, after one best-selling book, has left the country to do research for another book, but may just be trying to escape her engagement. All the daughters head home, ostensibly to help Augusta recover from the storm.

Really, most of the storm recovery consists of airing the emotional baggage they have all been carrying for years. None of the sisters really like each other or their mother. Augusta is an eccentric, but not as crazy as the girls imply. Augusta was a wealthy single mother, so the girls grew up in a safe, secure environment. I couldn't help but think that all of the damage they claim as a direct result of their childhood was not necessarily as awful as they claim.  Okay, some things were explained as unknown outside interference, but still... Stuff happens. You move on. While I basically liked this book, I had a hard time feeling a lot of empathy for any of the characters - with the exception of Atty.

This is an entertaining, light novel. You are going to be able to read it quickly and follow the action and the quirky emotional angst of all the characters. Even though I didn't connect with any of the characters, I was interested in what happened to them and what they learned about their father, and in the process their mother. The writing is decent, though some of the dialogue felt forced.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Random House for review purposes.

Yesterday's Gone: Season Two

Yesterday's Gone: Season Two by Sean Platt & David W. Wright
Collective Inkwell: 11/16/13

eBook review copy, 495 pages
ISBN-13: 2940148889588

Yesterday's Gone: Season Two by Sean Platt & David W. Wright is a continuation of the serialized set of six books/seasons. Each book is broken down into episodes. After reading Season One, I continued on to Season Two and I'll have to admit that my feelings about the series have plummeted to a so-so rating. There is too much swearing, gore, violence, and not enough character and plot development for me. Sure there is action and lots of stuff going on, but the forward movement seemed lacking. Action just for its own sake is not plot development.  Obviously, I'm in the minority as most readers are rating it higher but this second book, while entertaining, will be my last in the series.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Collective Inkwell for review purposes.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Yesterday's Gone: Season One

Yesterday's Gone: Season One by Sean Platt, David Wright
Collective Inkwell: 9/30/11
eBook review copy, est. 500 pages
ISBN-13: 2940152172553

Yesterday's Gone: Season One by Sean Platt, David Wright is a (maybe) highly recommended start to a serialized post-apocalyptic series.

The premise to Yesterday's Gone grabbed my attention immediately: very few people are left alive after a world changing event occurred at 2:15 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, on October 15th. At that time everyone fell asleep and then 99.9% of the world's population simple vanished after a reported dark cloud ascended on everyone. There are other, odd things missing as well.

The book is written as if you are following episodes of an ongoing TV series where, as the questions abound and multiply, all the answers are yet to be revealed. The episodes introduce us to the cast of characters: a journalist, a serial killer, a mother and daughter, several teens, a special agent, and an eight-year-old boy, and then follow their actions as they try to figure out what has happened and where they should do. As they are seeking answers, terrifying creatures/monsters begin to appear and are becoming more and more common. The monster only purpose seems to be to kill the survivors.

But, you need to know going into this that it may be a long haul to get some answers since this is "season one" of six so-called seasons (books) and each season contains "episodes."  I would agree that this first book did make me think of The Stand and Lost, but, at this point after season one, it's not nearly as good as either of those. It's also clear that some scenes and actions are loosely based on other shows and books, which may bother some readers.

Yesterday's Gone: Season One lends itself to a good news/bad news review summation:
The good news is that you can likely find a digital copy of this first season somewhere for free. The bad news is that there are currently 6 seasons. The good news is that it is fast-paced, entertaining, sometimes gruesome, and additively readable. The bad news is the writing quality and character development aren't always very good.

I am going on to read Season Two because I have a review copy of it and perhaps I'll know after that if I want to continue on reading the series or not. I do tire of novels written in parts. I much prefer novels that stand alone and have a beginning, middle and end. (There are some exceptions, such as Margaret Atwood's three novels in her MaddAddam trilogy, which work together but can stand alone.)

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Collective Inkwell for review purposes.


Gold! by Fred Rosen
Open Road Media: 11/17/15
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781504024488

Gold!: The Story of the 1848 Gold Rush and How It Shaped a Nation by Fred Rosen is a recommended nonfiction account of the historical California gold rush and how it changed American culture.

When gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California on January 24, 1848, it infected the nation with gold fever. "Over the next six years, three hundred thousand prospectors raced to the California gold fields to make their fortunes, leaving their lands and families behind in order to chase a dream of easy wealth, but all too often encountering a reality of lawlessness, disease, cruelty, and death."

Rosen, a former columnist for the New York Times, weaves historical facts and details into this account of the real people and places of the gold rush era and the get-rich-quick mentality it ignited in average citizens.  He argues, while presenting the historical information on the discovery of gold and the subsequent gold rush, that once the common man could dream of instant wealth it fundamentally changed American culture to one of selfishness and greed.

Having read several books on the California gold rush (as well as the Black Hills discovery and the Nevada Comstock Lode which are mentioned too) I did find Rosen's account easy to read and basically informative. Since I read it while on vacation, it suited me perfectly under the circumstances. I am admittedly unsure of his Jesse James argument. Those who follow my reviews will understand that the lack of source notes and very short bibliography bothered me; I like my nonfiction to have some great notes and a thorough bibliography. 

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Open Road Media for review purposes.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Crimson Shore

Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing: 11/10/15
eBook review copy, 352 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781455525928
Special Agent Pendergast Series #15

Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is a very highly recommended addition to the Pendergast series.

When sculptor Percival Lake asks Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast to investigate the theft of his precious wine collection, Pendergast initially declines, but, after hearing more information, he accepts the challenge. He and his ward, Constance Greene head off to Exmouth, Massachusetts to investigate. Once inside the wine cellar of the lighthouse where Lake lives, Pendergast discovers a clue that leads to more questions about who stole the priceless collection of wine and why.  Clearly, the ineffectual police chief is not a reliable source of support. It seems that the small town of Exmouth may be hiding more than one secret.  Which raises the question: Could the past transgressions of the town be responsible for the deaths that have occurred, past and present?

Preston and Child always deliver and this fifteenth novel featuring Special Agent Pendergast is no exception. The case this time is a private investigation rather than an official inquiry. The terror found in several of the previous novels is back and the tension is ratcheted up several notches. Even after the case is solved, there is an even larger and more malicious threat looming. This addition to the series only features Pendergast and Constance, so long time fans are going to miss some of the other on-going characters.

I found this novel to be fast-paced, or perhaps that was simply due to the tension created and my desire to keep reading to see what happened next. Crimson Shore is well written, perfectly paced, and there is even a surprise or two thrown into the mix! This is another winner for Preston and Child, a writing team that simply always produces a winning novel for me. I can't wait for the next one!

At this point in the series I think this could be a stand-alone novel, but that is hard for me to say with any certainty because I have read (and own) every Pendergast novel. Yes, the series is that good.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing for review purposes.


Ball: Stories by Tara Ison
Soft Skull Press: 11/10/15
eBook review copy, 232 pages
Trade paperback ISBN-13: 9781593766221

Ball is a collection of eleven dark, creepy short stories by Tara Ison.
Contents include:
Cactus: a young woman's boyfriend dies in a freakish accident
Ball: a young woman adopts an ugly dog who likes to play ball
Bakery Girl: a teen works at a bakery
Wig: a woman cares for her dying best friend while having an affair with her husband
The Knitting Story: a woman knits and knits...
Staples: a boyfriend's other, older, rich girl friend gets a face lift
Needles: a couple leave Iowa and stay in a Motel 6 in Needles, AZ.
Apology: a woman resorts to self mutilation to win back her husband
Fish: a woman plans to feed her uncle's remains to some fish
Musical Chairs: a man cheats on his fiance 
Multiple Choice: a woman has a boyfriend who requires choices that need to be made

The collection is well written, but the themes of several stories were not very appealing, including the titular Ball, and they were a bit too disturbing. This was a so-so collection for me.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Soft Skull Press for review purposes.