Data Apocalypse

Dataclysm (nook book)

Dataclysm: Who We Are* (*When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder (Crown, $28.00, 272 pages)

Christian-Rudder-credit-Victor-G-Jeffreys-II

Christian Rudder is a co-founder and the analytics team leader of the dating site OkCupid. Rudder has made use of the massive amount of data collected by his website. He ventures beyond the two basic and common data use perceptions – government spying and commercial manipulation to encourage purchases. Rather, he has added a third use – an unprecedented look into the nature of human beings.

The OkCupid site data yields not only the responses to its in depth questionnaires but also the transactions and/or communications between the site’s users. Much is revealed regarding our prejudices and preferences through text and graphic depictions.

Data geeks and everyone else will benefit from reading this fascinating mainstream science book. It is definitely not a pop science product. Rudder’s smooth writing style is quite surprising for a data person. Perhaps his Harvard education included writing classes or he has the benefit of an excellent editor. The comfortable sentence structure provides a balance of tech data and human warmth.

Dataclysm (audio)

This is a book that should appeal to those readers interested in how often humans act like pack animals, versus how often they act independently. It’s only fair to add that Dataclysm requires an attentive reader who has a true commitment to the subject matter. The payoff is well worth the effort.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Photograph of Christian Rudder by Victor G. Jeffreys II.

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Dataclysm

A review of Dataclysm: Who We Are* (*When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder.

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Just About a Moonlight Mile

Moonlight Mile (nook book)

Moonlight Mile: A Kenzie and Gennaro Novel by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 336 pages; Harper, $9.99, 368 pages)

Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile is a typical crime novel that weighs in as above average, but not enough to be considered a great work. The book relies significantly on dialogue. When an author’s story rests on a foundation of dialogue, the dialogue had better be good. In this case, it is strong at times but cheesy at others. All in all, the results are mixed.

While Lehane’s earlier novel, Live by Night, was a superb novel with a crime backdrop, Moonlight Mile is more of a stereotypical crime novel; although there are high points found throughout, it is basically “run of the mill.”

Private Investigator Patrick Kenzie and wife, Angela Gennaro, are caught up in the sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone, in which the enigmatic Amanda resurfaces twelve years later. As in any good crime novel, Russian gangsters are somehow prominent and, in this case, baby smuggling is the theme/motive. Dre, the Doctor that becomes entangled in the enterprise, is introduced well on into the story – which makes it a bit difficult for the reader to track and become emotionally involved. However, the doctor’s dereliction of duty provides an explanation for how and why everybody involved is involved. Sadly, the character development is lacking.

Kenzie and Gennaro struggle through the fact that they are in a relationship in which one person is shot at on a regular basis. Luckily, they remain attracted to each other. Okay.

While this is, overall, a good book with an exciting conclusion that some – or even many – will enjoy, I found it to be just passable. One would be better advised to pick up and read any Frederick Forsyth novel.

Recommended for less demanding readers.

Dave Moyer

Dennis Lehane

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dennis Lehane also wrote Mystic River: A Novel.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Moonlight Mile 2

A review of Moonlight Mile: A Kenzie and Gennaro Novel by Dennis Lehane.

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A Question of Balance

A Question of Honor (nook book)

A Question of Honor: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 336 pages)

The 2013 installment of the Bess Crawford saga draws readers back to India in 1908 for the plot-setting incident. Bess grew up in colonial India where her father, Colonel Crawford, commanded a regiment. One of his officers was identified as a murderer; however, the fellow was presumed dead before he could be captured and tried for his crime. The regimental honor was sullied and the memory of the evil deed followed the men for years.

The secondary plot threads concern the perils faced by British citizens whose children were shipped back home due to sickness and the tensions between the British and local warring tribes in the early 1900s. Fast forward ten years to 1918 and we encounter Bess serving as a nurse on the battlefields of France. She is, as always, plucky and strong willed. Her eyes and ears gather information from the wounded as she carriers out her duties. One fellow in particular confides in her regarding the presumed dead murderer from her father’s regiment, thus sparking Bess to action. The regimental honor is family business!

The tale unfolds across Europe from this multi-level beginning. The book seems to be more Bess’ journal than a mystery novel. The narrative is a bit bouncy which may be due in part to the advance reader’s edition on which this review is based. There is an interesting contrast in perspective for fans of the authors, the mother-son duo who write under the pen name of Charles Todd. The Ian Rutledge series focuses on the post-war personal fallout for a male World War I officer; whereas, the Bess Crawford series details the ways in which women were expected to be brave and serve their country in time of battle and yet maintain their modesty. That’s quite a challenge.

Well recommended.

An Unwilling Accomplice (nook book)

An Unwilling Accomplice: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 352 pages)

This year’s Bess Crawford tale segues smoothly from the one reviewed above. There is an even pace to the telling as the reader learns of Bess’ experiences behind the battle lines in France. As the book begins, Bess is home in England on leave and planning to rest. A messenger delivers an order regarding a badly wounded soldier who has requested that she accompany him to Buckingham Palace. Bess must accept the assignment and forego her rest.

The soldier, Sergeant Jason Wilkins, is to receive a medal from the king. Social mores dictate that Bess restrict her care to checking in on Sergeant Wilkins and tending to his bandages. At no time is she to stay in his London hotel room. The evening after the ceremony, Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon (known to fans in past mysteries) meets her for dinner in the hotel dining room. All seems well until the next morning when Bess goes to ready Sergeant Wilkins for his trip out of London. Wilkins’ bed is empty and he is missing!

The Army and the Nursing Service blame Bess. Her spotless record of service is now tainted and she is placed on administrative leave pending a review of the matter. That’s all she needs to spur her to find the vanished soldier and clear her good name. Simon assists Bess in her quest whenever he is between covert assignments.

The complex plot line is at times confusing. There are miles of back and forth driving in the English countryside chasing the elusive Wilkins. The search occurs among three small towns. A map of the vicinity would be helpful. This review is based on an advance reader’s edition. Hopefully, the final published version will include a map. One other matter is confusing – Bess and Simon are devoted friends and their relationship seems oddly platonic. Perhaps his military rank relegates him to only being a buddy?

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were received from the publisher. An Unwilling Accomplice was released on August 12, 2014.

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An Unwilling Accomplice Charles Todd

A review of An Unwilling Accomplice: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd, and more!

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Nobody But Me

The Nobodies Album (nook book)

Is The Nobodies Album a better read the second time around?

The Nobodies Album: A Novel by Carolyn Parkhurst (Anchor, $15.00, 320 pages)

The plane rises. We achieve liftoff, and in that mysterious, hanging moment I say a prayer – as I always do – to help keep us aloft. In my more idealistic days, I used to add a phrase of benediction for all the other people on the airplane, which eventually stretched into a wish for every soul who found himself away from home that day… I stopped doing that a long time ago. Because if you think about it, when has there ever been a day when all the world’s travelers have been returned safely to their homes, to sleep untroubled in their beds? That’s not the way it works. Better to keep your focus on yourself and leave the others to sort it out. Better to say a prayer for your own well-being and hope that today, at least, you’ll be one of the lucky ones.

There are music albums that we listen to repeatedly, sometimes finding that they have a different impact on us – major or minor – depending on when you experience them. The Nobodies Album: A Novel by Carolyn Parkhurst (author of the unique and bizarre bestseller The Dogs of Babel) is a book that I read before. I did not connect with it at the time; fortunately, I decided to give the book a second chance and I’m glad I did.

This is the story of a San Francisco-based musician, Milo Frost, who has been arrested for murdering his girlfriend, Bettina Moffett. His estranged mother, Octavia Frost, a one-time bestselling novelist, decides to reconcile with him to give him moral and legal support. Milo’s problem is that he was so drunk the night of his girlfriend’s death that he cannot remember what he did that evening. He does not believe that he killed Bettina but admits that he could have been involved. (On the night in question, Bettina first accepted Milo’s proposal of marriage, and then rejected it.)

Parkhurst adds a twist to the telling, as the writer Octavia is at the point where she’s elected to rewrite the conclusions of her bestselling novels. It’s not something that pleases her publisher; but, Octavia is determined to follow-through with her idea. (This may have been based on an instance in which Joan Didion rewrote one of her short stories decades after it was written. Note that the title of this novel, The Nobodies Album, is connected to The White Album by The Beatles early on. It just so happens that Didion wrote a collection of bestselling essays called The White Album.)

I suppose you could say I’d been thinking about endings.

It does not take long for Octavia, and the readers, to realize that she’s toying with the notion of changing the endings to her book in hopes that it might lead to some changes in her own life. As she states to a musician, “I’ve thought it might be interesting to change the endings. Find out how things might have worked out differently for the characters.” Naturally, one has to wonder how much of bestselling author Parkhurst can be found in the character of Octavia Frost. (Will she rewrite the ending of The Nobodies Album in twenty, thirty or forty years?)

To her credit, Parkhurst brings Octavia Frost’s writing to life by providing the endings of several of Frost’s novels before showing us the rewritten endings. The latter are generally simpler, more concise, and neater; perhaps resulting in neater, better outcomes for the characters involved.

The Nobodies Album multiple

Parkhust writes somewhat in the style of Didion – there’s an icy coolness/coldness present as well as toughness and brutal honesty: “Now that the moment is here, it’s not what I expected at all. That’s the fundamental flaw in in the illusions that writers like to maintain, the idea that we can craft anything approaching the truth. No matter how vividly we set the scene, we never come close to the unambiguous realness of the moment itself. Here’s how I feel, faced with my child’s confession that he has committed murder: I don’t believe it’s true. Not for a single minute.”

Those with some knowledge of the music and publishing industries will appreciate the realistic stage upon which Parkhurst’s story is set. The less said about the outcome of the murder mystery, the better. No spoilers here. But be prepared to be impressed by The Nobodies Album, whether you read it once or twice – or more often.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on June 15, 2010.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site as an Editor’s Pick:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-the-nobodies-album-by-carolyn-parkhurst/

It also appeared here:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Book-Review-The-Nobodies-Album-by-Carolyn-5760693.php

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