Tag Archives: Boston

Saved by Zero

Finding Zero

Finding Zero: A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers by Amir D. Aczel (Palgrave, $26.00, 256 pages)

Each of us has a personal passion, maybe one that lingers from childhood, or is triggered by a chance encounter. For Amir Aczel, son of a passenger ship captain, numbers are at the center of his life’s work. As a child he traveled with his family during school breaks on his father’s ships. Navigation and the way ships follow a course fascinated him. Thus began a lifelong fascination with numbers and their origins.

A prolific author of twenty books – including Fermat’s Last Theorem, Aczel is also part-time lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a research fellow at the Boston University Center for Philosophy and History of Science. Finding Zero is his own story – an autobiography of sorts. Aczel does not romanticize his quest for the origin of the zero; rather, his is a straightforward telling. Although he narrates the story of his life, it is by no means dry or self-centered.

Aczel’s unusual upbringing included exposure to historic places and above all, the joy of travel. The adults in his life encouraged his curiosity. Aczel became a person whose goal is to see for himself – IRL, in real life. Finding Zero is the journal of his years-long journey through the most ancient parts of human civilization where numbers were first used. The goal was simple, find the first use of the zero. But that’s not as simple as it seems.

Finding Zero rear cover

The reader will appreciate Aczel’s direct and easy-to-read style of writing. A highly-educated man who teaches and researches in well-regarded academic institutions, Aczel does not aggrandize his work, or engage in puffery. He provides a unique perspective on numbers and illustrates how fundamentally math is a basic part of human lives, both in the past and in the present.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Finding Zero alternate

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on January 6, 2015.

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The Comfort of Lies

The Comfort of Lies: A Novel by Randy Susan Meyers (Washington Square Press, $16.00, 352 pages)

Comfort of Lies (paper)

Not for the first time, Juliette wished she found solace in alcohol. It was a shame that chocolate and sugar didn’t induce sleep.

Yesterday at 3:40 a.m., I read the last page of The Comfort of Lies. Mind you, this is not a mystery or a thriller; rather, the tale is a thoughtful blend of characters whose lives are forever bound by deceit and truth. Author Meyers allows the reader more breathing space in this, her second novel. The Murderer’s Daughters, also reviewed on this site, offered up overwhelming sadness in the first few chapters. The sadness was so intense that this reviewer was reluctant to keep reading. Fortunately, the rest of the book was gratifyingly rewarding which offset the initial feelings.

In The Comfort of Lies, three women, Tia, Juliette and Caroline, are connected by a little girl – Honor/Savannah. Tia is the youngest and she’s single; Juliette is the oldest and married to Nathan; while Caroline is a doctor and married to Peter. Tia’s year-long affair with Nathan produces baby Honor who is adopted by Caroline and Peter who rename her Savannah.

The relationships revealed above are far more complicated than might appear at first glance. Each of the characters has secret lies known only to themselves and they have lies they tell each other. The underlying theme of neediness and wanting comes just short of distaste. Meyers knows how to temper her message in a way that allows the reader to view all sides of the relationships in the story. There are also class differences among the families whose lives are lived in the areas surrounding Boston, Massachusetts. Each neighborhood plays a part in their lives as does the food they eat and the holidays they celebrate.

comfort-of-lies-back-cover

Everyone makes choices in life but not everyone realizes the consequences of the choices. While the story line is not new, the depth of understanding and appreciation of feelings held by her characters make Randy Susan Meyers an outstanding writer.

The Moving Finger writes; and
having writ,
Moves on: nor all the Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a
Line.
Nor all they Tears wash out a Word
of it.

Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “I devoured this big-hearted story. Meyer’s wit and wisdom shine through…” J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine: A Novel.

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A Bridge Over Troubled Water

Finding solace in a record album.

Like most individuals, I was extremely troubled by the events that transpired at the Boston Marathon. I found myself searching for something that would make me feel better, something that would be soothing. Nothing seemed to help until I listened to the Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Though released in 1970, it seems to provide relevant messages for these times. All of the lyrics, with the exception of the cover of an Everly Brothers song, were written by Paul Simon. Here is a track-by-track look at the album, starting with lyrical excerpts.

When you’re down and out. When you’re on the street. When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you. I’ll take your part. Oh, when darkness comes. And pain is all around…

Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” This is a song about human beings facing crisis. In times of crisis, we need the better humans among us, or guardian angels, to rise and protect us. We saw both the best and worst of humanity in Boston. The song reminds us that a better day is on the way.

I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet. Yes I would.

“El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” Paul Simon added lyrics to a Peruvian/Andean song. In its way, it celebrates multiculturalism, like the national flags that lined the end of the Boston Marathon course near the finish line. We will find strength in diversity.

Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart. You’re shaking my confidence daily.

“Cecilia” The protagonist of the song comes face-to-face with life’s imperfections. He loves a girl who is unfaithful to him, she shakes his confidence daily. While our own sense of confidence was shaken and bruised by recent events, the music’s energy reminds us of the simple joy of life and living. The sun rises tomorrow over Boston.

Home is where I want to be.

“Keep the Customer Satisfied” The traveling performer want to return home. Boston has served as a second home to many college graduates, for whom the bombings — as President Obama expressed — felt quite personal. The senselessness of events made us feel exhausted like the traveling troubadour.

I can’t believe your song is gone so soon.

“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” This is a song that feels both like a dream and its conclusion. It signals the end of something, perhaps the end of the days that we take safety at sporting events for granted.

He carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down…

“The Boxer” The people of Boston may get knocked down, but they get back up.

I wonder how your engines feel?

“Baby Driver” This is Simon’s song about his family in which he pays tribute to sports, in the form of auto racing. Life and athletic competition will go on.

Half of the time we’re gone and we don’t know where.

“The Only Living Boy in New York” The song is about isolation. No doubt some Bostonians, in virtual lock-down for days, felt like the only living man or woman in the city.

Something is wrong and I need to be there.

“Why Don’t You Write Me” We all feel apprehension over events we cannot control.

Hello loneliness, I think I’m going to cry… Hello emptiness.

“Bye Bye, Love” Tears and hollow feelings ruled the day. The loss expressed in this song was echoed in the pain felt by those mourning the three persons killed in the bombings.

Ask me and I will play all the love that I hold inside.

“Song for the Asking” The nation displayed its love for the city and people of Boston during this fateful week.

Sail on by. Your time has come to shine. Your dreams are on their way. (Title track)

Sail on, Boston.

Joseph Arellano

Bridge_Over_Troubled_Water_single

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Music site:

http://blogcritics.org/music/article/bridge-over-troubled-water-finding-solace/

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Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You

Comfort of Lies (nook book)

The Comfort of Lies: A Novel by Randy Susan Meyers (Atria Books, $25.00, 336 pages)

Not for the first time, Juliette wished she found solace in alcohol. It was a shame that chocolate and sugar didn’t induce sleep.

Yesterday at 3:40 a.m., I read the last page of The Comfort of Lies. Mind you, this is not a mystery or a thriller; rather, the tale is a thoughtful blend of characters whose lives are forever bound by deceit and truth. Author Meyers allows the reader more breathing space in this, her second novel. The Murderer’s Daughters, also reviewed on this site, offered up overwhelming sadness in the first few chapters. The sadness was so intense that this reviewer was reluctant to keep reading. Fortunately, the rest of the book was gratifyingly rewarding which offset the initial feelings.

In The Comfort of Lies, three women, Tia, Juliette and Caroline, are connected by a little girl – Honor/Savannah. Tia is the youngest and she’s single; Juliette is the oldest and married to Nathan, while Caroline is a doctor and married to Peter. Tia’s year-long affair with Nathan produces baby Honor who is adopted by Caroline and Peter who rename her Savannah.

The relationships revealed above are far more complicated than might appear at first glance. Each of the characters has secret lies known only to themselves and they have lies they tell each other. The underlying theme of neediness and wanting comes just short of distaste. Meyers knows how to temper her message in a way that allows the reader to view all sides of the relationships in the story. There are also class differences among the families whose lives are lived in the areas surrounding Boston, Massachusetts. Each neighborhood plays a part in their lives as does the food they eat and the holidays they celebrate.

Everyone makes choices in life but not everyone realizes the consequences of the choices. While the story line is not new, the depth of understanding and appreciation of feelings held by her characters make Randy Susan Meyers an outstanding writer.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all the Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Edward Fitgerald’s translation of the poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “I devoured this big-hearted story. Meyer’s wit and wisdom shine through…” J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine.

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Running Shoe Review: The New Balance 880 v2

New Balance 880v2

The New Balance (NB) 880 v2 (v2 stands for version two) is a modern classic cushioned running shoe that will help some avoid the agony of the feet. The shoe presents itself with a nice medium-wide fit, and a better fit in the arch area. Heel strikers will love the exemplary build-up of solid padding in the rear; more than a bit reminiscent of the Nike Air Max running shoes of the ’90s. The raised heel will please traditionalists who aren’t rushing out the door to pick up a pair of minimalist running shoes.

The NB 880 v2 forefoot is extremely flexible which can help to prevent toe cramping in some runners with relatively inflexible (read, flat) feet. The insole allows the toes to lie flat, and there’s no apparent metatarsal pad bump – something that can actually irritate those with existing metatarsal issues. And there’s a midfoot stability under arch wedge plate which fortunately does not interfere with one’s normal running style, neutral or otherwise.

The underfoot cushioning seems to be of the Goldilocks “just right” variety – enough to protect against rough road surfaces but not enough to deaden the enjoyment of the ride. Even better, while the sole returns some energy to the active runner it does not create a distracting bounce.

The lacing of the 880 v2 is off-center which reduces pressure on the sometimes sensitive upper-foot area.

This particular running shoe may be a bit hard to find as New Balance has begun to release some of its v3 (version three) models such as the NB 890 v3. I ordered my pair with the assistance of a local running store offering a discount on special orders. The good news is that once the NB 880 v3 is released, you should be able to order the 880 v2 – as an “endangered” shoe – via several discount online running shoe purveyors. However, you may want to order a pair right now to ensure that you can get it in your size.

The NB 880 v2 is a running shoe that provides a significant amount of protection for the feet while not attempting to modify one’s natural running style. This makes it a bit of a rarity these days. It’s also a running shoe that comes in nice, not garish, colors and it’s made in the U.S.A. (in either Boston or Lawrence, Massachusetts or Norridgewock, Maine).

If the NB 880 v2 was a car, it might well be a cozy, comfortable and smooth riding Nissan Ultima – an automobile that’s made in the U.S.A. (Smyrna, Tennessee). No complaints here.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

These shoes were purchased at The Running Zone in Elk Grove, California.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Sports website:

http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/running-shoe-review-the-new-balance/

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Time Travel Mysteries

The Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton (Atria Books, $26.99, 496 pages)

Every family has a secret or two.   It might be an escapade by great-aunt Sally that nobody wants to acknowledge for fear of losing social standing in the community.   On the other hand, it might be a secret so huge and shocking that it lays buried in the subconscious of the only witness to the event.

Author Kate Morton makes good use of poetic illusions and warped time as she slowly peels back the layers of a family history with Laurel Nicolson (a renowned actress), Vivien Jenkins (a lovely and wealthy socialite), and Dorothy Nicholson (the mother of Laurel, her sisters and her brother) at its center.   The tale switches back and forth between time periods, mostly World War II and 2011.   Although the reader is provided with ample notice of the time switches, there exists a vague sense of unease and confusion conveyed by Laurel and her sisters.

Perhaps the fact that this is a story with action locales in the English countryside and sea-shore, London, as well as a flashback to Australia adds to the sense of wondering and aimlessness felt by this reviewer.   The descriptions of the devastation wrought by the London bombings are no doubt accurate and they are terrifying.   Also, there were times when a look back at prior chapters was necessary to clarify character names and roles.   This mild discomfort was well worth enduring for the remarkable payoff Ms. Morton reveals at the conclusion of her saga.

Well recommended.

Far North: A Magnus Jonson Mystery by Michael Ridpath (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 384 pages)

Get ready for a strange adventure when you read Far North.   By strange I mean out of the ordinary in terms of setting and vocabulary.   The setting is Iceland and the time is post-2007 economic crash that basically ruined the economy of the country.   While the rampant cheating and leveraging engaged in by business and banking moguls all over the world caused great harm, it was devastating for this cold and wind-swept country of less than half a million residents.

Basically, the tale is an English style detective story displaced to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.   As such the reader is treated to a nice travelogue with multi-generational murders and Nordic style myths and sagas.   Time switches among several periods beginning with August 1934 and progresses in odd intervals toward the fall of 2009.   Main character/protagonist Magnus Jonson is a detective of Icelandic background whose home is Boston, Massachusetts.   Magnus is hiding from gangsters he has fingered in Boston as he attends the police academy in Iceland.

Conveniently, Magnus is the sort of detective that can’t help detecting, even when the case may not be his own assignment.   Along the way he coordinates with other detectives to make sense of revelations he has made.   Childhood traumas have a way of insidiously seeping into the actions of damaged adults.   That lesson is hammered home throughout the gripping tale.

Note to potential readers:  The complex naming system for people in Iceland may be confusing and the pronunciation of geographic names may be daunting.   Don’t let that get between you and an exhilarating chase to the end.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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This is the Day

Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay (Delacorte Press, $26.00, 432 pages)

William Landay’s courtroom novel, Defending Jacob, is interesting and engaging, but is it – as per the hype – this year’s version of Presumed Innocent?   Sorry, but no, it’s not.   This is one of those novels that comes down to the fake ending, where there are usually one or two twists that the reader didn’t anticipate or see coming.   But, this time around, the reader has to deal with three feints and it all seems a bit much.   The author is a graduate of the Boston College of Law, and I presume that at some point he heard an instructor state that, “The game is not worth the candle.”   That’s a law professor’s way of saying that a lawyer’s or judge’s argument is far too clever to be convincing; which is precisely the way I felt about Defending Jacob.

This is a story about a Chief Assistant District Attorney who takes on a case involving the stabbing death of a 14-year-old student at his own son’s high school.   It turns out his son is the prime suspect and, before you can sing a song by the 80s band The The, he’s banished from the office.   The next thing he knows, he’s the second chair to a criminal defense attorney who’s defending his son on a charge of murder.

“After a thousand years or so of refining the process, judges and lawyers are no more able to say what is true than a dozen knuckleheads selected at random off the street.”

“…it was a little late in the day to be switching sides.   I was not sure I could bring myself to defend the same scumbags I had spent a lifetime locking up.”

What Landay does well – quite well – is to express in a firm and gruff voice his doubts (as a former prosecutor) about the workings of the American criminal justice system.   But his protagonist Andy Barber comes off sounding less like a lawyer and more like one of those grizzled former cops who becomes a hard-shoe Private Investigator.   There were times, in fact, when I felt the story – set in 2007 – turn from color to black and white.   It sometimes seemed that, except for references to personal computers, I was reading something set in the 1950s rather than in near-current times.

Defending Jacob has its moments, but a better read in this genre is Tell No Lies: A Novel by Julie Compton, a taut courtroom drama that comes replete with “a surprise ending.”   That’s one surprise ending, not two or three.   Because when it comes to Scott Turow-style surprise endings, less is more.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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