March 5, 2015 · 6:10 pm
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.
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.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on January 6, 2015.
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February 28, 2011 · 11:13 am
The Girl Who Became a Beatle by Greg Taylor
“I wish I were as famous as a Beatle.”
Sixties-inspired musician-songwriter Regina Bloomsbury is casting about for ways to keep her garage band from dissolving when, in frustration, she makes the wish that her band was as famous as the Beatles. Fame, she reasons, would fix the problems in her life: no boyfriend, a shaky self-image, and loneliness. Enter the fairy godmother who Regina didn’t know she had, and suddenly she’s not just as famous as the Beatles, she’s inherited their place in history and their entire catalog of music.
Life in the Grammy lane is fab, but being the smart 16-year-old she is, Regina comes to understand the tradeoffs that go along with fame and world popularity. Then the question becomes, Should she stay or should she go?
The Girl Who Became a Beatle (Feiwal and Friends, an imprint of MacMillan) is a rock ‘n’ roll-themed fairy tale for a young adult audience. Though there is the drama of a girl-on-girl fight scene, for the most part the story maintains the innocence of the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” days. The plot is fast-paced; the ending is satisfying, even though it’s predictable; and the characters are interesting “types.” There’s the supportive, cool-in-a-Cosby–sort-of-way dad; the divorced mom who’d rather be a big sister; and the soulful band-mate love interest. The problem is that the characters never step off the stage and run with the story. Even Regina remains flat, especially when she wonders things like, “Are all teenagers like that? Ricocheting from despair to euphoria within one turn of the minute hand? If so, no wonder we’re always so exhausted?”
If the novel has the “tell, don’t show” feel of a screenplay, it’s probably because author Greg Taylor was a screenwriter before he started writing novels. This is his second. His first, Killer Pizza, is being made into a movie for 2013 release by Italian producer Raffaella De Laurentis (The Forbidden Kingdom, The Last Legion, Dragonheart: A New Beginning). And according to the publisher, De Laurentis has optioned the film rights to The Girl Who Became a Beatle, too.
If you’re a YA reader who favors light, fast-paced, feel-good fantasies, don’t wait for the move version. You’ll like The Girl Who Became a Beatle. Especially if you’ve ever dreamed of any kind of stardom.
Kimberly Caldwell Steffen
A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Girl Who Became a Beatle was released on February 15, 2011.
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March 2, 2010 · 7:42 pm
One Good Dog is a novel by Susan Wilson that was released today on St. Martin’s/Macmillan. We haven’t had a chance to look at it yet but writer Rita Mae Brown says, “One good dog equals one great book!” And here’s what Garth Stein, the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain says: “One Good Dog is a wonderful novel: a moving, tender and brilliantly crafted story about two fighters – one a man, one a dog – hoping to leave the fight behind, who ultimately find their salvation in each other. Susan Wilson’s clear and unflinching style is perfectly suited for her story that strips away the trappings and toys we all hide behind, and exposes our essential need to give and accept love in order to thrive.”
Here is the way One Good Dog opens:
He was a rough-looking thing. Big ears, wiry hair. His muzzle just beginning to grizzle. He looked like the sort who’d been living outside of society for a while, maybe never really been a companion. After a long parade of supplicants appearing before me, each wanting me to choose him or her, their noses pressed up to the chain-link fence that separated us, there was something in this one’s deep brown eyes, not a pleading – pleading I can overlook – but something else. A quiet dignity, maybe even an aloofness, as if he really didn’t need me or my kind being nice to him. Yes. That was it, a haughtiness that declared he needed no one’s pity; he shouldn’t even be here. Don’t look at me; I’m only here by coercion.
Our eyes met and held, but then he turned away. Beta to my alpha. But in that brief gaze, I saw something I recognized. Maybe it was just that I saw my own independent streak, the one that has kept me on top. Or the eyes of a fighter down on his luck, but with memories of recent glory. Maybe I saw that underneath the rough exterior lay a heart, like mine, not entirely hard. You’ve got to be tough to live in the world, whether your lip is curled in real anger or fear aggression, you have to be ready to carry out the threat. This battle-scarred fella understood that, and on that basis I made my decision. He was the one for me.
So I wagged my tail.
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