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Inside the Information Highway

Tubes: a Journey to the Center of the InternetHave you ever wondered how your email travels all the way from your computer to your mother’s laptop half way across the country in a few milliseconds?  Or how a sports fan with a smartphone in LA can know the outcome of the World Cup in Spain moments before the live TV broadcast?  Andrew Blum, author of Tubes: a Journey to the Center of the Internet, explores how the Internet works as a physical system, full of buried connections, rivers of wires, humming servers, and fiber optic transoceanic cables. 

 

Blum journeys on a pilgrimage to the Internet’s most important data centers and information hubs in an effort to find ‘pieces of the Internet’, and to view the Internet as both a virtual and physical place.  Along the way, he meets with many of the Internet’s unsung heroes and follows his nose to ferret out just where all our data goes when we press ‘send’.  Through his surprisingly personal trek across the world in search of the Internet, Blum grapples with conflicting definitions and perceptions of the Internet that in the end help illuminate its many facets.  With the emergence of cloud storage and wireless everything, it’s refreshing and relieving to realize that even something as amorphous as the Internet is grounded in the physical, real world. 

 

A little bit history, a little bit philosophy, a little bit spiritual, Tubes is great for readers who are curious about the behind the scenes action of the largest connected interface in the world.  Fans of James Gleick’s The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood and Tim Wu’s The Master Switch will certainly enjoy this thought-provoking new title. 

Rachael

 
 

Arrangements Made

Arrangements Made

posted by:
July 27, 2012 - 8:00am

ArrangedBestselling Canadian author Catherine McKenzie’s second novel, Arranged, is now available in the US, and it’s one that chick lit readers will not want to miss.

Anne Shirley Blythe is named after the character from Anne of Green Gables because her mother is obsessed with the series. Anne reasons that because she is named after a romantic heroine, it’s only natural that she would want her own happily ever after. She has a lot of great things going for her. She has good friends and a loving family. She’s a successful writer who is about to have her first book published. Unfortunately, Anne has a history of disastrous relationships. She keeps getting involved with the wrong men, and she begins to see that they are a lot alike. 

 

After another failed relationship, Anne finds a business card for Blythe & Company, which she thinks is a dating service. The card simply says “arrangements made.” When her best friend gets engaged, Anne makes a momentous decision and calls the number on the card. That’s when she learns that Blythe & Company is not a dating service as she had imagined. It’s an arranged marriage service. Anne finds herself going through the process and is soon on her way to a resort in Mexico to marry a man named Jack who she will meet the day before their wedding. That’s just the beginning of the story, though. 

 

What follows is a story about learning the difference between what you think you want and what you truly need. McKenzie has a real talent for creating characters with depth. Arranged is by turns funny, honest, and heartbreaking. Just when you think you know where the story is going, a plot twist changes everything!

 

Beth

 
 

The Habit of Art

The Habit of Art

posted by:
July 26, 2012 - 8:49am

Flannery O'Connor: The CartoonsIf you like American short stories, chances are you’ve read Flannery O’Connor, whose biting sense of humor, peculiar characters, and hauntingly redemptive tales have made her one of America’s most celebrated writers. But did you know that before she wrote fiction, O’Connor had originally set out to be a cartoonist? The new book Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons explores this iconic author’s lesser-known talent and brings her illustrations together for the very first time.

 

O’Connor began drawing at the early age of five and went on to make cartoons for her high school and college newspapers. These cartoons, with their quirky, almost grotesque style and spot-on commentary about student life in the early 1940s, made O’Connor something of a local celebrity at her Georgia college. Those who have read O’Connor’s classic short story collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find or her 1962 novel Wise Blood will love seeing her trademark humor on display in these early drawings. In one cartoon, two students dance joyfully hand-in-hand while the caption below reads, “These two express the universal feeling of heart-brokenness over school closing.” In another, a lone bespectacled young woman (clearly meant to be the author herself) watches her popular classmates dance at a college social and says to the reader, “Oh well, I can always be a Ph.D.” These speak to O’Connor’s knack for carefully observing the world around her, a process she once described as the habit of art.

 

In addition to a handsomely presented gallery, Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons also features an essay delving into the author’s life and eventual transition to writing fiction. This interesting book has great appeal for O’Connor fans and anyone who enjoys satirical cartoons.  

 

Alex

 
 

A Cautionary Tale

A Cautionary Tale

posted by:
July 24, 2012 - 8:00am

GetawayIn Getaway by Lisa Brackmann, we meet recently widowed Michelle Mason, at loose ends due to her late husband’s disastrous financial dealings that left her almost penniless. They had a pre-arranged vacation planned in Puerto Vallarta and Michelle decides to head there for a short vacation. One night, she meets a handsome stranger named Daniel and after too many margaritas she invites him to spend the night in her hotel room. By morning, the hotel has been broken into by two masked goons who seem to have a grudge with Daniel. Michelle tries to return home, but a mysterious “package” is planted in her handbag and she is forced to stay in Mexico. She is rescued by Gary, who has some connection to Daniel and appears to be in possession of her passport. Gary forces Michelle into a dangerous game of espionage and it soon becomes apparent that she has no one she can trust. For a widow alone in Mexico, what is a woman to do?

 

Brackmann creates a wonderfully wild and incredibly readable thriller with Getaway. The setting and descriptions of Puerto Vallarta make this a perfect summer read for sitting on a beach or the balcony of a cruise ship. The suspense builds quickly and intensifies to the point where the reader will need to turn the pages quickly to get to the end. Michelle is a likeable heroine, with enough pluck and vigor to be able to weasel out of dire situations. Getaway is great for readers who like to follow a strong female who refuses the role of victim. 

Doug

categories:

 
 

Morality Tale

Morality Tale

posted by:
July 23, 2012 - 8:45am

The LifeboatThe relationship between strong leadership and survival in an emergency are at the core of The Lifeboat, the debut novel by Charlotte Rogan. Speaking up, taking a stand, and following through with decisive action are usually recognized as qualities of an effective leader in a crisis situation. However, when the people you lead are adrift at sea on an overcrowded lifeboat, sometimes holding your tongue can be more effective.

 

The Lifeboat begins in a courtroom. Twenty-two-year-old Grace Winter is on trial, along with two other women, for a crime yet to be revealed. The story unfolds as Grace tells it, through alternating narratives of the current trial and her journaling of the three weeks spent in a lifeboat after the sinking of a luxury ocean liner in the Atlantic, two years after the sinking of the Titanic. Thirty-nine people are adrift in the filled-past-capacity boat, and the claustrophobic conditions only add to the mental anguish of the survivors. A power struggle between the sole crew member onboard and a strong-willed female passenger seethes beneath the surface of the group. 

 

All of the usual survival story arcs are at play here—lack of food and water, beating down of the sun, reliance on wind and weather-- but Rogan skillfully pushes these into the background. The true heart of the story is the survival of a sense of society and morality. Initially, the men take charge and make decisions for the group. As the days stretch on without rescue, the balance of power begins to shift. The women, led by the deceptively matron-like Mrs. Grant, soon take matters into their own hands. How will these actions be judged upon rescue?

 

The idea for The Lifeboat came to Rogan from an old criminal court case involving two soldiers who survived a shipwreck and found themselves floating on a plank that would only support one of them. Is it murder to ensure the survival of some rather than the probable death of all? Readers who enjoy survival stories like Jamrach’s Menagerie or psychological dramas like Room will read this in one sitting.  

  

Sam

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Of Roots and Stones

House of StoneHey America, Your Roots Are ShowingPulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid, a Middle East correspondent for The New York Times, was an Oklahoman of Lebanese descent. In 2006, faced with a crumbling marriage stateside, Shadid focused on restoring his great-grandfather’s abandoned home in the village of Marjayoun, Lebanon. His book, House of Stone, is as much of a lesson on the political and cultural history of the Ottoman empire as seen from Marjayoun as it is a chronicle of an American trying to conduct the frustrating business of home improvement with local contractors while recreating his “bayt.” A nuanced Arabic word roughly meaning home, a bayt is the place of one’s roots. Mr. Shadid’s poignant story merging his family’s past and present was published posthumously; he died of an asthma attack this past February while attempting to leave Syria on horseback. Surprisingly, especially in light of the beautifully detailed architectural descriptions of the home, the book does not include photographs.

 

Also dealing with family history but on a far lighter note is Megan Smolenyak’s Hey America, Your Roots Are Showing.  Smolenyak is a professional genealogist and chief family historian at Ancestry.com. Her clients have included the U.S. Army (finding primary next-of-kin for soldiers,) the FBI (civil rights cold case crime-solving,) the BBC (tracing family members of sailors who died on the USS Monitor), and even her own curiosity, as she sketches the family tree of Michelle Obama.  These assignments and more are covered in her latest book as she utilizes the traditional paper trail and oral interviews, supplemented by DNA testing, to solve family mysteries. Entertaining but always respectful toward her subjects, Smolenyak finds an unlikely link between Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond, and debunks the myth that immigrants’ surnames were mangled at Ellis Island by uncaring clerks. Hey America, Your Roots are Showing is an enjoyable look at genealogical detective work.

 

Lori

 
 

Thriller Award Winners Announced

Spiral11/22/63Winners of the 2012 Thriller Awards were recently honored at a gala held by the International Thriller Writers. Recipients included some old favorites as well as some newcomers.

Cornell physics professor Paul McEuen won the award for Best First Novel for his smart new techno-thriller Spiral. When Nobel laureate and nanoscience expert Liam Connor is found dead at the bottom of a gorge, neither his colleague Jake nor his granddaughter Maggie believe that his death was a suicide. They begin to search for answers and find encoded messages from Liam that divulge his secret knowledge of a biological weapon called “Uzumaki” (Japanese for spiral) dating back to World War II. Jake and Maggie must join together to search for the killer and stop a deadly terrorist attack.

 

Stephen King’s 11/22/63 took the award for Best Hard Cover Novel. Jake Epping finds out that the storeroom at a local diner is a portal to 11:58 a.m. on September 9, 1958. Jake agrees to take go back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination to honor a friend’s dying wish. After going back in time, he embarks on a new life as George Amberson in a small Texas town near Dallas and falls in love with a woman named Sadie. As 11/22/63, the date in question, draws closer, Jake races to stop the assassination. Can he really change history?

 

Other honorees included fan favorites Jack Higgins, Ann Rule, and Richard North Patterson. The complete list of winners is available here.

 

Beth

 
 

Beltway Underbelly

Beltway Underbelly

posted by:
July 20, 2012 - 8:00am

The 500Matthew Quirk’s first novel, The 500, refers to the elite men and women who really control Washington D.C. and therefore the world. One man involved with these power players is Mike Ford, a young recent law school graduate. Mike was recruited while at Harvard Law School to join the Davies Group, Washington’s most powerful consulting firm. Mike’s job has him rubbing shoulders with the members of this selective circle which contrasts wildly with his upbringing spent in the realm of small-time con men.

 

As a child, Mike’s father taught him the intrinsic lessons of grifting, identifying marks, and manipulation. Mike wanted out and knew his best chance was through education. Hard work in college and law school was his ticket to the straight and narrow – or so he thought. He soon learns that crooks transcend social strata and becomes embroiled in a high stakes con game. As Mike ascends the Davies Group’s hierarchy, he gradually realizes that his employer is supporting a sinister political conspiracy. 

 

This thrilling debut offers political intrigue, fast-paced action, humor, and a likeable and strong leading man. As a former reporter for Atlantic Magazine, Quirk nails the details of the politics and setting of Washington D.C. and is being hailed as the next John Grisham. The 500 will have international appeal as it has already been translated into twenty languages and Quirk is hard at work on a sequel. Additionally, movie rights were sold just days after the book, so put your casting cap on as you read this potential future blockbuster!

 

Maureen

 
 

A Self-Made Culinarian

Yes, ChefMarcus Samuelsson has a fascinating story to tell in his refreshingly candid memoir, Yes, Chef. At its heart is food and family, guided by years of discipline and sacrifice. His lifelong quest to engage customers through their senses with a denouement of flavors has resulted in a winding culinary journey for the Ethiopian-born 42-year old. Today he sits atop the restaurant world.  

 

Samuelsson's passion began at an early age. Orphaned as a toddler, he remembers berbere, the reddish-orange spice mixture his mother sprinkled liberally on their food. Adopted by a middle class couple from Goteborg, Sweden, it was his Swedish grandmother, Helga, who encouraged her young grandson's interests. She introduced him to rustic cooking and layering of flavors. Her signature dish was a roast chicken, which she killed old-school style ("Come here, boom!").

 

The wiry, soccer-playing Samuelsson viewed all his cooking assignments as opportunities. From mopping as a kitchen boy in Sweden to restaurant stints in Switzerland and France and aboard cruise ships, Samuelsson absorbed the diversity of ethnic flavors. At age 24 he earned the position of executive chef of New York's Aquavit restaurant, and a three-star rating from The New York Times.

 

Samuelsson tells his story in an honest, retrospective manner. Growing up in a mixed race family, he didn't become aware of his black identity, and its challenges until older. He once ignored the only other black worker in a kitchen because he was worried what others would think if they were seen talking. That candor is refreshing, as is his poignant description of his return to Ethiopia. A bellwether in an industry known for ego-driven personalities, the reserved, award-winning Samuelsson is as comfortable cooking for a state dinner as he is in the kitchen of his latest New York restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem. Aspiring chefs and foodies will feel at home.

Cynthia

 
 

Murder in Tokyo

Murder in Tokyo

posted by:
July 19, 2012 - 8:01am

People Who Eat DarknessPeople Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Perry chronicles the disappearance of hostess Lucie Blackman in the summer of 2000, and the investigation that followed.  Blackman, a British citizen, had been working as a flight attendant for British Airways, but increasing debt made her consider a more lucrative career change.  Her best friend Louise had a connection to Tokyo and suggested that they join the ranks of foreign hostesses in the Roppongi district. 

 

Japanese men who have a desire to feel superior and important choose to visit hostess clubs, where tall, international women are trained to light their cigarettes, pour them drinks and keep them occupied by conversation so that their hourly rate will increase the longer they stay in the club.  A hostess can make bonuses by repeat business, or selling expensive bottles of champagne. But she must also arrange dates with the customers, at outside restaurants. Many hostesses are required to make five dates with a customer or risk losing her job. In July of 2000, Blackman made such a date. 

 

She called her friend Louise to tell her that she was going for a drive to the seaside and would be home later that evening. She called once more to let Louise know she was all right. Then she was never heard from again. It would be months before her body would be found and a suspect arrested. Her mother and father were divorced and barely speaking. She had two younger siblings wondering where she was. Many years would pass before there would be justice for Lucie Blackman.

 

Richard Lloyd Perry is the Asia editor and Tokyo bureau chief of The Times (London) and became fascinated by the case when he worked in Japan.  He wanted to pull the story together, to make Blackman into a real person and not just a sordid news headline, and with People Who Eat Darkness he has succeeded.  Thoroughly researched and very compelling, this is destined to become a true crime classic along the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold  Blood

Doug