2018 British Books Challenge!

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New year, new goals. This year rather than commit to resolutions that will fall to the wayside by February, set goals you will actually enjoy. The 2018 British Books Challenge prompts participants to read one book each month by a British author. As a self professed Anglophile, I love all things British and can completely get behind this challenge. I have just wrapped up my review of Jane Corry’s Blood Sisters and cannot wait to jump into the work of another British author.

Hosted by the blog Tales Of Yesterday, this reading challenge runs from January 1st, 2018 to December 31st, 2018 with the aim of reading and reviewing British authors. The challenge is open to all bloggers and book reviewers (Goodreads reviews are included) who will commit to reading at least 12 books in 2018 by British authors. Books can be in print or out of print, and can include old or new titles from any genre or age range. Click here to sign up and for additional information.

For added motivation, book reviews that are submitted to the site are entered for monthly prizes that have been donated by publishers. You can get additional entries with the Author of the Month and Debut of the Month categories.

Support British authors and join a challenge you will want to do!

#BritishBooksChallenge18

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Book Review: Year One

Not your mother’s Nora Roberts romance. A mysterious plague infects the Earth in a matter of weeks. Billions dead. In the rubble of civilization survivors struggle against all odds and magical forces emerge, as good and evil battle in the aftermath of the destruction. Year One is the first novel in the Chronicles of the One series that blends sci-fi and fantasy into a compelling narrative.

Year OneThis is the first Nora Roberts book I have read as I am not a fan of romance novels, and I thoroughly enjoyed the edgy storyline of Year One. The novel follows group of survivors of a worldwide pandemic called the Doom as they battle against robbers, murders, and dark forces to establish a new existence. The novels starts out in excellent form, in the vein of 28 Days Later or other pandemic stories. While the beginning is compelling, I devoured the first several chapters in one sitting, the rest of the novel struggles to keep pace. The remainder becomes weighed down with the characters, with some portions spent at length on the same scene and other times jumping ahead in time, which can be disorienting. As expected, Roberts shines in the relationships between the characters, and I remain hopeful the hero’s journey takes center stage in the remainder of the series. Roberts embraced a new genre, probably to the disappointment of her hardcore romance fans, and the risk may well pay off. Year One is a solid fantasy debut and I look forward the next installment.

Hardcover, 419 pages

Published December 5th 2017 by St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 1250122953

Book Review: Blood Sisters

Does blood truly run thicker than water? Exploration of the nuances between of friendship and family are at the heart of Blood Sisters, and Jane Corry’s intense psychological thriller brings to life family drama with surprising twists and turns. The novel is set between 2001 and 2016-2018, leaping back and forth between decades to weave together mysterious circumstances of the accident that befell three girls on their way to school. Anyone who experienced the volatile teenage years with a sibling can relate to the tension between half-sisters Alison and Kitty, who are at each other’s throats in the flashback scenes. The large age gap between the girls and their different paternity adds to intensity of their conflict, as trivial teenage drama between siblings boils over into explosive tragedy that impacts them for years to come.

The book shines in the care facility and prison scenes, opening up two very different worlds both fraught with danger, misunderstanding, and distrust. The vast amount of time Corry spent researching and her years as a writer in residence at a prison are apparent, and provide the reader with a rare glimpse inside the walls. A must read just for the vivid imagery of the world she creates, with each sister trapped in their own individual prisons. I find Alison sympathetic, as she struggles with the burden of her past in painful ways. I enjoyed that the majority of the characters in Blood Sisters are not likeable, with each carrying their own secrets. A family where each individual only cares about their own self-interest, lies flow like blood in their veins.

Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: January 30th 2018 by Pamela Dorman Books
ISBN: 0525522182

Book Review: The Storm King

The Storm KingDescribing Brendan Duffy’s new novel as a page turner barely does it justice, The Storm King is a gripping atmospheric thriller that will keep you guessing to the very end. As the protagonist Nate Hale wrestles with the past and the person he once was, he comes to realize his actions cascade through time causing damage, much like ripples in the lake that has dominated his life. A great book is multifaceted, and The Storm King hits the mark blending a murder mystery with a coming of age story that provides psychological twists when least expected. In a novel where nothing is as it seems and everyone keeps their secrets, Duffy reminds the reader one does not have to believe in ghosts to be haunted. A breathtakingly sharp read, I could no put this book down and was hooked from the opening chapter to the very end.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: February 6th 2018 by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 0804178143

Book Review: A Selfie as Big as the Ritz

Selfie as Big as the RitzGood short stories are akin to a work of art, an essence is captured that makes you feel something. Lara Williams does just that in her collection of existentialist short stories that capture the frustrations of Twenty-First century women. A Selfie As Big As The Ritz presents the different struggles of the modern woman who was raised to believe in reaching for the stars and Price Charming on horseback, as they instead find mundane employment and the dredges of online dating sites. While on the surface the stories could be reduced to the idea that the character was (insert depressed, crying, lonely, sad, jaded, etc.) because reality didn’t meet her expectations, instead the collection probes deeper into the female psyche. The impact of a life unfulfilled, and a desire for so much more tethers the characters together. A fascinating read that hits close to home, the book can begin to feel heavy if reading multiple stories at once. The best of the short stories leave you wanting more, and I reread “Beautiful Existence” more than once because it was totally riveting. Highly recommend for those wanting to dip their toes into short stories.

 

Published October 31st 2017 by Flatiron Books

ISBN: 1250126622

Book Review: Big Data

In the wake of Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal, surveillance and privacy are at the forefront of a dialogue on how the world should handle data overabundance. In Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier’s book Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, we find that the remnants of our digital lives are available to the highest bidder. Coined our “data exhaust” by the duo, actions and movements are recorded and analyzed with the consumer, until now, none the wiser (pg. 113). Company websites are designed to follow your every click, even how long you may linger on a particular page, in order to increase effectiveness. Big Data succeeds in educating the layman to the inner workings of the digital world without weighing down the reader with industry terminology.

Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier are no strangers to the often unseen world of big data, the former a professor of internet governance and regulation, and active on advisory boards to Microsoft and the World Economic Forum. Cukier, the data editor of the Economist, has written for the New York Times and the Financial Times. Both are more than equipped to guide the everyday person in understanding the evolution of data analysis, from testing hypotheses with small sample groups, to harnessing endless and often unrelated streams of data (pg. 14). The authors take the reader on a journey across time, from early record keeping and nautical log books that reshaped how we view move around the world, to modern datafication and algorithms used to predict everything from crime to potential film revenue. We move from struggling to understand causality to embracing correlation.

04book "Contagious: Why Things Catch On" by Jonah Berger.

As the leader in big data innovation, Google is often referenced throughout the book, but not without justification. As the “best at collecting data with extensibility in mind” (pg. 109), the company is at the cutting edge of a data use and reuse. Information that is considered worthless can gain new life when paired with new datasets; even predicting exploding manhole covers and fire hazards become possible when unrelated data points to correlation. Sometimes knowing why isn’t necessary, knowing what is all that is required (pg. 191). But as Tim Harford points out in his review Big data: are we making a big mistake? , if you do not understand what is behind the correlation there is no way determine what causes a correlation to break down (Harford 2014).The role of data sets and probability is not just for large corporations; Police in Richmond, Virginia used correlation to determine there is a rise in crime following a gun show (pg. 159). By incorporating “predictive policing”, cities are able to effectively allocate limited resources to the areas that may need it the most. Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier are quick to relate prediction based policing to the movie Minority Report, reminding the reader of a cinematic worst case scenario.

Overall, Big Data excels in opening our eyes to the vast world behind the technology we use daily, reminding us of the risks and rewards that come with the new frontier of digital data.

 

Harford, T. (2014). Big data: Are we making a big mistake? Financial Times. <http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/21a6e7d8-b479-11e3-a09a-00144feabdc0.html >.

Mayer-Schonberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2013). Big data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work, and think. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing.

For The Love of Books

I’m going to be honest, I love books. Very few things can compete with the feel and weight of a good novel. It is hard to imagine replicating those sensations with a digital device, especially when it comes to in depth reading. One hundred years from now, will our descendants recognize a paper book? Today, with toddlers more adept at using an iPad than their grandparents, we begin to wonder if technology is changing the way we think and read. Ferris Jabr delved into the psychology of how we approach reading in his article Why The Brain Prefers Paper. The current research appears divided on reading comprehension with various mediums, although the intrinsic biases we possess may influence whether we excel with either paper or digital reading. The main stumbling block to comprehension may be the devices themselves; with a book, you approach with intent to read and only ready. Electronic devices used for reading are not as clear cut, we have been unconsciously trained by years of use to think of any electronic device as open to multitasking. The overall mental attitude is much broader, as “people often approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conductive to learning than the one they bring to paper” (Jabr 2013). How can a reader solely focus on reading when emails, messages and notifications are beckoning? Those bells and whistles are not built into paperbacks.

The physical feel of a book itself lends to the overall comprehension and satisfaction. Readers remember where parts of a passage are in a book like one would remember where a place is on a map. Those mental markers lend themselves to understanding the writing as a whole; readers “report that when trying to locate a particular passage . . . they often remember where in the text it appeared” (Jabr 2013). The book actually becomes a journey the reader travels, tracking their progress with a “mental map” of the text. Even the act of writing is pivotal to learning, evidence that we retain knowledge when writing notes by hand rather than typing them on a keyboard. In Kevin Clark’s article The Cleveland Browns’ Strategy: Write This Down, coach Mike Pettine is encouraging hand written notes for his players since studies show “writing by hand instead of typing improves your chances of learning something” (Clark 2014). In additio n, one of the studies Ferris Jabr discusses from the Indiana University Bloomington shows children are mentally processing he act of writing on paper, but typing on a keyboard lacked any similar response (Jabr 2013).

Reading on an electronic device can be physically and mentally demanding. Illuminated screens strain the eyes and constant scrolling can be an ever occurring distraction, especially if a reader is unable to see pages in their entirety (Keim 2014). Sustained reading becomes more difficult on a device, and the larger pieces of text without any defined break structure seem the most taxing. The more time that is taken away for “moving through a text, the less is available for understanding it” (Jabr 2013). Ideally, a device will be designed to more resemble a book, allowing readers to effortlessly flip a page. While some people may alter their readying style depending on the medium, overall, electronic devices can result in more fractured reading. The exception is when reading under a deadline in a short period of time, both digital and paper appear to be equal contenders with “no obvious difference” in academic experiments (Keim 2014). But when it comes to deeper reading, paper lends itself to the audience knowing what they read rather than remembering snippets.

To some, electronic devices have been a blessing, a sufferer of poor vision welcomes the ability to increase font size and individuals with dyslexia are able to read when the amount of visible text is adjustable. The key for success seems to lie in “personal preference” (Keim 2014), if a reader prefers a screen to paper they will flourish with their medium of choice and vice versa. For me, the feel of curling up with a good book wins every time.

Kindle Slam

 

Jabr, Ferris. “Why the Brain Prefers Paper.” Scientific American 309.5 (2013): 48-53. <http://www.nature.com/scientificamerican/journal/v309/n5/full/scientificamerican1113-48.html&gt;.

Clark, Kevin. “The Cleveland Browns’ Strategy: Write This Down.” WSJ Online. August 11, 2014.<http://online.wsj.com/articles/the-cleveland-browns-strategy-write-this-down-1407795873&gt;

Keim, Brandon. “Why the Smart Reading Device of the Future May Be…Paper.” Wired. May 1 2014.Web. <http://www.wired.com/2014/05/reading-on-screen-versus-paper/&gt;.