Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Good House by Ann Leary


From Goodreads: "Hildy Good has reached that dangerous time in a woman's life - middle-aged and divorced, she is an oddity in her small but privileged town. But Hildy isn't one for self-pity and instead meets the world with a wry smile, a dark wit and a glass or two of Pinot Noir. When her two earnest grown-up children stage 'an intervention' and pack Hildy off to an addiction centre, she thinks all this fuss is ridiculous. After all, why shouldn't Hildy enjoy a drink now and then?"

But how do you prove you're not an alcoholic if you are still going to enjoy drinking?

There are many funny moments in Hildy's tragic-tale life. She narrates it (Well, it's Mary Beth Hurt on Audible - and she does a great job.) It's full of dysfunction - from friends to new boyfriends, to neighbours, to children.

It was enjoyable, but I don't think Hildy was a good choice to tell the story in the first person. It made the story awkward at times, and irritating at others.

Lots of relatable moments, and the writing style was full of pure pleasure. Worth a try, and if Meryl Streep is Hildy in the movie, I'll see that too.

3 stars

ISBN:9781250015549

You may also enjoy Nora Ephron's Heartburn or Ann Lamott's Blue Shoe, or even Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Black Swan by Nicholas Taleb

"A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was. 

The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions to events in our own personal lives."


I've been wanting to read this book  for a very long time. It takes the complex world of statistics and makes its applicable to real life. It also asks us important questions about why we don't allow for the possibility of these black swans, why we find ourselves stuck in certain ways of thinking, despite evidence to the contrary and proposes ways of dealing with our thinking shortfalls.

It's a story told in an engaging and witty style - perhaps not always very structured in the way it is arranged, and a little on the lengthy side, but thoroughly enjoyable. The audible narration is great - I found it clear and the pace of the reading was just right.

It has earned the accolade of being the definitive book on the topic. Taleb has done his homework and has the necessary expertise to make this a reference book on the improbable and how to deal with it.

4 stars

ISBN: 9781400063512

You may also enjoy The Knowledge Illusion by Steven Sloman or Richard Thaler's Misbehaving

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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

From Goodreads:
"Madeleine is trapped—by her family's expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.

In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in caf├ęs, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.

Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.

Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be."

I love all things Paris, but sadly, the women in this book annoyed me intensely. Madeleine in particular. While I can accept that her grandmother Margie had confronted all sorts of stereotypical attitudes and struggled to make a life for herself, I found Madeleine more than a little boring and  cowardly.

The big "reveal" fell flat for me - I saw it coming and didn't like the plot at all.

At best, its for one of those days when turning the pages and getting absorbed in something outside the everyday is enough for you. There were some lovely descriptive passages, and Paris was mildly evocative.

2 stars

ISBN:9780007393671

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Thursday, 15 March 2018

LaRose by Louise Erdrich



Landreaux Iron lives in North Dakota with his family, alongside the Ravich property. It's 1999. One day, while stalking a deer, he shoots, and sees it run away. He gets closer and discovers the dead body of Dusty, his neighbour's son. Worse, Dusty was best friend to his five-year old son, LaRose. His wife, Emmaline, is half-sister to Peter Ravich's wife, Nola. The families share everything, from lifts to town to sleepovers and meals. And now they must confront this dramatic death. Part of Landreaux's way of dealing with this horror is to make retribution - they'll give LaRose to the Raviches.

But what makes up for the loss of a child? And how do you find your way through such desperate grief? And what about LaRose? It wasn't his fault.

The issues are unpacked in this book that has been called a literary masterwork.

It's heavy-going. Not just the subject material. I found the story-telling difficult to follow - the voices, the timelines were complex and intricate.

Yet worthwhile in the resolution. A warm and beautiful tale.

4 stars

ISBN:9780062277022

You may also enjoy At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier or Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Or try Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things for something lighter.


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip E Tetlock and Dan Gardner



Philip Tetlock runs a forecasting tournament / competition / information gathering exercise so he can author books like this one. If you are selected to be a forecaster, you will need to predict all sorts of information - the political, economic and key events to come. This book, co-authored by Dan Gardner, summarizes the findings of the tournament, and attempts to answer some questions, like - Is anyone good at prediction? Who? And why?

There are a lot of anecdotal stories about good and bad forecasting and forecasters. The first thing we learn is that the experts are not. Experts at forecasting, that is. Well, that is useful information, but we mostly knew that before. They're also not accountable - never explaining why predictions don't pan out, or admitting errors.

There are also some good stories about history repeating itself, although not often enough, or in the same way as to make forecasting it easier. The other point that stories and narratives explaining predictions anchor us, and make us slow to change our minds was interesting.

The key insights seemed to be that in order to be a good forecaster you need to a) be intelligent and b) update your forecasts continuously.

Some memorable quotes - 

Keynes is always ready to contradict not only his colleagues but also himself whenever circumstances make this seem appropriate,” reported a 1945 profile of the “consistently inconsistent” economist. “So far from feeling guilty about such reversals of position, he utilizes them as pretexts for rebukes to those he saw as less nimble-minded. Legend says that while conferring with Roosevelt at Quebec, Churchill sent Keynes a cable reading, ‘Am coming around to your point of view.’ His Lordship replied, ‘Sorry to hear it. Have started to change my mind.’ 

“It’s very hard to master and if you’re not learning all the time, you will fail. That being said, humility in the face of the game is extremely different than humility in the face of your opponents.” 

“It was the absence of doubt—and scientific rigor—that made medicine unscientific and caused it to stagnate for so long.”

“All who drink of this treatment recover in a short time, except those whom it does not help, who all die,” he wrote. “It is obvious, therefore, that it fails only in incurable cases.” 

“It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously,” Daniel Kahneman noted, “but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.” 

“So finding meaning in events is positively correlated with well-being but negatively correlated with foresight. That sets up a depressing possibility: Is misery the price of accuracy?”

“there is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction….Learn from every mistake because every experience, encounter, and particularly your mistakes are there to teach you and force you into being who you are.” Everything happens for a reason. Everything has a purpose.” 

“I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition,” Bill Gates wrote. “You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal….This may seem basic, but it is amazing how often it is not done and how hard it is to get right.” 

“It’s a rare day when a journalist says, “The market rose today for any one of a hundred different reasons, or a mix of them, so no one knows.”

“In one of history’s great ironies, scientists today know vastly more than their colleagues a century ago, and possess vastly more data-crunching power, but they are much less confident in the prospects for perfect predictability.” 


This was a most enjoyable read while I was at it, but considering the key takeaway - keep updating your predictions, that's the best way to ensure that they are the closest to the truth that emerges  - it seems to be a bit redundant and obvious, and not all that helpful. Aren't we looking for super forecasting that can predict outcomes long before the events, instead of just the day, or hour before?

4 stars

ISBN: 9780804136693

You may also enjoy Richard Thaler's Misbehaving. Or The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Thea, the slave girl, is our protagonist. She lives in Rome in A.D. 81, and is a slave to the cruel heiress Lepida Pollia, who wants it all - fame, fortune, love, passion and popularity. Lepida is on the way towards achieving these ignoble aims. Except for one thing that she has her heart set on - gorgeous gladiator, Arius the Barbarian. He only has eyes for Thea.

Lepida Pollia moves on, marries a nobleman, and Thea manages to work herself out of the unfortunate position she was in - using her musical and many other talents. She eventually catches the eye of the Emperor of Rome. Of course, by now, Lepida wants him too.

Why is everything in Rome more passionate, more cruel, more intense than real life? Well it just is. the injustice is worse, the intrigue is deeper. It's all just ....more than everywhere else.

Everything about this book oozed that life and intensity of passion. Even the darkness (and there were some ugly moments - sensitive readers beware) was darker.

This is historical fiction at its finest. Every character is artfully drawn; the plot races like episodes of a TV series, and you will find yourself, like me, completely addicted to turning pages.

Author Kate Quinn has written four books in this series, two in another about the Italian Renaissance and recently "The Alice Network". I will read them all.

I particularly enjoyed this one.

5 unreserved stars

ISBN: 9780755357932
You may also enjoy Kristin Hannah's book about WW2 - The Nightingale, or what about The Constant Queen by Joanna Courtney? 

More Book recommendations

Friday, 9 March 2018

Ten of the best #114

Hello friends, it's Saturday morning and time for the catch up of the week. I love to do this on a Friday - it's always the most interesting day on social media feeds (also has become one of my only days on social media...) and there is so much to see and read, that I can't keep up So I save my faves and then put ten of them here, for us all to enjoy.

We're starting with the local news today - South Africa has a new President and the President has a new cabinet, and Malusi Gigaba - well, he has a new suit, sort of. Here's what is worrying him these days, c/o Tom Eaton. Click the Zapiro for the article.



Meanwhile across that cold blue pond, it was the Oscars, and of course, Trump tweeted about that. Jimmy Kimmel responded though...

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy


Late last year, I did quite a bit of impulse book buying. This one - the cover. It just appealed to me. I think it was the "sister" thing - I'm a sucker for that, at the best of times, but also the image - something about that plunge just did it. So I bought it, not knowing anything about the book or the author. 

I'm now reaping the benefits of having very little self-control. And it's not so bad, I have to tell you. This one was definitely worth the money rashly spent. Here's part of the blurb...

"The hardscrabble Chase women—Mary, Hannah, and their mother Diane—have been eking out a living running a tiny seaside motel that has been in the family for generations, inviting trouble into their lives for just as long. Eighteen-year-old Mary Chase is a force of nature: passionate, beautiful, and free-spirited. Her much younger sister, Hannah, whom Mary affectionately calls “Bunny,” is imaginative, her head full of the stories of princesses and adventures that Mary tells to give her a safe emotional place in the middle of their troubled world."

I like free-spirited. I also like stories of perseverance and hardship. This is both. But then it's also got that hope thing going for it. The story just can't help itself, it hopes for better, and it goes to places that make you smile. But it's also sad.

I liked it - it was a fast paced, non judgemental story with a mentionable twist. But it wasn't that memorable.

3 stars

ISBN: 9780544960077

You may also enjoy

                              

Monday, 5 March 2018

Anywhere

Morning everyone! It's time to get up and run. Where? Anywhere...

And that, right right there is one of my favourite things about this time of the day. Standing in the cool air stretching out my legs, wondering - "where to today?" And isn't that an amazing feeing? We can take these strong little legs and run around the park, right to the edge of the mountain, that part of the coast where the sun rises, golden and orange over the steely gray blue of the sea. 

Who am I kidding? Here in the 'burbs, it's which coffee shop will welcome me with a friendly cup of brew today. But there is still that wide open possibility: how far; which hills; which streets?



And then, when we do have our lift offs, it's such fun - especially if it's a little bit new and different.

And that takes me to our song for this morning. It's Anywhere by Rita Ora.

Over the hills and far away
A million miles from L.A
Just anywhere away with you
I know we've got to get away
Someplace where no one knows our name
We'll find the start of something new
Just take me anywhere, take me anywhere
Anywhere away with you
Just take me anywhere, take me anywhere
Anywhere away with you

Ok, time to go. Where to this morning? Anywhere with you...

Friday, 2 March 2018

Friday Books - Watch Me

Yay it's Friday. The weekend is upon us. On Fridays we hook up with other book bloggers and share excerpts from the books around us. The close by ones - just started, or just finished, or just laying around... 

We join Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Readerwhere you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.






Today I'm featuring Watch Me by Jody Gehrman. Here's the beginning.





Creepy, right? But this book has so much more than just your usual creepiness...the dialogue is great, and the author seems to climb right inside each character's psyche and live there. I loved it. Couldn't stop reading until I'd finished.





At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.


You may need a little context here - Kate (our protagonist, and the author being watched in the beginning) is being recommended a guy by her best friend, Zoe. Only... well, I'm not going to say.

Intrigued? You should be. It's a great book.


Happy reading this weekend  - leave me a comment with what you're featuring  - I'd love to check out your books.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

A Question of Trust by Penny Vincenzi


Penny Vincenzi - how do I describe my relationship with her books? In one word - intense. In a phrase - "pleasure to my soul". And lastly in a sentence...I'm entranced by a world so different, where people are so fascinating and the plot is so surprising, that I just can't stop reading. It's like crack cocaine. 

A Question of Trust has all the ingredients (as per Goodreads) -  "vintage Penny Vincenzi: rich with characters, life-changing decisions, glamour, love, desire and conflict.

1950s London. Tom Knelston is charismatic, working class and driven by ambition, ideals and passion. He is a man to watch. His wife Alice shares his vision. It seems they are the perfect match.

Then out of the blue, Tom meets beautiful and unhappily married Diana Southcott, a fashion model." More? You'll have to read the book

Sadly, Penny Vincenzi passed away this week, and something struck me as I was reading tributes from those who knew her - especially Clare Alexander, her agentHer special gift as a novelist was her love for her characters, and that came from her deep interest in not only the people in her imagination, but also in pretty well everyone she ever met.

She had such a generous gift of friendship, quite blind to whether someone was the boss or just making her a cup of tea. And that is why so many people in publishing will be devastated by her loss. Throughout her life – which like everyone’s, had its own tragedies and pitfalls – Penny always looked for hope and joy and the best way forward, which is perhaps why her huge fan base crossed generations and never deserted her. I will miss her every day. She was a storyteller of such natural talent.”

People like Penny inspire me. And I'm glad I found this out about her - even posthumously. There was something about her writing - literary critics may have had a lot to say, but she sold books, because she poured her heart and soul into her writing. And it was a good one. That's a good recipe.

ISBN:9780755377657

4 stars

Other books by Penny Vincenzi: No Angel, Sheer Abandon, An Absolute Trust and The Best of Times

Or you may also like Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. Or what about Blue Shoe by Ann Lamott?



Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Camino Island By John Grisham


John Grisham produces books as much as most of us have holidays - once or twice a year. That's a lot of books. And when his main writing style for so long was legal thrillers, we got used to the type of book. The formula worked, but after a while, maybe a little boring? With a few exceptions that we watched on the big screen too, they did blend into each other. So I think I've been (un)consciously avoiding them. At then end of a long reading holiday (i.e. a holiday on which one reads, NOT a holiday from reading - never), I found myself alone with this one, for various reasons.

What a pleasant surprise.

From Goodreads: "A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.

Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts.

Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous offer of money convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s circle of literary friends, ideally getting close enough to him to learn his secrets."


If this sounds like fun, and not really legal at the heart of it, you'd be about right. I also found it quite compulsively page turning and had more than a few smiles and moments of reading pleasure. After all, John Grisham knows how to keep our interest.

It also manages to be warm and sweet as well as exciting and tense. I really enjoyed it - especially reading with the crashing waves in the background and the sun tingling my skin. Happy times.

4 stars
ISBN:9780385543026

You may also enjoy The Racketeer by the same author. Or what about Anita Shreve's Fortunes Rocks - I loved that one.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

High Five by Janet Evanovich

From Goodreads

"Out of bail skippers and rent money, Stephanie throws caution to the wind and follows in the entrepreneurial bootsteps of Super Bounty Hunter, Ranger, engaging in morally correct and marginally legal enterprises. So, a scumball blows himself to smithereens on her first day of policing a crack house and the sheik she was chauffeuring stole the limo. But hey, nobody's perfect!"


Stephanie Plum is certainly not perfect. But this series is almost. I'm pacing myself, to prevent me tearing through, racing for the next juicy instalment. It's a bit like your family's favourite fast food place - something for everyone. Stephanie herself, a hot bounty hunter, who has bad hair days and bad car days (they get blown up). Hunky Joe Morelli who seems to be constantly shaking his head at Stephanie. Grandma Mazur, who supplies guns, funerals to socialise at and her own brand of feminism. And what's not to love about Stephanie's family, including Mom, who is always persuading various men to stay for dinner - when Stephanie's invited, all the cousins and extended family and of course the colleagues at the "office", who range in expertise from filing to helping Stephanie apprehend bail skippers.

It's good clean (ok not always) fun. And I'm lovin' it.

4 stars

ISBN:9780330371230

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Ten of the Best #113


Good morning everyone! And what a week it was. Isn't it great to be waking up on a Saturday knowing there is so much to catch up on. If your week was anything like mine, it was just too busy too keep up. No worries, here's the news, the funny and the fun that you missed. All in one place - if it was on my time lines this week, that is.


Let's start with the high drama of the week, shall we? Emma Gonzalez, the girl whose Trump tweet after the Parkland, Florida shooting went viral, helped organise a march. And she's mad. Click the meme, watch the speech - all of it, if you haven't yet. Then come back here for more news




And this is what Trump did. Apart from tweeting about bringing more guns in, of course.




And just in case we forgot about how a president should respond to these issues...Obama on taking away guns. Oh the sensible-ness of it all...



Meanwhile in SA, we are living on Rations of Ramaphosa. So much of hope. Take it easy, guys.



Here's some more. Apart from the walking, which I love - and that he's encouraging SA to get out there and do it, I think Mrs Ramaphosa is amazing. Yay.




"Ah – “skein”. This was my first meeting with the word. It looked strange then and it looks strange now. But I stomped off to ask Dad what it meant and so bent it to my will. It has not come in particularly useful since, but if you make usefulness your metric for life it will not be much of a life." I love Lucy Mangan's  writing - here she waxes lyrical about reading memories from childhood. Enjoy.





In other literary news, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is coming to the big screen. Yay! I can't tell you how much I enjoyed that book. One for our new-found favourite thing to do on a week night, dear...




Ever wondered what those colours on the back of the toothpaste mean? Nah? Me neither. Well wonder no more, anyway. 



And some animal pics with cute renaming conventions....





We're signing out with my favourite moment from the Winter Olympics (so far). Everyone thought that Russian Evgenia Mevedeva had the figure skating in the bag. Here's the story (Olympics took down the video)






And then 15 yo also Russian Alina Zagitova took the gold. Amazing stuff. Watch that video before it gets taken down too. Editor's note - Guess what, they took it down. Why, why why? Here's a clip of the same routine, but not the Olympics. I know, it's not the same, but if I find and post a clip, what's the bet it's taken down again.




That's all from me this week, guys. Busy weekend ahead....hope you enjoy yours!


Happy happy.


Last week's Ten.



Friday, 23 February 2018

Friday Books - Brother

Yay it's Friday. The weekend is upon us. On Fridays we hook up with other book bloggers and share excerpts from the books around us. 

We join Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Readerwhere you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.






Today I'm featuring Brother by David Chariandy. Here's the beginning.




Although I love the writing, this opener feels a bit wrong to me. It really doesn't go with the rest of the book. It's hard to describe, but I have to say it feels a bit contrived. I'm not done yet, so maybe it'll make sense later, let's wait and see. But the writing is great, and so far I'm really enjoying it.


From Goodreads:

"With shimmering prose and mesmerizing precision, David Chariandy takes us inside the lives of Michael and Francis. They are the sons of Trinidadian immigrants, their father has disappeared and their mother works double, sometimes triple shifts so her boys might fulfill the elusive promise of their adopted home. 

Coming of age in The Park, a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city, Michael and Francis battle against the careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them as young men of black and brown ancestry -- teachers stream them into general classes; shopkeepers see them only as thieves; and strangers quicken their pace when the brothers are behind them. Always Michael and Francis escape into the cool air of the Rouge Valley, a scar of green wilderness that cuts through their neighbourhood, where they are free to imagine better lives for themselves. 

Propelled by the pulsing beats and styles of hip hop, Francis, the older of the two brothers, dreams of a future in music. Michael's dreams are of Aisha, the smartest girl in their high school whose own eyes are firmly set on a life elsewhere. But the bright hopes of all three are violently, irrevocably thwarted by a tragic shooting, and the police crackdown and suffocating suspicion that follow."




At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.



See what I mean? How great is that? So relishing every page of this book about these two brothers on the wrong side of the tracks.

Happy reading this weekend  - leave me a comment with what you're featuring and I'll check it out.