Easy Reads When You Just Need – Something

It’s not that I haven’t been reading at all; I just haven’t felt like writing about the books.  But, a dear friend and writer – who happens to be blind – noted that if a blind person could do it, that is, write – so I should be able to drag myself into a motivational state and write – something.

Easy reads have called to me – all happy endings – maybe one will become a comma in your daily pursuits…

9780525429258_p0_v2_s192x300The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marion Keyes

Marion Keyes is an Irish author who offers the usual angst you would expect from an Irish tale, but, unlike many of her contemporaries, she offers a happy ending. The story alternates between the drama of the narrator paralyzed by Guillain–Barré syndrome syndrome, and her life after she recovers.  Conveniently, the editor has changed the font to identify when Stella Sweeney is bedridden – blinking her thoughts to her handsome neurologist with the sexy bedside manner – and when she is recovered in Ireland, trying to deal with a husband jealous of her success as a first-time author of a book of motivational sayings, titled “One Blink at a Time” from her mute communication with her doctor.  Keyes includes hilarious excerpts from the blink book.  Although Stella’s husband claims she has stolen the life of fame and fortune he was meant to have, the title surprisingly refers to another tangent in the story.

The story reminded me of a mix of Sophie Kinsella and Maeve Binchy, with a touch of Oscar Wilde.

9781620408339_p0_v4_s192x300-1The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

If you believe in fate, and the power to change it, Pulley’s magical story of a British telegraph worker who inadvertently becomes a spy, combines clairvoyance with espionage – again ending with a life made better.  I found this book after reading Helene Wecker’s review in the New York Times. Wecker is the author of “Golem and the Jinni,” and Pulley’s book had some of the same elements mixing fantasy with mystery, requiring the reader to suspend belief, immersing the reader in realistic impossibilities, and sprinkling the narrative with enough factual history – in this case, in Victorian London, Oxford, and Japan – to drive the narrative – my kind of story.

Thaniel Steepleton finds an intricate gold pocket watch on his bed one night, after receiving a report of a bomb threat from Irish separatists.  Just before the bomb goes off, the watch sounds an eerie alarm minutes before a terrorist explosion in Scotland Yard, saving his life.  Examination of the watchworks leads him to a strange Japanese watchmaker, Keita Mori, a mechanical genius and a clairvoyant, who has the skill to create life-like mechanisms with diamond studded gears – birds, fireflies, an octupus.  On orders from his superiors, Thaniel moves in as a boarder in the watchmaker’s home, and changes from milk toast government worker to spy, to gather evidence to prove the watchmaker had created the bomb. But the two become friends, and Thaniel’s life begins to improve. Is it coincidence or is Mori making things happen?  The story has a few unlikely surprises, and creates a charming and easily readable tale.

And then there are the graphics (comic books?):

9780545448680_p0_v13_s192x300The Marvels by Brian Selznick – for a child-like escape into history from the author of Hugo Cabret. With over 600 pages and gold-leaf trimmed pages, the size of this book seemed intimidating at first, until I realized the first half was all in pictures.  Selznick has an artistic style reminiscent of Chris van Allsburg (“The Polar Express”), and he can tell a story without words.  The illustrations tell the story of  Billy Marvel who falls off a whaling ship, and his descendants who all become famous theater actors.  The second half of the book is in print, two hundred years later in 1990, telling the story of Joseph, a runaway, who finds his long-lost eccentric uncle in London.  As Joseph uncovers his uncle and his family’s history, he is convinced he is descended from the famous Marvels.  The story has an unlikely twist at the end, combining historical fact with Selznick’s brilliant imagination.

9780307908278_p0_v1_s192x300The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua  – with a New Yorker cartoon style, Padua spins a tale about the real invention of the computer, with help from Lord Byron’s daughter, and its unlikely possibilities.  Although Babbage did create the idea for the hardware, and Lovelace for the software, their machine never materialized before they died.  In the second half of the book, Padua imagines what their computer could have done in a fictionalized story where the two “live to complete the Analytical Engine, and naturally use it to have thrilling adventures and fight crime!!”  The footnotes are overwhelming and take over the page at times; Padua seems determined to provide all the facts.  I got lost about midway through and found myself skimming through to the end – but then I do that with New Yorker cartoons too.

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Laurie Frankel’s Goodbye for Now suggests that coping with death in the electronic age might be the next available computer application.    In a modern adaptation of Love Story, Frankel uses today’s obsession with the cyber world and its possibilities to craft a touching story, while addressing the issues that the impersonalization of electronic communication creates.

After Sam Elling designs the perfect computer match dating scheme, he loses his job at the dot com headquarters – seems the company only makes money when the participants keep returning. Sam’s programming is too perfect, and the couples using Sam’s algorithm match so well, they don’t need to try again.

Sam soon applies his skill to helping his girlfriend, Meredith, overcome her grief when her grandmother dies suddenly.  With his programming of the grandmother’s old emails and Skype connections, Sam has her respond to a goodbye letter that Meredith created to assuage her feelings of loss.  Soon, he has them connecting by video chat, and a new business is born – RePose.  Meredith and Sam suddenly find themselves the CEO’s of a new company that offers communication with dead loved ones.  Of course, the simulation is not real, and the program can only use information supplied by emails and other electronic communication the client has had with the living person.

Though you may cringe at first at Sam’s use of artificial intelligence to create contact with a replication of someone who is dead, the story soon becomes a fascinating examination of the magic of computers – and their limitations.

Related Post:  Elementary My Dear Watson

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

How could any reader resist this book title – the idea of a 24 hour bookstore is better than eating at an all-night diner.  With a mix of fantasy and today’s world of digital magic, Robin Sloan creates an adventure of rivals – electronic books vs bound pages –  in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Out of work computer geek, Clay Jannon,  finds a new job on the night shift of a strange indie bookstore in San Francisco.  Few customers want the books on display by Haruki Murakami, Neal Stephenson, and Dashiell Hammet; the attraction for his night visitors is the collection high on the dusty shelves in the back.  Curious to understand the lure of these old books, Jannon digitally scans the log book and cracks a code that uncovers a secret society of readers.  With the help of a new girlfriend who works for Google,  Jannon follows the book store manager, Ajax Penumbra, to the headquarters of the Unbroken Spine group on Fifth Avenue in New York City – and starts the adventurous quest for a secret 15th century message that may be the key to immortality.

Although the ingredients of long black robes, secret staircases behind a bookcase, coded messages hidden in books,  have the flavor of a mysterious fantasy, Sloan cleverly inserts the modern adult world and ancient artefacts into the dilemma.  Google plays a key role, along with experts in simulation, video technology and professional hacking.  You will be googling “The Dragon-Song Chronicles” and  Gerritszoon font to see if they are real.  A suspenseful moment has all the modern technology available working together to crack the code.  Google does not yet have the answer to eternal life, but Jannon finds the solution reveals itself unexpectedly…

“There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.”

Depends on how you define immortality…Sloan’s solution happily creates a balance of the new and the old that will please readers who like the smell of new book pages as well as the convenience of the Kindle.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a fun light read – all those familiar landmarks in San Francisco and New York City could lead you to believe that the adventure is real (I plan to look for the building across from Central Park), and the search for the puzzle pieces will keep you reading.

What’s In a Smile?

The emoticon has evolved from the “Have a Nice Day” logo of dots and parens to a host of possibilities. That little yellow face can hug, frown, smirk, cry, wink, laugh, and smile – among other graphic emotions.  I found at least 50 conveniently listed on my email server for easy attachment.

Usually placed at the end of a line to indicate the sender’s intent because the message lacks the gestures and facial expressions that would give clues to the meaning, the emoticon has graduated from the friendly email to the business world.

In her article for the New York Times – If You’re Happy and You Know It, Must I Know It Too? – Judith Newman suggests that writers use the ubiquitous smiley face because they may be too lazy to sharpen their words for a clear meaning. Also, irony and humor are hard to convey in print…and if you are

“…sarcastic and in a hurry…a well-planted smiley face can take the edge off and avoid misunderstanding…”

Critics argue that if you must hit someone on the head with the intention behind the inference, you’ve lost the power of the words. What happens when you have to explain a joke to someone?

So far those smiley faces have not ventured into the realm of the printed novel, but with the popularity of the electronic book, maybe it’s only a matter of time. Newman asks…

Can you imagine reading the end of  The Great Gatsby…   So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past 😦 

Angry Birds are Slowing Down My Reading

If you heard the reference during the Emmy Awards show, or if you’ve seen them on the t-mobile commercial, you too may have been seduced by the lively music, the bird calls, and the crashing of the scaffolding.  And it’s free – at first.  Once you are hooked, and you’ve mastered all the levels, of course you can buy a game.

Never one for computer games, I am surprised that I have become a fan of the birds.  My books are in a heap, waiting for me – but the siren call of the angry birds on my iPhone is hard to resist.

Have you played?