gimmethatbook

Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: September 2015

Diamonds Fall by Rebecca M Gibson

Diamonds Fall

 

“She noticed as if in a dream, a single diamond hair comb fall to the floor. The sparkling jewels landed face down in the mud.”

Annabel Maria Hoddington is the epitome of high society. She has everything money can buy and as befits a lady of her station, is engaged to the richest bachelor in England. However, on the day of her eighteenth birthday – her perfect future on the brink of fulfilment – she is abducted and held hostage in an isolated village, where she finds herself entrapped in the harsh world of poverty. Forced to live amongst three mentally scarred siblings, she must adapt to her new, sinister world…or die.

Thanks to the author for providing this review copy!

Beautiful, spoiled, and pampered Annabel is is for a rude awakening when she is kidnapped and forced to live in a slumlike village. The way the author describes how she is beaten and mentally broken was intense and depressing. Her captors have no code of morals except to put themselves first. As I read I could feel the dirt and the despair settling down around me–and I wondered when things would get better for poor Annabel.

We see her learning to give up her noble attitude as she realizes there is more to life than diamonds and sumptuous meals. I especially enjoyed the little details Gibson provided, such as how cheaper clothes feel after wearing silk, and how sleeping in a barn compares to a royal bedroom.

She learns to trust three others, and eventually her life becomes routine. There is more heartache, however, in the form of a difficult childbirth and more abuse.

Without giving away too much of the twists, eventually Annabel and her newfound friends plot an escape–which means more struggle, tense moments, and false hopes. I was beginning to wonder if there was going to be ANY bright moments in this book!

The last quarter of the book starts off as if things will finally start getting better–but then reality steps in and smashes that hope to bits. I was left with an open mouth – literally – at the ending. After all Annabel went through, and the promises she made, I was flabbergasted. The author is surely not afraid of making her lead character miserable.

Gibson did a good job with the plot, even if it was a bit of a stretch to understand how Annabel managed to slip away so easily, even though so many eyes were on her as she was out in the park.

The descriptions of the characters were wonderfully evocative—their manner of speaking, their dress, the hints of desperation and skewed moral code of the women in the village–all well done.

Some reviewers have mentioned their disapproval of speech anachronisms, but I was able to put that aside, as the plot kept me focused enough to ignore it.

There is so much bleakness and shattered promise in this book, but tiny bits of pleasure stand out; and that makes those moments seem even sweeter.

I would have liked to have seen more of Annabel’s life before the abduction, and perhaps the section in the village could have been made just a bit shorter. We don’t know exactly how long Annabel was kept there, but it started to become slightly draggy. I was ready to see more action, other than the daily living activities day after day. I think a short bit of editing would really make a difference.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

 

The Doctor’s Daughter by Vanessa Matthews

 

The Doctors Daughter

A prominent psychiatrist’s daughter realises insanity can be found much closer to home when she unlocks secrets from the past that threaten to destroy her future.

It’s 1927, women have the right to vote and morals are slackening, but 23 year old Marta Rosenblit is not a typical woman of her time. She has little connection with her elder sisters, her mother has been detained in an asylum since Marta was born and she has spent her life being shaped as her father Arnold’s protégé. She is lost, unsure of who she is and who she wants to be. Primarily set in Vienna, this dark tale follows her journey of self-discovery as she tries to step out of her father’s shadow and find her identity in a man’s world. Her father’s friend Dr Leopold Kaposi is keen to help her make her name, but his interest is not purely professional and his motivations pose greater risks than she could possibly know. Marta’s chance encounter in a café leads to a new friendship with young medical graduate Elise Saloman, but it soon turns out that Elise has some secrets of her own. When Marta’s shock discovery about her family story coincides with her mother’s apparent suicide, Marta can’t take any more. None of the people she has grown to love and trust are who they seem. Her professional plans unravel, her relationships are in tatters and her sanity is on the line – and one person is behind it all.

Thanks to the author for offering me this book for review!

Prepare to be immersed in a dark world of offbeat people, misogyny and emotion. Marta is a tortured soul struggling to become her own woman and out from under her father’s thumb. Matthews paints an eerie image of a sheltered and awkward heroine, someone the reader can cheer for and support.

As she hesitantly takes steps toward independence, Marta must learn about love, sex, trust, and the truth, no matter how much this knowledge hurts her. Her circumstances seem to sweep her along, regardless of her wishes, as Leopold initiates her in the way of the world — that world being 1920’s Vienna, where most women have yet to find their own voice. Marta’s confusion and vulnerability is described flawlessly, as well as her demons lurking within.

As her relationship with Leopold mutates into a joyless union, Marta finds a way to visit her mother (who has been locked away in an asylum since Marta’s birth). The scenes with her mother are heartrending and melancholic, yet full of love. Marta’s confusion about the woman she has thought about all her life looms large as she confronts the allegations made by Leopold, and there, her questions begin. Soon after, the plot twists start and the action picks up a great deal. The “secrets from the past” alluded to in the book’s blurb are grim and shocking–Marta has decisions to make and we see her maturing and taking control of her life.

Despite the book’s dreary countenance, THE DOCTOR’S DAUGHTER was riveting. The attitudes of the times were described perfectly, and the characters were believably evil and self centered. The character of Marta personifies someone who has inner demons, borne all her life on her own. Her sisters shun her and she is motherless, hence she finds solitude in the dark places of her mind, and with physical solutions that enhance her somber nature.

I found this book evocative and captivating. Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

 

Are the Androids Dreaming Yet? by James Tagg

sas Cover.indd

Alan Turing invented the computer, helped win World War II and left us with one of the greatest puzzles of our time – the imitation game. Can computers do everything a human mind can do? Many scientists think we have a tenuous hold on the title, “most intelligent being on the planet”. They think it’s just a matter of time before computers become smarter than us, and then what? This book charts a journey through the science of information, from the origins of language and logic, to the frontiers of modern physics. From Lewis Carroll’s logic puzzles, through Alan Turing and his work on Enigma, to John Bell’s inequality, and finally the Conway-Kochen ‘Free Will’ Theorem. How do the laws of physics give us our creativity, our rich experience of communication and, especially, our free will?

James Tagg is an inventor and entrepreneur. A pioneer of touchscreen technology, he has founded several companies, including Truphone, the world’s first global mobile network. He holds numerous patents, filed in over a hundred countries. He studied Physics and Computer Science at Manchester University, Design at Lancaster University and Engineering at Cambridge University. He lives with his family on a farm in Kent, England.

 

ARE THE ANDROIDS DREAMING YET? attempts to introduce the lay reader to the landscape of issues surrounding human intelligence and its congruence, or lack thereof, with human intelligence. The author makes an earnest attempt to achieve his goal, and a layperson’s understanding of topics ranging from probability theory to quantum electrodynamics. The tone is light, and each topic is rounded out in just one short chapter. Each chapter concludes with an explanation of how its contents pertain to the way we perceive the relationship between human and machine intelligence. For those who are uninitiated to these topics, the explanations suffice. Such a reader will come out of these segments feeling that they have come to understand something that had previously been far over their heads.

While it is a great thing to bring understanding of complex topics to a lay readership, the unavoidable problem is that the shallowness of the introductions to these topics does not give the reader the tools necessary to follow the author from premise to conclusion. The worst that this problem brings to bear is that the book does not sufficiently address the fact that the conclusions presented are highly contentious in the eyes of professionals in their respective fields. For each mathematical and scientific alcove the author guides the reader through, he seems always to present the conclusion that points most strongly toward human cognition being non-computable. I get the feeling that the author decided before putting pen to paper that he wanted to show that human minds really are special, and then set out to find examples to support him. Nothing in this book indicates that he did the scientifically honest thing: looking at the literature first, and going from there. It doesn’t matter how fringe or mainstream the theory is. If that theory can be twisted to put human beings back in the center of the universe, then you can learn about it by reading this book!

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in the importance of recognizing future AIs as having rights and being deserving of respect, just as any flesh-and-bones creature capable of love, fear, pain, and pleasure is. At the end of the last chapter, the author suggests that we shouldn’t worry about such things since, in 100 years, we probably still won’t be able to fashion an AI. I believe that this sentiment betrays an awesome lack of understanding regarding the power of recursive/iterative development patterns. Humans will not create the first AI. The first AI will probably create itself by means understood by some several dozen people, each of which understand some fraction of the process by which it happened, none understanding it in full. Just as I cannot judge you by your neurobiology because the entirety of your neurobiology is beyond my capacity to comprehend, likewise, we cannot judge the fitness of an AI to deserve rights we reserve for humans because the basis of its being “alive” is not within the possibility of comprehension of any person. Therefore, we simply have to hand those rights over. We also need to have a conversation about AI rights very quickly. Such an intelligence is fast approaching, in spite of the author’s assurance that humans minds perform processes that are non-computable (nonsense!), and that we perform various mental functions that cannot be translated into algorithms and logical circuits (also nonsense).

My final assessment of ANDROIDS is that lay readers will enjoy the expositions of niche topics in science, math, physics, computer science, and philosophy very much, and there is plenty of food for thought here. I would, however, advise savvy readers to keep a keen eye out for fishy-smelling claims and overused superlatives. If something seems odd, Google it.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Loving Someone With Attention Deficit Disorder by Susan Tschudi

LovingSomeonewithADD-CF.indd

Your partner’s attention deficit disorder (ADD) may not seem like a big deal at first, but eventually, the dynamics surrounding his or her impulsivity, forgetfulness, distractibility, and restlessness can really strain your relationship. You don’t want to act like a parent, yet you may feel like you can’t rely on your partner to get things done. Loving Someone with Attention Deficit Disorder is your guide to navigating a relationship with someone with ADD so you can create healthy boundaries while remaining sympathetic to your partner’s symptoms. An essential resource for every couple affected by ADD, this book will help you:

• Understand medication and other treatments
• Recover quickly when your partner’s symptoms frustrate you
• Establish personal boundaries to avoid excessive caretaking
• Identify and take care of your own needs so you can feel more relaxed

 

Thanks to Cassie Kolias at New Harbinger Publications for providing this review copy!

This book is an addition to my AD/HD  shelf. Having read work by renowned author Gina Pera, I was eager to see what this author had to say.

The first chapter was golden. Tschudi’s style is very simple, easy to understand, and speaks to the reader in an understated tone that seems comforting somehow. I especially was affected by the part where she states that ADD is a neurobiological issue—you cannot change your partner no more than you can expect a paraplegic to walk. Obviously you can assist  your partner in managing his life better, but first and foremost, he must see the issue and want to do something about it.

That is where the book begins to break down. Much of the rest of Tschudi’s advice is partly helpful, but not relevant to some situations. I did feel that this work would be most helpful to couples whose communication skills are either minimal or non existent. Many ways to broach uncomfortable subjects are offered, with scenarios detailing “real” couples and ADD-related problems.

Example: Due to the husband’s procrastination, both Clark and Marilyn were always late to church. Marilyn hated this, and was upset that nothing seemed to work; not nagging, not threats, etc. So they both sat down and tried an exercise that Tschudi puts forth: brainstorm and come up with solutions to the problem, no matter how outrageous. Write them all down and discuss each one.

This couple did just that, and came up with the idea that Marilyn would take her own car to church, thereby arriving on time and avoiding the stress and arguing that inevitably occurred. Both parties were happy.

Now for my problem with this: I’m sure there are a lot of situations where the woman would take herself to church and grow old waiting for her ADD husband to show up. The only thing changing here is the woman’s behavior. No one is helping the ADD’er to manage his issue. And this seems to be the tone of the rest of the book: to save yourself from anguish, realize that the ADD’er is suffering from neurobiology and may never be able to live a “normal” life. You must learn to live with it, and the sooner you realize this, the better.

I showed this to my resident ADD’er, and he was nonplussed. He said that just because the woman made it to the church on time, that didn’t address the man’s procrastination, and possibly even rewarded it. His take on it was this:

“When you tell someone that you no longer expect of them something that you have expected of them in the past, you may be relieving them of a responsibility, but you’re also taking something away from them. That person can feel the respect you lose for him, and he see the chance to repair it vanish when you take away the opportunity for him to get it right. Strong relationships are built upon respect. We fight for that respect when we think we can win it, but when we think that we can’t, the motivation to do anything may be gone. Obviously, both parties have a stake in the husband getting out of the house on time, but if our solution is going to be for nobody to expect anything from anyone, then these people might as well just break up. That would be even better because it would eliminate all of the conflict. Problem solved!”

 

Another scenario was a do it yourselfer leaving his unfinished projects in the garage, forcing the wife to park on the street. The “solution” was to have her say to him, “In 3 days I’m going to move your stuff so I can park in the garage”. (Apparently the man hated anyone touching his stuff.) Then she was to say. “In 2 days I’m going to park in the garage, so please move your stuff.”

If the project was not moved, the “solution” was to have the WOMAN MOVE IT HERSELF. Sure, Mr Fix It was mad that his things were touched, but that seems to be adding insult to injury to his wife. Not only did her request go unheeded–but she had to clean up his mess to boot! Not acceptable in my house. My resident ADD’er said this:

As for the matter of the garage that needed cleaning, the author concludes her tale by describing the worst possible outcome. Spoiler: the wife cleans the garage herself. She solved the problem by telling the husband to clean the garage by such-and-such date, or else “I’ll clean it myself.” What did this solve? This husband is being dealt with as if he were a particularly indolent 5th grader. I personally felt embarrassed when Kyle read this passage to me. I said something to the tune of, “I would like to think that this is not a highly recommended way of dealing with me.” We talked about it, and we decided that this book is probably meant for couples with poor communication skills. However, if this is the case, then the book still commits the crime of teaching couples with poor communication skills to deal with each other by acting in antisocial, dysfunctional ways toward each other.

As I continued to read, it seemed as if the only advice being offered me, the non ADD’er, was to understand that this is how the brain works, and the only solution is for ME to change, by not being bothered by the distractability, the mood swings, the unfinished projects, and the empty promises.

This disturbed me. I felt this was akin to putting earplugs in your ears to avoid hearing your child’s tantrum in a crowded restaurant. Yes, AD/HD is neurobiologic in origin, but that doesn’t mean you can try to make your life the best it can be, by taking your meds,  listening to those around you, making lists to help you remember, and knowing your triggers. Sure, spouses of ADD’ers need to take care of themselves too, but hiding your head in the sand about problems and offering a bandaid solution is kind of no solution at all.

So, a mixed review on this one. The sub title does say “improving communication and strengthening your relationship”, and I agree that it accomplishes this task well. Many ways are offered for partners to talk and get the lines open for a meaningful dialogue. However, I do feel that eventually, after the talking is over, the bottom line is that the non ADD’er is supposed to feel better about the improved communication but will still be dealing with the issues. The non ADD’er will have developed healthy personal boundaries and the ability to forgive, but that (to me) only goes so far.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, considering my communication skills are excellent; but I was also hoping for more advice than “Your partner has ADD–forgive him for what he does, as he cannot help it”.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Dogs Don’t Lie: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir by Clea Simon

dogs dont lie

Pru Marlowe isn’t your ordinary animal psychic. A tough girl on the run from her own gift, Pru left the big city to return to her picturesque Berkshires hometown looking for a little peace. Too bad that her training as an animal behaviorist got her mixed up with Lily, a rescue dog, and Charles, her person. Now Charles is dead, and   Lily looks good for it. After all, Lily is a pitbull, a fighting-ring   dropout, and way too traumatized to give Pru a clear picture of what she has witnessed. But Pru knows something about bad girls trying to  clean up, and, with a sense of justice strong enough to overcome her dislike of human society, she takes the case. Listening to the animals, Pru picks up clues–and learns there are secrets in the  pretty little town that make murder look simple. Unable to tell  anybody about her psychic abilities, uncertain at times about her own  sanity, Pru comes to realize that if she clears Lily, she’ll likely become the prime suspect–or the next victim. While the only  creature she can totally trust is her crotchety tabby Wallis, Pru’s  got to uncover the real killer–and find a way to live with her gift–before the real beasts in the town savage her and those she has come to love. The first in the Pru Marlowe “pet noir” series.

 

Thanks to the author for this review copy! When I met her at BookCon 2015, she was signing copies of two books. Fans got to pick which one they wanted and Ms Simon graciously shared a few words with each person as she inscribed their copy. I was intrigued, since I never heard of “pet noir”, and knew right away I wanted to review this book.

Pru is an animal trainer who just happens to be able to “hear” thoughts in her head, thoughts that come from the animals around her, wild or tame. She’s also hovering on the edge of misanthropy, a trait that has carried her through dark times in her past. The author alludes to Pru’s past with tantalizing bits here and there, and the reader must put everything together, like a puzzle with a few missing pieces.

Pru’s tabby cat Wallis, is a typical feline: reticent, self centered, and slothful. She sneeringly communicates with Pru in such a way that her comments seem disingenuous, until Pru makes the connection and it all makes sense. This was a bit hard to get used to in the beginning, until I realized it was being written intentionally in that fashion–I wasn’t missing things due to lack of brain cells.

Simon’s attention to detail in writing about Wallis’ behavior is a joy to behold. She truly describes a cat’s attitude, movements (Wallis “delicately splays a toe” while grooming herself) and complete disinterest; exactly like every cat I’ve ever known! Some of Simon’s best writing is done as she leads the reader into the mind of various critters, such as ferrets, dogs and birds. It was so easy to believe their conversations and mannerisms were true renditions. Every little quirk of dogs sniffing trees or the flock mind of starlings was rendered perfectly. Perhaps this story written in a different way would have seemed surreal or silly. Not so here. I seamlessly moved through the story in a state of belief that yes, Pru could hear these thoughts and the animals could pick hers up as well. No cartoonish Dr Doolittle thing going on here—-this is excellent writing.

The author can render people well too: the tippling town gossip, the sweet talking bad boy, the vapid gum snapping kennel attendant are all easy to picture. And let’s not forget about the plot. There is drama, suspense, and lots of red herrings. Absolutely delightful.

I had a fun time reading DOGS DON’T LIE. It sounds like Ms Simon had a fun time writing it too. I’ll be picking up more of her work in the future.

Want your own copy? Do yourself a favor and read this. You can pick it up here.

 

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