Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Post #36: MASTERMIND: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova

mastermind-sherlock-holmes-konnikovaI confess a weakness for the most brilliant person in the room. People who are great at what they do, whatever their “thing” may be, are my favorites. Excellence is dead sexy, especially when it comes to intelligence and the desire to improve. For this reason, I’m interested in the character of Sherlock Holmes.

Oh, sure, he’s maddening to deal with — abrupt, insensitive, and distant at times — but the skill with which he gathers and assesses information is why his character has endured since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created him in 1887. In Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Maria Konnikova examines what goes into Holmes’ process, the way he can block out all other distractions in order to solve his cases, and how ordinary people can use these skills in their everyday life.

(Read the rest of my review at Glorified Love LettersPlus enter to win a copy of the book.)

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Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #35: Proxy by R Erica Doyle

proxy-poems-r-erica-doyle(Forgot to post this one awhile back!)

My review of R Erica Doyle’s very good poetry collection, Proxy, appeared at The Rumpus.

“A change of position, a change of time — R. Erica Doyle’s Proxy moves through the heady, consuming stages of desire, explosion, depression, and peace within the life-cycle of a relationship. Her prose poems are unafraid of the body, of queerness, and the messiness into which one can willingly dive.”

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Reviews #32-34: Ron Currie Jr., Isabel Allende, & Rayya Elias

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr.

I read Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles right after Kristopher Jansma’s The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, and they complimented each other to the point of Miracles almost reading like a sequel to Leopards. Both deal with unreliable male protagonists speaking to the reader, men who need some enlightening on matters of women and healthy relationships.

I preferred Jansma’s book, but Miracles is still quite good. Currie’s self-named character somewhat accidentally fakes his own death in the Caribbean, and as a result, his novel becomes a bestseller. He misses the woman with whom he’d lived “pre-death,” and eventually coming “back to life” makes the public unhappy with upending their Lost Genius fiction they’d constructed in his absence. We all have stories we tell ourselves, and facing their inaccuracies is startling.

The earliest known mention of a person enhanced with a prosthesis, believe it or not, comes from the Vedas. We’re talking 1500 B.C., or thereabouts. A female warrior loses her leg, and is given a replacement. We’ve had 3,500 years to get used to the idea, yet when I talk about the Singularity, people still get an indulgent look on their faces, like they’re humoring me and my absurd notions of human beings with brain/computer interfaces and titanium exoskeletons. I mean, they’re polite about it, usually, which I appreciate. But, you know, 1500 B.C. The first time a person was joined with a machine, however primitive. Consider that, I tell them, then ask yourself: Who’s being naïve, do you think?

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

Also dealing with questions of identity and existing in hiding is Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende, released this past May. In it, Maya Vidal alternates between writing about living in Chile with a friend of her grandmother’s, and also the self-destructive path that brought her there. The scenery shifts between Berkeley, the Pacific Northwest, Las Vegas, and Chiloé.

Although the book is nearly 400 pages, it never feels like it goes on too long, and the diary premise never seems forced. Maya’s story hurtles along, and Allende, no matter the location, immerses you in a way where you can nearly taste the weather. And there’s a fair dose of humor too:

The cousin showed up an hour later than he said he would in a van crammed to the roof with stuff, accompanied by his wife with a baby at her breast. I thanked my benefactors, who had also lent me the cell phone to get in touch with Manual Arias, and said good-bye to the dog, but he had other plans: he sat at my feet and swept the ground with his tail, smiling like a hyena; he had done me the favor of honoring me with his attention, and now I was his lucky human. I changed tactics. “Shoo! Shoo! Fucking dog,” I shouted at him in English. He didn’t move, while the cousin observed the scene with pity. “Don’t worry, señorita, we can bring your Fahkeen,” he said at last. And in this way that ashen creature acquired his new name[.]

Both present and past storylines are riveting, and I can see this book also becoming a good movie. It wouldn’t surprise me if the rights have already been sold.

Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, From The Middle East to The Lower East Side by Rayya Elias

Yes, that title is a mouthful, but this New York memoir from Rayya Elias is an interesting portrait of redemption. At this point in my reading life, I admit to tiring of the addict memoir, but that doesn’t mean that these stories aren’t worth telling. It comes down to the surrounding environment, when I decide on giving the book my attention. It was the post-punk angle that sucked me into this one.

Elias and her family left Syria when she was young, and the rebellious teenager took to drugs in order to impress her tougher classmates:

For the first time I had earned street credibility — not because of my cool cousin, but because of what I had done. I was christened into the club of the psychos[.]

She joins a lot of bands, learns how to cut and style hair, and eventually moves to New York during the 1980s. She rises and falls multiple times, including a stint in prison. Although Elias isn’t the strongest writer, I appreciate that Harley Loco isn’t one of those “hit rock bottom/ climbed out/ everything is fine now” stories. Rayya Elias, though many years sober, shows the reality of her struggle, and how art can transcend addiction.

Full Disclosure: Viking provided me with review copies of both Harley Loco and Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles. Harper provided the review copy of Maya’s Notebook. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.

(These reviews originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #31: Simon’s Cat vs. The World by Simon Tofield

Simon's Cat vs. The WorldWe’re going to do something a little different this time because, well, to be honest, the idea amuses me. While I am certainly a great lover of cats and comics/cartoons,Simon’s Cat vs. The World struck me as something my six-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter would also enjoy. Anyone who knows my son knows he operates in his own amusing, creative universe, and my daughter is a voracious reader who can’t believe I’m not blowing through the Harry Potter series just once while she’s gone through it three times. (I’m about to start Book 4, at her insistence. Yes, I’m late to the party, as usual.)

So while I can tell you that Simon Tofield’s kitty creation is both very funny and full of detail, I wanted to know what my kids had to say.

Jack: “I like the part with the couch because he’s like AAAHHH!! with his paw. And the bird box is funny because the bird pops out and the birds are just like Yeah! I like the sticker with the arrow pointing into cat’s mouth because it’s like the cat is saying,Feed me.”

Grace: “I like the drawing lessons in the back because I like drawing a lot and I like cats. The book is really funny. The Godzilla part was my favorite.”

Jack: “And how could you conquer the Godzilla?”

Grace: “I don’t know, it was the shadow of the Godzilla toy. And Simon looked fiercer the dinosaur toy’s shadow.”

Jack: “Well, I don’t really see how that’s conquering it.”

(I think the cat’s ongoing war with the hedgehogs is my favorite.)

The included stickers and drawing lessons are also a great inclusion with the full color illustrations. The way Tofield explains his relatively simple way of drawing different animals is something even a semi-inept artist such as myself could handle. My daughter, on the other hand, could practically do it in her sleep. The kids got right to work on their own Simon the Cat artwork.

(Click on through to Glorified Love Letters for both their artwork and the rest of my review.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #30: Half as Happy: Stories by Gregory Spatz

Half as Happy by Gregory SpatzYou know a book is good if you only stop reading so that you can tell the author, at 1 AM via Facebook, how much you are enjoying it. The evening I began reading it, I’d plans to watch Doctor Who, which, if you know me, is serious business. I thought I would read a little, then turn on the TV. No, I kept reading. Let it be known: Gregory Spatz’s new story collection, Half as Happy, is a wonderfully gratifying little book.

This is the passage, from the story “Happy For You,” that had me thinking, Jesus, this guy is good at opening paragraphs, and that’s when I jumped online to tell him so:

For the moment, she is asleep — an ethereal gray sleep, something like the color of brain matter or of wet cement at dawn, or of the light seeping across her ceiling. A window fan at the foot of her bed whisks air into the room — wet, early spring air — furls and unfurls it around her, keeping her aloft in her dreams.

[…]The phone rings, jerking her from this gray ethereality, aches in her joints and muscles all previously dissolved out of reason magically reasserting themselves.

(My full review can be found at Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #29: The Girlfriend Game by Nick Antosca

The Girlfriend Game by Nick AntoscaA few years ago, I read Nick Antosca’s novel, Midnight Picnic, a ghost story unlike any I’d read before (though, admittedly, that might not mean much, as my horror-swath is not so widespread). I enjoyed it immensely, so when I was able to get my mitts on his new collection of short stories, The Girlfriend Game, I had high expectations for satisfyingly surreal, dark situations.

When the stories “Predator Bait” and “Soon You Will Be Gone and Possibly Eaten” distracted me from my current Netflix obsessions, I knew I was once again in good literary hands. Yes, yes, the old guard intellectual hope is that a love of books trumps television, but television has writers too. Nick Antosca is one of them (Teen WolfLast Resort). Perhaps it is that innate sense of urgency, the need to fit all the necessary information into a smaller 22 or 48 minute package, that makes The Girlfriend Gameso enjoyable. These aren’t happy tales, but the confusion, loneliness, and yearning for change feels so authentic to each individual world.

(My full review can be found on Persephone Magazine.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #28: The Ocean at The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

06-26-Reads-Ocean-at-the-End-of-the-Lane-by-Neil-GaimanWould you believe that this is only the second Neil Gaiman book that I’ve ever read? I know, I am disappointed in this reading gap too, as it has happened for no good reason. I enjoy Gaiman’s writing immensely, and his new novel, The Ocean at The End of The Lane did not disappoint.

Existing in that shadowy space between reality and dream, our unnamed narrator visits the Sussex farmland of his childhood neighbors. At seven years old, he spent a surreal series of nights with Lettie Hempstock and her mother and grandmother – a past he hasn’t given much thought to until now. From there, we are submerged in those dark times when a man committed suicide near his home, and his relationship with his family became frightening. Seeming far older than her outwardly young appearance, Lettie promises to take care of the boy, and what happens is a story that I think will require a reread to fully appreciate in detail.

(Read the rest of my review at Persephone Magazine.)