Monthly Archives: September 2010

Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

I chose to read this book because I read about the necessity of 10 000 hours of practice to master something; music, computer programming etc, and I was intrigued.

Gladwell has a very accessible and entertaining style. Here is the blurb …

Why do some people achieve so much more than others? Can they lie so far out of the ordinary?

In his provocative and inspiring new book, Malcolm Gladwell looks at everyone from rockstars to professional athletes, software billionaires to scientific geniuses, to show that the story of success is far more surprising than we could ever have imagined. He reveals that it’s as much about where we’re from and what we do, as who we are – and no one, not even a genius, ever makes it alone.

In the first section of the book Gladwell looks at individual success – starting with professional sport. He noticed in the NHL that most players have birthdays in the first three months of the year. It turns out that the cut-off for junior hockey is the first of January. A child born on the first of January is in the same competition as one born on the thirty first of December. At the beginning years of hockey the January children will be a little bit bigger and a bit more mature. They will be picked for teams more often and get extra coaching and practice thus improving and going on to be picked for more specialist coaching, etc. Gladwell isn’t implying that the children born earlier in the year don’t have talent, they do, but they also have an added opportunity. This bonus opportunity is also used to explain software geniuses, scientists and extremely successful lawyers. However, it’s not only opportunity that makes the difference – these people also work hard. Ten thousand hours to be precise. Gladwell also looks at IQ and determines that IQ alone isn’t enough to determine success. You need to be ‘smart enough’, but after that it’s more to do with opportunity, personality and hard work.

The second section of the book is all about cultural legacy. Even though we may have moved countries patterns of behaviour set by our ancestors influence us today – sometimes in positive ways and sometimes not. There is an interesting section on the relationship between Captains and First Officers. First Officers from some cultures find it very difficult to tell the Captain they think he has made a mistake. They hint at the issue, but often the Captain simply ignores them. This reticence has lead to crashes. There are positive legacies as well. Descendants of the rice farmers of China value hard work (apparently being a rice farmer is very hard). Gladwell argues that the Asian tendency to be good at mathematics is in part due to their high work ethic – they work hard therefore they achieve success.

I found this book to be fascinating. I like to think that hard work and perseverance will be rewarded with success. If you’re interested in popular culture, human nature or education, then I think you would enjoy reading this book.

Here is more information ..

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Filed under Non-Fiction, Recommended

Wicked Appetite – Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich can certainly write an entertaining (and compelling) read. I’m not saying she’s an Austen or Bronte, but her novels are full of laugh-out-loud moments – racy and pacy as a friend says.

Here’s the blurb …

Seven Stones of Power

No one knows when they were created or by whom, each said to represent one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

For centuries, treasure hunters have been eager to possess the Stones, undeterred by their corrupting nature. The list is long – Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, to name a few. Now the Stones have found their way to Salem, Massachusetts, and so has Gerwulf Grimoire, adding himself to this rogue’s gallery of power seekers. He’s an uncommonly dangerous man with a hunger for the forbidden and a set of abilities that is way beyond ordinary. Abilities that he feels entitle him to possess anything he might desire.

That would include Elizabeth Tucker, the woman he needs to find the Stones. She’s freshly transplanted from New York City to Boston’s North Shore. With a new job as a Pastry Chef at Dazzle’s Bakery and an old house inherited from her Aunt Ophelia, her life is pretty much on track … until it’s suddenly derailed by a man named Diesel, a rude monkey and a ninja cat.

Lizzy can handle the monkey and the cat. She’s not sure about Diesel. He’s offering up his own set of unusual talents and promising to protect her from Grimoire, the kind of protection that Lizzy suspects might involve guarding her body day and night.

The Seven Deadly Sins are pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, sloth and gluttony. That pretty much covers everything that is wicked. Diesel thinks it also pretty much covers everything that’s fun. And Lizzy thinks Diesel and the Seven Deadly Sins cover everything her mother warned her about.

In this novel Evanovich embarks on a whole new series (Seven I imagine given the ‘Seven Stones of Power’) with a new heroine and a new setting. Elizabeth Tucker lives in Marblehead  and makes exceptionally good cupcakes. Our hero, Diesel, we’ve met  before in the Stephanie Plum between the numbers novels; he has special powers and his job is policing other people with special powers.

Elizabeth is an unmentionable (i.e she has special powers); she can locate special objects like the stones of power (and her amazing cupcakes might also be part of her power). Only two people in the world have this talent – her and a strange man who lives in Florida. Gerwulf (called Wulf for short), an evil and scary man who kills people by burning them with his hands, wants all of the stones so that he can create hell on earth. Diesel wants to find the Stones and hand them over to BUM (Board of Unmentionable Marshalls). What follows is a riotous romp involving, a one-eyed cat, a monkey, explosions, gluttony of various different kinds (food, punishment, etc), spells gone wrong (performed by Glo, Elizabeth’s work colleague, – the Lula of this series) and a bit of sexual tension. Apparently unmentionables can’t have sex because one of them will lose their powers.

If you like the Stephanie Plum novels, then you will enjoy this one.

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Filed under Fiction - Light, Recommended

Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson

I’ve always liked Kate Atkinson’s novels. Whenever I see a new one I have to grab it straight away. This one was no exception – I really enjoyed it.

Here’s the blurb …

A day like any other for security chief Tracy Waterhouse, until she makes a purchase she hadn’t bargained for. One moment of madness is all it takes for Tracy’s humdrum world to be turned upside down, the tedium of everyday life replaced by fear and danger at every turn.

Witnesses to Tracy’s Faustian exchange in the Merrion Centre in Leeds are Tilly, an elderly actress teetering on the brink of her own disaster, and Jackson Brodie, who has returned to his home county in search of someone else’s roots. All three learn that the past is never history and that no good deed goes unpunished.

The story is told from the view points of the three protagonists; Tilly, Jackson and Tracy. Each of them have a unique voice and are believable as characters – I particularly enjoyed Tilly’s descent into dementia.

Tracy, as a young police officer, attended the scene of a murder (the body was undiscovered for three weeks). The victim had a young child who managed to survive for the three weeks on the food he could scavenge or reach in the flat. This child enters the welfare system and effectively disappears. Jackson Brodie is trying to trace the origins of Hope McMaster who was adopted and now wants to know about her past. Tilly is an aging actress fending off senility.  Their paths cross in unusual and unexpected ways and the ending although appearing to head in a particular direction is surprising.

Alongside the three main people, there is a cast of well written characters – the dodgy (and incredibly sexist) police, Julia (Jackson’s ex-lover), the actress with whom Tilly shares a house, I could go on for ever.

Atkinson creates a real sense of place – a grim, dark and dirty place.

Although this is quite a dark novel, there are a few light-hearted moments that keep it from being too depressing.

Here are some other reviews …

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Filed under Fiction - Light, Recommended

Bookshop on Jacaranda Street – Marlish Glorie

I selected this book for my book club. I went to the book shop and asked for something that wasn’t depressing and this was what they suggested. I didn’t really like it, but I didn’t hate it either. I didn’t care about the characters at all – the dialogue (particularly between Vivian and Gabriel) was wooden. It started well – the first chapter was great and I had such high hopes. I was also hoping for more Perth/Fremantle imagery – this novel could have been set any where.

Here’s the blurb …

Meet the Budd-Doyles: a suburban family in shambles, and about to unravel further as Helen Budd-Doyle in one fell swoop destroys her bed, abandons the family home, and buys a second-hand bookshop form a man in a pub – leaving her bewildered junk-collecting husband Arnold to sort out his life.  But he can’t.  Enter Gabriel, one of their sons, wreaking havoc as he pushes his father to sell off the accrued junk of a lifetime.  Add a little sibling rivalry with his brother Vivian fresh home and licking his wounds from a life in far north . . . and watch the fireworks on Jacaranda Street.

The Bookshop on Jacaranda Street is a brilliant black comedy by a unique new Australia voice, its world peopled by an extensive cast of misfits – eccentrics, innocents, cranks and pariahs – and driven by an inexorable urge to make order out of chaos.

If only life was like a book . . . in that everything made sense and you know all will be resolved in the end.  If only life was like a book so that, if you decided you didn’t like it, you could take it back and get another one.

Here are some other reviews …


Filed under Fiction - Light

Bleak House – Charles Dickens

This was a marathon reading task, but I’m quite pleased that I finished it. I liked it. A lot. Unlike Little Dorrit, which I thought needed editing, I enjoyed all aspects of this novel.

Here is a synopsis from Wikipedia

Sir Leicester Dedlock and Honoria, Lady Dedlock (his junior by more than twenty years) live at his estate of Chesney Wold. Unbeknownst to Sir Leicester, Lady Dedlock had a lover, Captain Hawdon, before her marriage to Sir Leicester — and had a child by him, Esther Summerson. Lady Dedlock, believing her daughter to be dead, has chosen to live out her days ‘bored to death’ as a fashionable lady of the world.

Esther is raised by Miss Barbary, Lady Dedlock’s spartan sister, who instills a sense of worthlessness in her that Esther will battle throughout the novel. Esther does not realize that Miss Barbary is her aunt, thinking of her only as her godmother. When Miss Barbary dies, the Chancery lawyer “Conversation” Kenge takes charge of Esther’s future on the instruction of his client, John Jarndyce. Jarndyce becomes Esther’s guardian, and after attending school in Reading for six years, she goes to live with him at Bleak House, along with his wards, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare. Esther is to be Ada’s companion.

Esther soon befriends both Ada and Richard, who are cousins. They are named beneficiaries in one of the wills at issue in Jarndyce and Jarndyce; their guardian is a beneficiary under another will, and in some undefined way the two wills conflict. Richard and Ada soon fall in love, but though Mr. Jarndyce does not oppose the match, he does stipulate that Richard (who suffers from inconstancy of character) must first choose a profession. When Richard mentions the prospect of benefiting from the resolution of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, John Jarndyce beseeches him never to put faith in what he calls “the family curse”.

Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock is also a beneficiary under one of the wills in Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Early in the book, while listening to her solicitor, the close-mouthed but shrewd Mr. Tulkinghorn, read an affidavit aloud, she recognizes the handwriting on the copy. The sight affects her so much that she almost faints, which Tulkinghorn notes and thinks important enough to investigate. He recognizes that Lady Dedlock has focused on the affidavit’s handwriting, and seeks to trace the copyist. He discovers that the copyist was a pauper known only as “Nemo” and that he has recently died. The only person to identify him is a street-sweeper, a poor homeless boy named Jo.

Lady Dedlock also investigates the matter, disguising herself as her French maid, Mademoiselle Hortense. In disguise, she pays Jo to take her to Nemo’s grave. Meanwhile, convinced that Lady Dedlock’s secret might be a threat to the interests of his client, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Tulkinghorn begins to watch her every move, even enlisting the aid of the maid, who detests her.

Esther happens to meet her mother unwittingly at a church service and has a conversation with her afterwards at Chesney Wold – though, at first, neither woman recognizes the tie that binds them. Later, Lady Dedlock realises that her abandoned child is not dead, but is, in fact, Esther. She waits to confront Esther with this knowledge until Esther has survived a bout with an unidentified disease (possibly smallpox, as it permanently disfigures her), which she contracted from her maid Charley (whom she devotedly nursed back to health). Though they are happy at being reunited, Lady Dedlock tells Esther that they must never recognize their connection again.

Meanwhile, Esther has recovered her health, but her beauty is supposedly ruined. She finds that Richard, having tried and failed at several professions, has ignored his guardian’s advice and is wasting all his resources in trying to push Jarndyce and Jarndyce to a conclusion (in his and Ada’s favour). Further, he has broken with his guardian, under the influence of his lawyer, the odious and crafty Mr. Vholes. In the process of becoming an active litigant, Richard has lost all his money and is breaking his health. In further defiance of John Jarndyce, he and Ada have secretly married, and Ada is carrying Richard’s child. Esther experiences her own romance when Dr. Woodcourt, who knew her before her illness, returns from his mission and continues to seek her company despite her disfigurement. Unfortunately, Esther has already agreed to marry her guardian, John Jarndyce.

Hortense and Tulkinghorn discover the truth about Lady Dedlock’s past. After a quiet but desperate confrontation with the lawyer, Lady Dedlock flees her home, leaving a note apologizing for her conduct. Tulkinghorn dismisses Hortense, no longer any use to him. Feeling abandoned and betrayed by Lady Dedlock and Tulkinghorn, Hortense kills Tulkinghorn and seeks to frame Lady Dedlock for his murder. On discovering his lawyer’s death and his wife’s flight, Sir Leicester suffers a catastrophic stroke but manages to communicate that he forgives his wife and wants her to return to him.

Inspector Bucket, who up to now has investigated several matters on the periphery of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, accepts the commission of the stricken Sir Leicester to find Lady Dedlock. He suspects Lady Dedlock, even after he arrests George Rouncewell (the only other person known to be with Tulkinghorn on the night of the murder, and known to have quarrelled with the lawyer repeatedly). Nonetheless, Bucket pursues the charge given to him by Sir Leicester and ultimately calls on Esther to assist in the search for Lady Dedlock. By this point, Bucket has cleared Lady Dedlock’s name by discovering Hortense’s guilt, but she has no way to know this, and, wandering London in cold and bitter weather, she ultimately dies at the cemetery where her former lover Captain Hawdon (Nemo) is buried. Esther and Bucket find her there.

Developments in Jarndyce and Jarndyce seem to take a turn for the better when a later will is discovered which revokes all previous wills and leaves the bulk of the estate to Richard and Ada. At the same time, John Jarndyce releases Esther from their engagement and she and Dr. Woodcourt become engaged. They go to Chancery to find Richard and to discover what news there might be of the lawsuit’s resolution. To their horror, they discover that the new will is given no chance to resolve Jarndyce and Jarndyce, for the costs of litigation have consumed the estate, and as there is nothing left to litigate, the case melts away. After hearing this, Richard collapses, and Dr Woodcourt determines that he is in the last stages of consumption. Richard apologizes to John Jarndyce and succumbs, leaving Ada alone with their child, a boy whom she names Richard. Jarndyce takes in Ada and the child. Esther and Woodcourt marry and live in Yorkshire, in a house which Jarndyce gives to them. In time, they have two daughters.

Many of this intricate novel’s subplots deal with the minor characters and their diverse ties to the main plot. One of these subplots is the hard life and happy though difficult marriage of Caddy Jellyby and Prince Turveydrop. Another focuses on George Rouncewell’s rediscovery of his family at Chesney Wold and his reunion with his mother and brother.

There is so much going on in this novel – mystery, romance, court drama. Esther Summerson is another unbelievably good heroine ( a bit like Amy Dorrit). The characters are brilliant – Mr Bucket, Mrs Jellyby  and her African causes, the child-like Mr Skimpole, the lovely Allan Woodcourt and the lost Richard Carstone.

This is my favourite Dickens so far…

Here are some other reviews …


Filed under Recommended, Serious