Monthly Archives: March 2014

** Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker

Mercy Snow is a poor young woman who finds herself embroiled in a harsh battle with the town’s once-wealthy family, the owners of the local paper mill that provide employment for almost all the families of the small town where she lives with her brother and young sister. The conflict is between Mercy and June, the mill owner’s wife, who is intent of  getting Mercy’s brother blamed for a deadly accident.

The best part of the story, for me, were a couple of  minor characters:  Mercy’s employer, a female sheep farmer who has a secret of her own and is not afraid to stand up to June, and Mercy’s little sister whose meandering ways were very endearing and true to life.

For the rest, the plot is discernible from the first pages, and unfortunately the thickly rendered contrast between rich (or used-to-be-rich) June vs. poor Mercy weighs upon every detail, so it’s slow going, Since the main characters of Mercy and June are drawn as caricatures of the poor and cunning versus the rich and entitled, there’s not much else to savior.

Unfortunately, the

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* Balance by Nik Wallenda

Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line is the story of  a most unusual family business: the business of aerial performing. This is a business in which your childhood memories may include watching your grandfather fall to his death and watching your parents struggle financially even if they are the best at what they do, just because entertainment choices have changed with the advent of TV and other options. And it’s a business in which the author has thrived because of his willingness and ability to create big challenges (such as walking across the Niagara Falls) and to arrange complex financing and PR for them. That part of the story I found very interesting.

The rest, not so much. The organization of the materials and the writing is rather awkward. And the faith part of the story grated on me: every good thing is God’s gift, but somehow every misadventure, and there are many of them, has nothing to do with God. What a convenient arrangement.

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** I Forgot to Remember by Su Meck

A ceiling fan fell on the head of the author of I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia decades ago and literally erased all her memories until then. She forgot everything, from how to walk to the fact that she was married with two little children. It sounds like a movie (and indeed, she reminds us that her form of amnesia, which is very rare, is often coined “Hollywood amnesia”) but her memories never came back and it turns out that it is very difficult to exist without a past, at least without a distant past.

What I liked about the book was the author’s complete openness about her struggles (sometimes too much openness, as when she awkwardly tackles the topic of her marital problems) and the un-selfconscious manner in which she describes her ordeal, even as she admits hiding it very carefully until now. It’s surreal to think that she was sent home after just a few weeks to care for two babies when she could barely take care of herself, for instance! Along the way, because she has to rely on other people’s memories, she also exposes how very unreliably we (non-amnesiac) remember the past. Her husband seems not to remember the most basic facts about the timing of her accident and many other details, for instance.

The memoir seems to meander to less interesting and more squirm-inducing topics as it moves along, so may have been better with 50 fewer pages, but hers is certainly an interesting life that poses interesting questions about rehab for traumatic brain injuries.


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** The Everything Store by Brad Stone

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon is a classically built business story, reminding us that Amazon was not always the behemoth it is today but had humble beginnings when innovation consisted in procuring a table to pack books rather than having to pack on the floor! Apart from describing the move from packing tables to sophisticated fulfillment centers replete with robots to handle the packing, the author explains how Amazon bullied publishers into sweetheart deals on e-books and, infamously, patented the one-click buying protocol. He also tells the story of Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, somewhat awkwardly sandwiching it between company milestones.


Three things stood out for me in this book. One is the very deliberate business choices made by Amazon from the very start. We may think of Amazon as a bookstore, but books were chosen mainly for their fit with the online-selling model, not any particular love of books per se. Amazon is headquartered in Washington state to minimize the need of paying sales tax (although several states, including California, have successfully sued and won against Amazon, thereby changing its distribution model.)  Second,  Jeff Bezos made many, many bad bets along the way, including misguided investments in such notorious flops as, as well as internal failures such as an auction site to compete with eBay. And three, the most remarkable accomplishment of Amazon, foreshadowed in its early “innovation” of using packing tables, may well be its reinvention of the traditional way of preparing orders, replacing it with innovative software and robots.

That said, I found my attention wandering at times. The minutiae of which Marketing VP got yelled out at what meeting just did not seem that compelling to me…

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*** Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway

In Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, the heroine-detective solves the murder of a friend while ingesting large quantities of drugs and alcohol and ruminating about past cases, more or less personal, as is her usual style. Various only-in-San-Francisco characters provide an entertaining background to the mostly dark plot. It’s hard to believe that she can function as a human being, let alone as a detective, with so many chemicals in her body — but the story is nicely twisted.

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** Sorry! The English and Their Manners by Henry Hitchings

Sorry!: The English and Their Manners is a rather meandering history of manners view from a British perspective, which never manages to choose between a comprehensive history and a string of amusing anecdotes and therefore never gelled fully for me. That being said, I enjoyed reading about etiquette suggestions from yore (“Don’t encourage friends to smell stinky stuff” — who knew?) as well as the overly tactful comments of today (“We must have lunch” — as in never!) I just wish the book could have been more cohesive.


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The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol

I should have listened to my sister, who discouraged me from reading  The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles. (I had seen a good review somewhere, I mercifully forget by whom.) In this highly improbable story, a woman is deserted by her philandering husband but finds riches, and eventually fame not to mention self-respect and a new husband, by penning a novel that is published under her sister’s name. So what did I find so painful about this book? For starters, the plot is utterly unbelievable. Here’s a supposedly serious researcher who writes a long novel by, apparently, never going to her job as a serious researcher. A sister who only pretends to write and is never found out despite her complete lack of knowledge of the novel. A twin brother mysteriously descended from the sky, for goodness’ sake! And that’s without mentioning the mysterious bastard of the British royal family. This is not a madcap comedy, this is madness.

On top of the unlikely plot, the details seem far-fetched and sometimes plain wrong. The younger daughter magically gets hired by a designer. What’s the likelihood of that? The sister’s husband hires her to do English-to-French translations when she has no experience — but bona fide translators abound in Paris. The train from Paris to the Alps stops at the wrong  station in Lyon.

And the descriptions are so replete with supposedly iconic French details that I had difficulty believing that the book was actually written and published in France, since it reads like a bad travel memoir, complete with regular gastronomic descriptions and chicly-dressed women. So despite the very delightful, but alas minor character of the grandfather’s devoted secretary and mistress, and the wholly readable, breezy writing style (judging from the English translation), I had to push myself to finish the book. Be warned, there are several sequels!



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