Monthly Archives: July 2017

*** Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

If you are a wine connoisseur, you will want to read Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste — and you will undoubtedly like it. What’s more intriguing is that a non-drinker, or a cynic who thinks that the drinkers who mumble about tasting blueberries and grass and dirt (!) must be faking it, will both find the book fascinating. The author spent a year studying wine (and passing a difficult sommelier exam) and it turns out that it is, indeed, possible to taste blueberries, grass, or dirt, although many experts really use the words to telegraph a particular type of grapes rather than a particular taste. Who knew? She also touches on the restaurant business and restaurant people, and her descriptions of the very rich who are able to buy the most expensive wines could have been excised without diminishing the rest of the story at all. But the tasting stories are worth it!

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** The Dhow House by Jean McNeil

The Dhow House has many strengths: a wonderfully tropical island setting off the coast of Tanzania, a shadowy group of Islamist terrorists, a forgotten extended family, carefully researched birds, and spies! But I found the story unexpectedly slow-moving and focused on the minute feelings of the heroine, for whom I could not get to fully care, whether to love her or to hate her. A more patient and introspective reader may like this book more than I did.

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*** Hit Makers by Derek Thompson

Seamlessly moving from music to politics, movies, and fine art, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction explores the uncertain phenomenon of fame — and as you may surmise there is a large dash of luck in every hit. Still, the most intriguing aspect of popularity is the balance between innovation and familiarity, since humans need a bit of both. The author illustrates his argument with fresh, deftly told stories, and he is not afraid to expose the darker side of applying the psychological methods he explains. The book is easy to read but the ideas will stay with you.

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** Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Overwhelmed Southern Californian woman hires young live-in-nanny to take care of her young son so she can write about the travails of raising her older one (whom she conveniently forgets to mention during the hiring process — but she also forgets to check references and other details one might think are important). Add a couple of strange mothers (the nanny’s and her employer’s), hidden agendas for everyone, and messiness ensues. There are enough deeper moments to enjoy the story, but it’s not much more than a book-length satire of upper-middle class Angelenos.

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* Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

I wanted to like Miss Burma, with its exotic setting and its (probably quite romanced) family story featuring a fearless young woman, but it never quite comes together. I was leery from the start, as the white grandfather notices a beautiful young woman and “falls in love” with her — and marries her — without being able to converse at all, since they speak different languages. And as the story builds it becomes mostly a history lesson of the travails of then-Burma during and after WWII, and specifically the oppression of minority ethnic groups. Too much history, too little story for my taste.

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* Exit West by Mohsin Amid

I am a fan of Mohsin Amid but Exit West left me cold. It starts intriguingly, in a war-torn city that feels like Damascus, with a not-quite-matched couple of lovers who soon determine to leave. And leave they do, entering a half-fantasy world that feels all wrong:  didactic, preachy, and (to me) boring. Too bad, the beginning was promising with its fearless heroine and her conservative boyfriend.

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** Faster, Higher, Farther by Jack Ewing

The subtitle of Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal is somewhat misleading since the author, in fact, tells the entire story of Volkswagen — and I suppose he would argue that we need the entire story to comprehend the scandal. Reaching back into Nazi territory may be taking it a bit far, but it certainly helps understand the family dynasty, and dynamics, which created a culture of authority and submission to the leader that led to  pressures to evade the US emissions tests. (In an American story, the same behaviors would likely be characterized as bowing to the pressure of the market.)

The most interesting part of the story for me was the family story, of how the various cousins participated, or not, in the company and how the family managed to keep control of the voting shares.

 

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