*** Something to Hide by Deborah Moggach

 

Something to Hide is an utterly unpretentious and fun story of four women whose fates are shown to intertwine after many twists and many secrets (most from one woman to the other). I was concerned at first that the four far-flung locations would be exploited with heavy descriptions of travel and local attractions, but they end up fitting completely into the story and giving it the mysteries it needs. Yes, it’s a madcap pace but the emotions of the women are real and well-rendered.

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* As Long As We Both Shall Eat by Claire Stewart

Perhaps I should have expected that a book with the cutest title of As Long As We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts would not be the next organized book around. And indeed, it bulges with all kinds of stories and anecdotes, most related to weddings, but many not, vaguely categorized in chapters that themselves meander quite a bit. We do read eclectic facts such as charging for wedding beer in 17th century England, bride to be force-feeding in Western Africa, and rules for Disneyland weddings (no”non-matching” characters allowed).

Avoid.

 

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* The Man Who Knew by Sebastian Mallaby

I suspect that most people who boast of  having read The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan have not, in fact, persevered through 800 pages. (I did, but quickly…)  It’s too bad, since we should probably all know a little more about the Federal Reserve Bank and how financial policy is set but a book this long and this detailed will comfort us in the thought that all this stuff is just too complicated and too tedious.

My favorite part of the book, as is often the case, was Greenspan personal history, a math prodigy raised by a single mother who was utterly devoted to him, and who saw himself at a pure libertarian and statistician — quite at odds with his later political career as a regulator!

The book focuses on his not seeing the 2008 bubble coming, which is a little too easy to say in hindsight — but certainly it was no secret that the real-estate market was bubbling. And to fill the 800 pages we get abundant details about Ayn Rand’s lovers, White House parties, how Greenspan proposed to his second wife, and of course who said what to whom at various Oval Office meetings. Where are the Cliff Notes?

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*** The Widow Nash by Jaimee Harrison

The heroine of The Widow Nash is not a widow, but an escapee of an abusive suitor and an oppressive family who, in her mid-twenties, settles in a small Montana town where she tries to rebuild a life, incognito, and even find love. What would be impossible today (disappearing without a trace) is rarely possible in 1904, at least with a determined ex-fiance, but it works, just about, and we get a story  that mixes small-town gossip and violence with a life very well-traveled, since Mrs Nash has accompanied her mine-owner father around the globe. Despite a few longish and not entirely needed stories about developing Yellowstone attractions, bravo!

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** Because of Sex by Gillian Thomas

Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work is the clever title of a book that reviews famous sex-discrimination lawsuits that followed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which beside protecting the rights of minorities also contained provision (Title VII) to protect women against discrimination. We find mothers who are denied jobs because they have young children (when fathers would get said jobs, no questions asked, state troopers who must weigh more than most women, regardless of their ability to run, or fight, and would-be partners in consulting firms that are just not “lady-like enough” to become partners — along with a string of victims of more or less egregious sexual harassment. We’ve come a long way, painfully for all the plaintiffs who all waited years for justice, got very little money, and had moved to other careers, for the most part, by the time the final judgements came down.

(I found the detailed rendering of the legal maneuvers tedious, hence the two-star rating. Still think the book is worth reading, if you are comfortable flipping pages in the middle of each chapter.)

To close: the author notes that Title VII only applies to employers with less than 15 employees, which means that up to 20% of workers do not enjoy its protection. Maybe we should change that, right?

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*** The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy

The Sisters Chase starts like a standard sob story about two orphaned girls, but it quickly evolves into a tale of blackmail, family secrets, and a dark heroine in the person of the older sister. Despite the plot twists, the story is surprisingly predictable after the initial shock, and the ending was, for me, way too sweet and packaged, but how wonderful it is to have a borderline sociopathic young woman at the center of the story.

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** Pinpoint by Greg Milner

I’m going to both recommend reading Pinpoint: How GPS is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds and also warn potential readers that it is unreadable in parts, laden with jargon, acronyms, and technical details that seem not to bring much to the story. But every time we turn on driving directions on our phones, ride in a plane that reliably finds the airport, consult the weather app, eat food that was grown in the field tilled by a GPS-guided tractor, or any normal activity we barely think about, we are relying on technology that seemed indistinguishable from magic just a couple of decades ago. (Yes, children, we ancient ones used to use paper maps to get places. It worked, mostly.)

 

As most magical technologies, GPS started with underwhelming excitement. Air Force pilots, when presented with early versions, reacted with, “It tells you where you are. I know where I am, why do I need a damn satellite to tell me where I am?” It brings to mind the early forecasts for computer sales, doesn’t it? The best part of the book is the history of the industry, which quickly adapted military early research (and of course used the satellites that make it all possible). When the author tries to explain how our view of the world changes with the new technology, he is less successful.

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Filed under Non fiction