Saturday, August 13, 2011

July Book Report

The Mozart Conspiracy
By Scott Mariani
Simon & Schuster, 2011. 337 pgs. Fiction.

As a former British SAS officer, Ben Hope has a valuable skill set that he uses to help individuals in a variety of crisis situations. After rescuing a kidnapping victim, Ben’s hopes of several weeks of recuperation are destroyed by a call from a close friend’s sister, who also happens to be Ben’s ex. Leigh’s brother died months ago in an apparent accident, however recent events are making the circumstances surrounding his death look more and more suspect and Leigh’s own life has now been threatened. Here enters an intriguing and dangerous puzzle involving Mozart’s mysterious death and the Freemason movement of the late 18th Century.

This book has been described as “James Bond meets Jason Bourne meets The Da Vinci Code,” which is a tall order to fill. But Scott Mariani succeeds in this exciting adventure novel. The Mozart Conspiracy is the first American release for a British series that currently has six installments. I am anxiously looking forward to the next volume’s US release. Enthusiastically recommended!

A Young Wife
By Pam Lewis
Simon & Schuster, 2011. 289 pgs. Historical Fiction.

Based loosely on the life of the author’s grandmother, A Young Wife tells the story of Minke van Aisma. At the age of 15, Minke is sent to Amsterdam from her small fishing village to care for the dying wife of a wealthy businessman named Sander DeVries. After only a few months, the wife dies and Minke is caught completely off-guard when Sander proposes marriage and a plan to leave the Netherlands for opportunities in Argentina. Mistaking an exciting infatuation with lasting love, Minke agrees to the marriage and is soon saying farewell to her family and homeland. However, life in Argentina fails to live up to Sander’s promises and Minke is forced to face the consequences of her rash decision to marry a man she barely knew.

I thought the most interesting part of A Young Wife was the descriptions of turn of the century Netherlands, Argentina, and New York. Each stage of Minke’s journey illuminated the lives of immigrants who left the Old World searching for happiness in the New. I finished the book a bit curious as to what portions of the story were true and which portions were fictionalized. The plot’s conclusion seemed a bit too coincidental to be believable but sometimes truth can actually be stranger than fiction, so you never know.

Prophecy: An Historical Thriller
By S.J. Parris
Doubleday, 2011. 375 pgs. Mystery.

Giordano Bruno returns in this second installation of Parris’s new mystery series. This time, all of England is talking about the prophecies predicting Queen Elizabeth’s imminent death. Powerful astrological phenomena abound but when one of the Queen’s ladies is found violently murdered, Bruno is skeptical about the causes being supernatural and begins a hunt for conspirators and murderers.

Parris continues her series with vibrant historical settings and an intriguing mystery to unravel. Bruno is an entertaining and likable hero with virtues as well as faults providing a believable and multilayered character. This is a great choice for both mystery readers and those who enjoy historical fiction.

By Daniel H. Wilson
Doubleday, 2011. 347 pgs. Science Fiction.

In a future not far distant from our own, humankind has grown to depend heavily on machines and computers to assist them in their day-to-day lives. As researchers continue to increase the intelligence of their robotic creations, one scientist gives life to a murderous super computer who creates a networked army with the machines and androids present around the world. Now a great war is being waged and the people of Earth will have to work together to survive a nightmare of their own creation.

This is an apocalyptic story of mankind’s ability to adapt and survive. It is told as an oral history through transcripts, surveillance footage, and eyewitness accounts. It can certainly be classed as an exciting sci-fi thriller. However, on the final page I was surprised at how disappointed I felt that I had not been able to spend more time with the characters. Their development remained shallow and they never progressed beyond acquaintances keeping the reader at an unsatisfying distance. A good quick read if you are in the mood for adventure, but if you enjoy character development and more depth in your reading, you may want to pass. A movie is rumored to be in the works for release in 2013.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
By David McCullough
Simon & Schuster, 2011. 558 pgs. Nonfiction

Paris during the 19th Century was considered the world's center for the arts and learning. This was one reason why a number of Americans including author James Fennimore Cooper, artist and inventor Samuel Morse, painter Mary Cassatt, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sacrificed much to live, for at least a while, the Parisian life. "The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris" is a history of these and other influential Americans and how their time in the City of Light shaped their accomplishments and helped prepare the United States for the coming century of achievement.

There is no question that David McCullough has earned his place as one of the greatest historical writers publishing today. He seems to be able to take almost any topic and bring it to life. "A Greater Journey" is no different and brings to light an amazing group of individuals whose experiences abroad inspired their work and achievements. Anyone who has, will, or desires to visit Paris should pick up this book. It will certainly augment the experience and bring added significance to the city's many attractions, historic sights, and timeless allure.

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You
By Eli Pariser
Penguin Press, 2011. 294 pgs. Nonfiction

As Internet users we are, in general, oblivious to the amount of information our most trusted websites are collecting about us and our interests. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and many other sites use information gleaned from our past use to improve our experience the next time we log on. How this personalization is putting our society at risk is the topic of Eli Pariser’s new book. He shows that this new online environment, in the short term seems to be a great idea since we get relevant results quickly and do not need to spend as much time searching and sorting. But in the long run, we lose an accurate portrayal of what the world around us actually looks like.

Pariser's aim is clearly to frighten readers and he does a pretty good job. If you would prefer to continue your carefree enjoyment of the Internet and its amazing conveniences, certainly do not consider reading "The Filter Bubble." If, on the other hand, you are ready to have your eyes opened to the dangers presented when we mindlessly trust the websites we use daily, this is a troubling report sure to ignite important conversations.