Saturday 25 August 2018

Ten of the Best #131

Morning everyone, it's perfect cold and cloudy weather in JHB for catching up on our social media feeds this morning. It's been quite a week, so much that we didn't get to watch/read during the week - you'll find my favourites here.

Patrick Gaspard putting the Trump Twitter storm into perspective for us.

Ben Trovato wrote a letter to President Trump this week, it's worth a read. Click the pic of Trump's map of Africa.

Friday 24 August 2018

Friday Books - Middlesex

Oh yay, it's Friday. Time to share things bookish.

At Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

A dazzling triumph from the bestselling author of "The Virgin Suicides"--the astonishing tale of a gene that passes down through three generations of a Greek-American family and flowers in the body of a teenage girl. 

In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides, a student at a girls' school in Grosse Pointe, finds herself drawn to a chain-smoking, strawberry blond clasmate with a gift for acting. The passion that furtively develops between them--along with Callie's failure to develop--leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. In fact, she is not really a girl at all. 
The explanation for this shocking state of affairs takes us out of suburbia- back before the Detroit race riots of 1967, before the rise of the Motor City and Prohibition, to 1922, when the Turks sacked Smyrna and Callie's grandparents fled for their lives. Back to a tiny village in Asia Minor where two lovers, and one rare genetic mutation, set in motion the metamorphosis that will turn Callie into a being both mythical and perfectly real: a hermaphrodite. 

Spanning eight decades--and one unusually awkward adolescence- Jeffrey Eugenides's long-awaited second novel is a grand, utterly original fable of crossed bloodlines, the intricacies of gender, and the deep, untidy promptings of desire.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's a snippet from page 56 of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

I know this won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I found it to be an insightful and well-written book. It was completely different to what I usually read, and I thoroughly enjoyed. My review should be up soon.

What are you reading this weekend? I'd love to visit your blog and check it out.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Half-Truths and Semi-Miracles by Anne Tyler

The only person who I would trust to write about a person who has a gift of healing is Anne Tyler. Ok, maybe Emma Donoghue too, but definitely Anne Tyler.

Here's the opening line: "The first thing I tell people is, I’m just an ordinary woman. I’m just like you."

Susanna heals people, reluctantly at first, with a touch. And sometimes she doesn't. And with a deft hand and an elegant touch in this little account, we find ourselves accepting the truth of her tale and holding the "whys" and the "why nots" without question. That's the extent of Tyler's talent.

"This is a wry and moving story by an American master."

“Not merely good . . . she is wickedly good.” —John Updike

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

4 stars

ISBN: 9780525565079

You may also enjoy Anne Tyler's A spool of Blue Thread. Or what about Emma Donoghue's The Wonder? Or even Faithful by Alice Hoffman?

More books.

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Snap by Belinda Bauer

From part of the blurb - this is all you're getting from me.

"On a stifling summer's day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack's in charge, she said. I won't be long.

But she doesn't come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever."

Belinda Bauer is one of my "buy as soon as the book is released" authors. I've loved absolutely everything she has written, although I do have some favourites. And it seems that the most treasured among my ever growing collection are those featuring children, traumas and their effect on these children. This has three. Children, that is - Jack and his two sisters. And they're brilliantly portrayed as they navigate life without mum.

The story also features old favourites - DCI John Marvel (loved him from The Shut Eye and Darkside) and DS Reynolds (from Finders Keepers) lighten the mood with their bumbling rapacity for solved crimes, or just "don't let me stuff this one up". But far and away the winner here is the plot. The scene setting in so many places, but so obviously right for the tone - each aspect of this story is essential, the line keeps moving and your head keeps spinning. Just what we've come to expect from the talented Man-Booker long-listed award-winning author. I loved it.

A well deserved 5 stars. Read it, before everyone else does.

You may also enjoy The Beautiful Dead or Rubbernecker, or Blacklands from the same author. Or what about The facts of Life and Death? And put the kettle on, I'm going to need some more tea after this one!
ISBN: 9780593075531

More books.

This Week in Books 22.08.18

This Week in Books 22.08.18 #TWIB

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that features  bloggers who share:
  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

NOW: I’ve just started Nabokov's favourite word is Mauve which is a book on trawling through the texts of massive numbers of books to see whether writers actually follow the advice they dish out - you know, like 'don't use "-ly" words', 'show don't tell', 'use more nouns and verbs than adjectives and adverbs', and so on. So far it's fascinating.
THEN: The last book I finished was Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.  I loved this tome featuring the least prominent of the founding fathers (according to Eliza and Mr Bryce). My review is up, in case you're interested.

NEXT: I'm keen to start The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. My husband has just finished this book and rated it 5 stars, and it sounds fantastic.

Leave me a comment with what you're reading and I'll visit your blog.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

 The Prologue sets out (partly) why this book needed to be written:

"Yet many distinguished commentators have echoed Eliza Hamilton's lament that justice has not been done to her Hamilton. He has tended to lack the glittering multivolumed biographies that have burnished the fame of other founders. The British statesman Lord Bryce singled out Hamilton as the one founding father who had not received his due from posterity.

From Goodreads:

"In the first full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton in decades, Ron Chernow tells the riveting story of a man who overcame all odds to shape, inspire, and scandalize the newborn America. According to historian Joseph Ellis, Alexander Hamilton is “a robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all.”

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time."

This is a well-written, detailed and factual account of the man - Alexander Hamilton. As one who has not had much exposure to American history, I found the contextualisation of his story fascinating. The debates, the views, the arguments, the scandals - from the Federalist papers through each contested election to the duels and disagreements - published in (often pseudonymous) articles in the public domain, were all so entertaining. I'm not qualified to comment on whether Eliza and Lord Bryce were correct in their assessment that Hamilton hadn't received sufficient acclaim relative to other founding fathers, but this book - certainly in length - attempts to provide some redress.

Listening on Audible to all 39 or so hours though, was gruelling. It made fairly laborious work of the story. And there is so much reference material here, that I think that it would be better to have a paper/electronic version. I loved the prose - some memorable quotes show what I mean.

"It was all very pleasant and balmy, supremely beautiful and languid, if you were white, were rich, and turned a blind eye to the black population expiring in the canebrakes."

"If we must have an enemy at the head of the government, let it be one whom we can oppose and for whom we are not responsible."

"Both Hamilton and Jefferson believed in democracy, but Hamilton tended to be more suspicious of the governed, and Jefferson of the governors."

"If forced to choose, Hamilton preferred a man with wrong principles to one devoid of any."

"If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government."

I don't want any of that time I spent reading it back, I just hope that I do justice to the experience by recalling more than I usually do of this type of book. It also casts into stark and unflattering light the level of the debate on social media today - oh for the eloquence and subtlety of those brilliant founding fathers, flawed, but honest and with aspirations for growth and progress in all aspects  - moral, economic and political.

An authoritative and brilliant book, inspirational and enlightening.

5 stars

ISBN: 9780143034759

Sunday 19 August 2018

What we need

This hymn - which is deeply personal, came from the mind and heart of Annie S Hawks (1835-1918) who was a busy housewife and mother who wrote over 400 hymns during her 83 years - this one being the only one churches still sing today.

Annie wrote later "One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly I became soiled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words "I Need Thee Every Hour' were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me."

When Annie's husband died sixteen years later, she found that this hymn was amongst her greatest comforts. "I did not understand at first why this hymn had touched the great throbbing heart of humanity," Annie wrote. "It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace."

How beautiful is this version?

1. I need thee ev’ry hour,
Most gracious Lord.
No tender voice like thine
Can peace afford.
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Savior;
I come to thee!

2. I need thee ev’ry hour;
Stay thou nearby.
Temptations lose their pow’r
When thou art nigh.
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Savior;
I come to thee!

3. I need thee ev’ry hour,
In joy or pain.
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Savior;
I come to thee!

4. I need thee ev’ry hour,
Most holy One.
Oh, make me thine indeed,
Thou blessed Son!
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!
Oh, bless me now, my Savior;
I come to thee!

It made me think of a song on a soundtrack I listened to during the week. When listening, I thought - no, why did she even record this song, such silly little words, however imagine my surprise to be singing those little words for the next few days - Standing in the need of prayer by Carolyn Arends.

Hope you've enjoyed this - I had fun posting it.

Happy rest of the weekend.

Last Sunday Inspiration - The Lord and His Prayer

Saturday 18 August 2018

Ten of the Best #130

It's been an awesome week, so much to see and hear - most of which we didn't have time for, what with our busy schedules and all. Don't worry, this is your catch-up place. Grab your brew and maybe some breakfast, settle in, and enjoy the links.

A closer look at the Omarosa tapes, just to get us all updated.

And the newspapers hit back. So does James with a little musical impression of Mueller. Is it true that you can get away with saying the worst things if you set them to music? Maybe so - listen to the words, and you tell me.

Friday 17 August 2018

Friday Books - Pieces of Her

Happy weekend everybody. I love Fridays, because we share books on our favourite linkups.

At Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all . . . ?
Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother Laura. She’s knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Gullaway Island; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?
I'm a BIG Karin Slaughter fan, so I can't wait to read this one.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56 of Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter.

How different are those covers? I can't decide which I prefer. My book looks like the first one, which usually biases me - but this second one is also really good?

What are you reading this weekend? I'd love to visit your blog and check it out.

Thursday 16 August 2018

Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Kenneth Cukier

A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think

Written in 2013/4, this was the first major book about the topic, with two authors explaining what big data is, how it will change our lives, and what we can do to protect ourselves from its hazards.

As is usual with predictions, some are eerie in their accuracy, others we laugh at for the "obvious" errors, but all were brave, and most were fascinating.

The book posed questions about choices consumers make -relating to colours and preferences that didn't appeal to me that much. Also the fears and concerns around the 'Minority Report' methods of using data (i.e. predicting crimes that haven't yet occurred and making arrests based on that data) seem a bit silly and far-fetched now.

Some of the hype around what the big thing around big data is has dated. Calling it a 'revolution', for example,

But it's also interesting to see the kind of comments that have stood the test of time - time only being 4 or so short years in this case.

Getting our heads around the concept of usefulness and application - "The technical tools for handling data have already changed dramatically, but our methods and mindsets have been slower to adapt.” 

Some of the usefulnesses of the data sources available - “Amazon monitors our shopping preferences and Google our browsing habits, while Twitter knows what’s on our minds.”

Skills necessary to utilize the power of the 'revolution' - “the “data scientist,” which combines the skills of the statistician, software programmer, infographics designer, and storyteller.”

There were also many historical comparisons - how statisticians used data in the past, based on theory, probability and assumptions around distributions, and how this changes when the scope of sampling is so much larger. This quote captures it best.

“In some ways, we haven’t yet fully appreciated our new freedom to collect and use larger pools of data. Most of our experience and the design of our institutions have presumed that the availability of information is limited. We reckoned we could only collect a little information, and so that’s usually what we did. It became self-fulfilling. We even developed elaborate techniques to use as little data as possible. One aim of statistics, after all, is to confirm the richest finding using the smallest amount of data. In effect, we codified our practice of stunting the quantity of information we used in our norms, processes, and incentive structures.”

An enjoyable lesson from the first game-changers that I found fascinating.

4 stars


You may also enjoy Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Wednesday 15 August 2018

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

Harry Ackerson is just about to graduate. After losing his mother to cancer as a teenager, he is hopeful that is father and stepmother will make it to the ceremony. Alice calls - they're not going to make it. Bill Ackerson has had an accident and died - can Harry come to Maine instead?

So it begins. Harry realises that he hardly knows Alice at all, but now they must be family to one another - or must they. In parallel, we jump back to Alice's past and find out more about her mother, her strange childhood and unique past. In alternate chapters, Harry is wondering if his father's death was an accident, and just who Grace McGowan is after she showed up at the funeral.

Peter Swanson is a master of the twist, and there are some good ones here. He also loves to pose interesting questions (like "ever thought of killing your spouse?" in The Kind Worth Killing) to his readers. Here the questions are "how much do you lie?" "to others?" and worse - "to yourself?"

It's dark, and won't be everyone's cup of tea. There are some sexual encounters that readers may be uncomfortable with, and towards the end, the body count escalates, but I enjoyed the intensity and tension, which was well crafted, and in my binge of unputdownable and twisty crime novels, this one ticked more than one box for me. 

Thoroughly enjoyed it.

5 stars

ISBN: 9780571327188

You may also enjoy The Kind Worth Killing or Her Every Fear by the same author, or what about The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham?

More books.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

 Julia Cameron has a reputation for "unblocking"artists - writers, painters, and the creative soul.  This book has been republished for its 25th anniversary. And you know what? She is really very encouraging and even inspiring. Each chapter sets out to embrace some creative aspect of your personality and to defeat the bogeymen that threaten to overwhelm you - from your inner critic to those parents who told you you'd never make a living doing what you love. It's all good stuff.

But, I have to confess. I'm never going to do the exercises in this book. Ever. There are about 15 at the end of every chapter, and in theory, if you read a chapter a week, that's do-able. But you know what, I think I've memorised them now, but still not done them. It's not that they're difficult, and I think they're also kind of the point of the whole book, but no, probably only ever going to think about doing them.

Another interesting way of reading this book was to listen on Audible. Narrated by the author (which I always appreciate), this is a great way to up your motivation - and it's way better than some of the podcasts I've downloaded for the same purpose. A chapter a day, or a week. But if any of you have done the exercises - even a few, please do let me know - I'll be in awe.

Very encouraging and highly enthusiastic. As another reviewer put it - "A book to cheer you on when you feel like you can only look longingly at your passion (writing, painting, drawing...) because the dog needs a walk and the kids need a bath, and you've bills to pay so you've just come home from a job that took you from the house and back to it without a glimpse of the sun."

ISBN: 9781585421466

Saturday 11 August 2018

Ten of the Best #129

Good morning all the peoples. It's been a week full of stuff. And here's the best of it from your timelines - all together in one place for you to enjoy.

This from the NYT - SA needs to end corruption, but are SA's leaders part of the problem. Yup. Read and weep.

It's Woman's Day in SA, meaning there's a great ranty blog from Helen Moffett. This one's a letter, to Cyril.

Evita on the march too.

Friday 10 August 2018

Friday Books - Fools and Mortals

I'm so glad it's nearly the weekend. More time for reading, and sharing books.

At Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.

 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.

It's 1590, London, and the players are playing for the Queen. The story is told from the perspective of Richard Shakespeare, William's younger (and more handsome) brother. I loved this foray into the Elizabethan era in Bernard Cornwall's Fools and Mortals.

At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56 of Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwall.

Since ladies weren't given parts - they were the seamstresses mainly, the men played the women, which led to some interesting comments.

Thursday 9 August 2018

The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George

A small town with a university - Ludlow - so no surprises that the first significant scene is some students in a pub, discussing life, sneaking upstairs for a tumble in the hay and drinking too much. But we are drawn in quickly to the goings on, especially the tensions and the angst between them.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Isabelle Ardery and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, after a reported suicide in a police holding cell. The body belongs to Ian Druitt, a deacon in the C of E, loved by all, and with no apparent reason for taking his life. So why send DCS Ardery (who is drinking her way through this) and DS Havers (who is always in trouble) to conclude the investigation in as short a time as possible? Why indeed? And what does the whole thing have to do with the MP who asked Scotland yard to be involved?

This is book number 20 in the Inspector Lynley series, but if you haven't got the energy to read 1 through 19, dive right in, like I did. That's not completely true, I have read a few of the earlier ones, but not all, and I would recommend starting with A Great Deliverance, the very first. It sets the scene and is a work of art.

As is this. Elizabeth George deftly weaves a modern tale into an old-fashioned environment. She gets humanity - how and why we lie to each other, our brokenness and attempts at noble emotions like love and trust, and the secrets we would die (or kill others) to keep. And to relieve the tension, there are moments of laugh out loud at DS Havers' comments and antics, and some pure joy in moments.

It is a tome at nearly 700 pages, so difficult to hold in bed, but I thought it worth the weight - as it turns out, we need every bit of that detail for this intricate tale.

ISBN: 9781444786620 

5 stars

You may also enjoy A Great Deliverance or Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George,or what about Jo Spain's With Our Blessing?

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens- Davidowitz

Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are - that's a really annoying subtitle, isn't it? Because if you're anything like me, you probably try not to reveal everything about yourself - certainly not who you really are - on the internet. But have you ever done a Google search? Ever worried that the search will reveal more about you than your Facebook profile picture? You should have.

"Everybody Lies offers fascinating, surprising, and sometimes laugh-out-loud insights into everything from economics to ethics to sports to race to sex, gender and more, all drawn from the world of big data. What percentage of white voters didn’t vote for Barack Obama because he’s black? Does where you go to school affect how successful you are in life? Do parents secretly favor boy children over girls? Do violent films affect the crime rate? Can you beat the stock market? How regularly do we lie about our sex lives and who’s more self-conscious about sex, men or women?"
It's not only about Google. There are countless data sources - more found everyday, that can be trawled by powerful algorithms, interrogated without fear or favour to reveal interesting patterns and observations about human behaviour and what causes it.

Here are some quotes.
“People frequently lie—to themselves and to others. In 2008, Americans told surveys that they no longer cared about race. Eight years later, they elected as president Donald J. Trump, a man who retweeted a false claim that black people are responsible for the majority of murders of white Americans, defended his supporters for roughing up a Black Lives Matters protester at one of his rallies, and hesitated in repudiating support from a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The same hidden racism that hurt Barack Obama helped Donald Trump.” 
“Netflix learned a similar lesson early on in its life cycle: don’t trust what people tell you; trust what they do.” 
“Many people underreport embarrassing behaviors and thoughts on surveys. They want to look good, even though most surveys are anonymous. This is called social desirability bias.” 
“Big Data allows us to finally see what people really want and really do, not what they say they want and say they do. Providing honest data is the second power of Big Data.”
“Terms used in loan applications by people most likely to default :- 'God', 'promise', 'will pay', 'thank you', 'hospital' " ”. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating peep into the underworld of our thought life, our choices, our preferences and how they stack up. The book is broad - covering porn, racism and economics without judgement, but you can skip the parts you're not interested in. 

An accessible and entertaining view of life as we don't know it yet.

4 stars
ISBN: 9780062390851

You may also enjoy Irresistible by Adam Alter.

More books.

Monday 6 August 2018

Run with the Stars

Good morning running buddies.
Since I'm exercising from a different geographical location this morning - in the heart of the midlands, where it feels like an intake of breath will drop my body temperature by a few degrees, and I kid you not, we had to crack the ice on the milk for our morning tea - I spared a thought for those of you usually up with the sparrows and running under a starlit sky, everyday.

In some ways its absolutely gorgeous - the cold, the dark, the fresh, the newness of the day.
And then as you get going and the outside becomes a part of your inside - and it's cold out there, but that's ok, because you're going and you're strong and you'll warm up soon.
Suddenly when you're warm, you feel like you could go forever, never stopping. Not even for traffic, because there is none.
And too soon it's all over, and you need to hurry inside before you cool down too much, and the warmth of the water hitting your skin is the best part of your day.
Now I want to do that before first light tomorrow, don't you?
And I've got just the song for us as we go.
'Cause you're a sky, 'cause you're a sky full of stars

I'm gonna give you my heart
'Cause you're a sky, 'cause you're a sky full of stars
'Cause you light up the path
'Cause you're a sky, you're a sky full of stars

Such a heavenly view
You're such a heavenly view
There aren't many lyrics to this great Coldplay song, but they're perfect for us.

Enjoy your workout, wherever you are and whatever you do.

Last week's Monday Motivation - No excuses