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The Powell's Playlist | August 8, 2014

Peter Mendelsund: IMG The Powell's Playlist: Water Music by Peter Mendelsund



We "see" when we read, and we "see" when we listen. There are many ways in which music can create the cross-sensory experience of this seeing...... Continue »
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Customer Comments

Tung has commented on (37) products.

Happiness Ltd. by Michael Mcghee
Happiness Ltd.

Tung, August 20, 2014

(I received a complimentary copy of this novel directly from the publisher at the author's request.)

"Happiness Ltd" is a book of allegorical ideas, not unlike "1984" as other reviewers have noted (or perhaps Huxley's "Brave New World"), though it's not quite as unrelentingly bleak as Orwell's masterpiece. This novel posits a near-future where capitalism has reached its ultimate point - a single mega-corporation (with multiple divisions, such as news, entertainment, consumer products, etc.) that controls all of society save for those who've dropped out - i.e., the Disenfranchised. The main character is a rising start with the mega-corporation, tasked with stimulating increasing demand for its products, which is how society is kept placated. One evening, however, the protagonist meets a disenfranchised woman who offers him a massage to ease his back pain, and from there he becomes enchanted with her. This, naturally, does not please his supervisors.

The novel was chock full of social commentary done with a sly, subtly sarcastic tone with a lot of allusions to pop culture events in our recent past. I enjoyed trying to spot all of these. The actual plot of the novel was a bit thin, but this is a novel of ideas, not plot. I'd say that the modern novel it most reminded me of was Matt Ruff's "Sewer Gas Electric."
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Identity by Ingrid Thoft

Tung, August 17, 2014

I enjoyed Ingrid Thoft's debut novel (LOYALTY) and gave it a 4-star review. Her follow-up, IDENTITY, is a worthy successor and even better: leaner, more suspenseful, and a more interesting and topical mystery. The protagonist, private investigator Josefina "Fina" Ludlow, is just as much of a smart-ass as in the first novel, but for whatever reason, her rough edges seem utterly charming here (whereas they were mildly annoying last time around).

The primary storyline concerns a pain-in-the-ass client, a single mom who wants to break the confidentiality of the sperm donation that helped her conceive her older daughter. Fina's father, a renowned but somewhat despised plaintiff's lawyer in Boston, tells the client that the case is a loser but is willing to proceed. At the same time, however, they have Fina see if she can identify the donor through means other than a lawsuit. She succeeds, but a day later, the donor has been murdered. Who did it?

There's a manageable-sized cast of suspects, with clues and red herrings tossed out along the way. There's a bit of action but it's mostly Fina's investigation, which means a lot of talking and back-talking. It builds up toward a satisfying conclusion.
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Loyalty (Fina Ludlow Novel) by Ingrid Thoft
Loyalty (Fina Ludlow Novel)

Tung, August 13, 2014

"Loyalty" is kind of a gothic mystery about a missing/murdered woman who's the sister-in-law of the protagonist, private detective Fina Ludlow. Fina has three brothers who are all lawyers in the same ambulance chasing law firm started by their dad. Fina was supposed to join them as a lawyer herself but dropped out of law school and became a PI instead. Her brother who's married to the victim is the least likable brother, and her dad is a control freak.

Fina is not your chaste, Agatha Christie-kind of detective. Rather, she's kind of like a female version of your boozing, womanizing, harddriving PI. She's got not one but two "friends with benefits," and having grown up with those three brothers, is pretty capable at taking care of herself. She's not invulnerable, though, which makes her considerable more realistic than, say, Maggie Q's Nikita (on TV).

At times, the book was a bit slow, but I still found it readable. The resolution of the mystery is fairly neat, and if you look back, the clues were there; in other words, the author played fair with the reader.
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The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein
The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Tung, July 22, 2014

I heartily recommend it to anyone who's interested at all in the "nature vs. nurture" debate about how people become elite runners, basketball players, etc. Epstein draws upon lots of cutting edge research into genetics and sports performance to explain, among other things, how professional baseball players can hit 95 mph pitches when the reaction time available to them is barely more than the time it takes to coordinate a thought into action (answer: years of experience has given each of them a "memory map" that enables them to make reasonably good predictions about how the pitch will travel based on a split second view of the pitcher's delivery) to why Kenyans and Ethiopians seem to dominate middle- and long-distance running while Jamaicans seem to dominate sprinting (answer: a combination of factors ranging from cultural to the proportion of fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibers favoring sprinting or distance running to, in the case of the East Africans, living at the sweet spot of altitude training ~ 6000-8000 feet above sea level).

In any sort of work on sports performance and gene science, race inevitably looms in the background. To his credit, Epstein doesn't shy away from discussing race, but neither does he channel Al Campanis (who infamously blundered into the subject with the sensitivity of a drunken rhino). As the sprinting vs. long-distance running example mentioned above demonstrates, people from different parts of the world excel at different types of athletic competitions. Epstein points out that the individual record for the 100 meter sprint in Kenya isn't good enough to qualify for the Olympics; as dominant as the Kenyans are in the distance events, they're totally uncompetitive in the sprints. Epstein doesn't say this explicitly, but what I drew from the book is that when we Americans talk about "race" and sports, we do so in a very obtuse way because we lump people into "white," "black," "Latino," or "Asian," when in fact there can be a significant amount of diversity within those crude racial categories.

If there's a book that The Sports Gene reminds me of, it's Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which similarly examined race and cultural through a completely new lens (of geography).
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Wayward Pines #3: The Last Town by Blake Crouch

Tung, July 19, 2014

Having read and enjoyed the first two entries in the Wayward Pines Trilogy, I was eager to see how it ends, especially since the second novel (Wayward) ended in a cliffhanger. It's going to be impossible to review this book without spoiling the first two, so I'll note that if you haven't read Pines and Wayward and think you might be interested, go read reviews of Pines (the first book) and see if it seems like your cup of tea.

Still here? Okay, so at the end of Wayward, 2000 years in our future, the remnants of civilization have been living under a delusion that they are in a strange small town named Wayward Pines in our present day. Former Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke, now town Sheriff, has pulled the wool from the eyes of the townfolk and told them the truth. In response, David Pilcher, the man responsible for Wayward Pines, turns off the protective fence around the town, thereby allowing the (d)evolved humans of the future, known as abbies (for aberrations), to storm into town. Abbies are far stronger than humans, and very hungry.... (Pilcher and his crew live in a mountain complex near the town.)

The Last Town picks up right away. Some storylines delve back into the past (by which, I mean both the past of the future - meaning, say, 1995 years from now - as well as the past meaning our time) and explain the development of relationship conflicts that were becoming apparent in the first two books but explode in this one. The main storyline deals with trying to fight off the hordes of abbies.

It's a satisfying conclusion, though like many trilogies, it maybe doesn't quite live up to the promise of the first book due to the fantastic world-building in the opening novel. It doesn't end in a cliffhanger, but I suppose there's room for a fourth novel....
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