Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Factor Man: A Novel by Matt Ginsberg

Factor Man: A Novel. Matt Ginsberg. Zowie Press. Copyright March 2018. pb. 292 pp.; ISBN 978099957116. 

Factor Man is a computer genius who has calculated the solution to innumerable mathematical problems with one system, the one that is called “God’s Algorithm,” the one that makes problems like artificial intelligence child’s play.  It’s a simple plot, really, but one that keeps the readers flipping the pages because it’s so engaging.  In the beginning, there’s a great deal of explanation in computer and mathematical jargon that might be disconcerting to some but it soon becomes as clear as possible and the reader is hooked!

First, Factor Man invites various blog watchers to submit a number to which he offers a mathematical solution.  That is all very amusing until the hunt begins.  William Burkett, a journalist, sees the possibilities of a potential Pulitzer Prize if he can figure out who Factor Man is and whether he’s for real or a “crackpot.”
Then we have two opposing sides vying to discover Factor Man’s real identity with the hope of controlling or stopping him.  One is the FBI and the other is a Chinese special agent named Janet Liu.  The system Factor Man has devised is one that could solve the problems of hacking into business and governmental programs, solving scientific problems such as which proteins and chemical compounds could cure cancer, and on and on.  As the complexity of possibilities increases, the search for Factor Man becomes more frustrating and tense.  Factor Man is a cool customer who plans carefully but at the same time acknowledges he’s no genius with “spy” behavior.  Meanwhile, he is making a fortune and decides to share his information with those he thinks deserve to treat it with socially conscious programs.  It’s nice to read about such altruistic motives, even though it’s in fiction.

Factor Man is an unusual work of science fiction or computer fiction that is quite different from what’s on the current best seller and even unknown market.  There’s a hint of reality that someday this might just be the future of computers, finance and government.  Nicely done, Matt Ginsberg.

Monday, March 19, 2018

I've Been Thinking: Reflections, Prayers and Meditations for a Meaningful Life by Maria Shriver

I’ve Been Thinking: Reflections, Prayers and Meditations for a Meaningful Life. Maria Shriver. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2018. Hb. 240 pp. ISBN #: 9780525522607.

Maria Shriver is totally correct in saying we are now living in times where more is needed.  Men, women and children across this nation and world are tired of the prevailing negativity, yearning for that which makes life “good.”  No, this is not a self-help book for Pollyanna-type persons but one in which one finds inner peace, purpose, love, and even joy.

Before each meditation in this book are quotations from notable people, those who’ve made a difference in the world but not been satisfied by external accolades.  Instead they’re centered on the inner world that fuels their thoughts, words and deeds.  For example, “Who you become as a person is up to you – up to your imagination, your will, your determination, your choices…” or “What you think you become” shared by the Buddha.  Then there are sections that we have heard before like pieces on love, honesty, forgiveness, and so on.  But what about the power within each of us for “empathy,” “losing faith,” “not caring too much for what others think,” living in a “complaint-free zone” periodically, “a culture of care,” “the process of discernment,” “grieving,” and so many more topics will catch your attention and invite you to ponder each one.

One is to consider meditating on it with prayer or just letting it be in one’s consciousness until one is ready to move on to the next one.  This is not a book to be read cover to cover quickly; it’s full of wisdom and points of view that are right at different moments in life. It has thoughts and advice that one will want to repeat reading and contemplating as well as passages that will provoke and inspire at different times.  There’s no one result or goal.  The process is to just “be” with each section or passage.

Maria Shriver comes from a family of doers but this is a book about the fire and fuel behind the doing and being!  Highly recommended, inspirational nonfiction. It could just be the best book you read right now!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Holmes Entangled by Gordon McAlpine

Holmes Entangled.  Gordon McAlpine. Prometheus Books. March 2018. 191 pp.  ISBN#: 9781633882072.

Jorge Luis Borges hires a private investigator in Buenos Aires, Argentina to read an unpublished manuscript with the title of “Uncertainty,” purportedly written by Sherlock Holmes.  Since he found the manuscript, Borges has narrowly escaped being shot and he wants to know who attempted to kill him and why.  So begins a tale that contains other stories and associations by famous writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Ernest Hemingway.

Our story begins with Sherlock Holmes living incognito as a famous physicist.  It seems Holmes has been studying and lecturing at Oxford University and other institutions of higher learning and does not want to be found.  Imagine his shock when a “middling” author, Arthur Conan Doyle, appears at Holmes’ residence, saying he knows his real identity because he was informed of his name and residence at a séance in which a living Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, appears to give Doyle the information about Sherlock Holmes. Seances are where dead people appear to the living, correct?  So what is this frightening phenomenon and what is the case that Doyle asks Sherlock to help solve?

Then begins what just might be the last known case of the famous Sherlock Holmes.  It brings the reader into the relatively new field of quantum mechanics which we learn is far older than previously known.  Rather it involves investigations and experiments with the appearance of humans in “parallel worlds.”  It would be of no great import if the mystery were just about the science of inquiry, but murders and physical attacks begin to occur with anyone associated with this subject. 

The story is fascinating but the writing is frequently difficult to follow, yet worth the effort.  An interest sideline within the story concerns Holmes’ comments about his late buddy, Watson, whom Holmes claims was “stuck” in the Victorian world and thus did not reflect the true personality of Holmes. 

Holmes Entangled is a fascinating read both as a mystery and as an introduction to the world of quantum mechanics.  The final scene closes with a shocking presence! Enjoy the romp through another complex historical mystery!

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Cold Light of Dawn: The King's Greatest Enemy #4 by Anna Belfrage

The Cold Light of Dawn: The King’s Greatest Enemy #4. Anna Belfrage. Timelight Press. February 2018. 593 pp. ASIN#: B0795BMD9W.

“Caught in the middle” is the perfect way to describe Adam de Guirande’s place in the Court of the young King Edward III, too young to rule but old enough to resent the behavior of the regent rulers, Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer. Adam initially serves Edward in whatever way asked and ultimately will become the King’s Guard, in charge of all soldiers who protect the King at all times.  Edward has not reached his majority to rule but is showing signs he is more than able to do so. Isabella and Mortimer are lovers, despite the fact that Mortimer is married.  Mortimer works long hours but he goes farther than he should as he truly loves fine dress, food and riches.  He listens only to Isabella and this is heading toward rebellion from the people he rules or betrayal from one or more of the numerous factions always plotting to thwart Mortimer’s plans.

Adam de Guirande is married to Kit, the grand love of his life.  The passion between them is obvious, frequent and well-described.  Such a great union is all that keeps Adam from losing his sanity.  For Adam is also tied to Roger Mortimer who brought him from a low position to the place Adam now occupies.  He owes Roger everything and yet has sworn loyalty and love to King Edward.  Roger knows this but pulls at Adam’s conflicted, tortured thoughts and feelings, saying he realizes the conflict but always reminding Adam of where his first loyalty should be.

The King, Mortimer, Lancaster and others all have spies everywhere, throughout the country as well as in other countries such as France and Italy. The issues are not new nor are the machinations that would give England France, earls and other nobles who would acquire more land and power throughout England, etc. 

The tensions among Adam, Edward, Roger, Isabella and Lancaster are gradually increasing to the point that the reader knows an explosion is soon to occur and for some end quite badly.  Kidnappings, sword fighting engagements, ladies who enchant with more dangerous but subtle plans in mind, and more fill these swiftly moving pages with excitement and intrigue.  A medieval sense of brutality leaves the reader occasionally breathless.

The Cold Light of Dawn is great reading and easy to follow whether or not the reader knows the history of that particular time period.  Adam loves both his Lords but “a divided house cannot, indeed, stand!”  One suspects another novel in this series is to follow which will be highly anticipated by this reviewer!  Spectacular historical fiction!

Surprise Me: A Novel by Sophie Kinsella

Surprise Me: A Novel.  Sophie Kinsella. Random House Publishing Group. February 2018. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780399592881.

Sylvia and Dan have been married for ten years; they truly are best friends who completely understand each other and their rambunctious twin daughters.  One day they visit a doctor for a wellness visit and from here to about three-quarters of the way through the novel the plot gets downright silly.  They are healthy and are told by the doctor that they have another sixty-eight years more of life together.  For some odd reason, this scares the heck out of Sylvia and Dan.  While their uncanny understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings brings great peace and joy to their life, the unpredictability of it is unacceptable.  So, they come up with a plan of surprises to keep the future fresh and novel, but it doesn’t really work out at all.

Meanwhile the only thin friction between them has to do with Dan’s dislike of Sylvia’s privileged past and his refusal to let her “Daddy” finance their future.  However, it will turn out that Daddy wasn’t the perfect husband and parent in Sylvia’s memories and this part of the plot saves this novel from being a disaster.  Dan is more than just an understanding husband and lover.  He’s someone who’s been trying to save his wife’s perfect image of her father, sheltering her from the stark reality of a very flawed father.  The ending is quite a shocker for Sylvia but what is more precious is the fact there are some secrets in Dan that are stunning elements and a definite surprise! 

While the second half of this novel “saves the day,” overall, it’s a bit of a strain on credibility.  However, Kinsella manages to pull the reader into an interesting and real part of the relationships that work.  Nicely done, to a degree!

The Queen of Hearts: A Novel by Kimmery Martin

The Queen of Hearts: A Novel.  Kimmery Martin. Berkley Publishing. February 2018. 352 pp.  ISBN#: 9780399585050.

The world of medical students is fraught with exhaustion from working too many hours that any human being should endure and with tension from working in an urban Emergency Room rife with life and death scenes.  It all requires the utmost tenacity, refined medical skills and the patience and calm of a saint!  This is the world of Emma and Zadie, two best friends, who are about to undergo a true test of their solid rock friendship.  Add to that their male friends, Dr. Nick Xenokostas and Graham.  The time element in this story goes back and forth from past to present and back. 

The story concerns scenes that make Gray’s Anatomy and other medical TV shows seem tame in comparison.  For reality isn’t pared back in a novel.  So for the squeamish of heart, you’ve been warned!  Blood, guts and gore as well as actions and reactions force the reader to flip the pages and want to stay up way past a normal bedtime.  No spoilers here but two particular events score the plot with tension and shock!

Exhausted doctors or even doctors handling multiple near-fatality emergency room scenes will make mistakes!  Those inadvertent errors can wreck a person’s career and such a danger is posed for Emma upon the death of a little girl.  The minutiae of that scene will be repeated in her mind as well as the minds of her physician peers and the family of the little girl.  The outcome of this processing will absolutely amaze the reader!

Relationships happen out of all this chaos and non-stop turmoil.  Some make sense and some take twists and turns that make no sense.  But they happen to Emma, Graham, Zadie and Nick and they are life-shattering.  How much wrongdoing can one forgive and should one even consider forgiveness? 

Kimmery Martin is a past medical doctor who knows her professional world well.  This is a well-written, intense, caring, brutal and shocking story that is written with sensitivity and care, enabling the reader to enter this world as fully as possible and root for every character, halting judgment and awaiting the evolution of healing and grace on every page.  Highly recommended medical fiction!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

All Systems Down - The Cyber War #1 by Sam Boush

All Systems Down: The Cyber War #1.  Sam Boush. Lakewater Press. February 2018. 284 pp.  ASIN#: B078CXKYQF.

Imagine for a moment that all the electric power in the world gradually and quickly turns off.  Everything! We’ve all occasionally had power outages at home but not everywhere else, including cars, planes, trains, cell towers, etc.  The world is dark and cold.  And forces are about to attack America!

Brendan Chogan is out of work. He was a parking meter attendant and former boxer but automation has forced him out of his job and he’s none too happy.  His interview for a new job goes nowhere and then suddenly his world situation gets so much worse after the power goes out – everywhere!

Cyber war is a problem that many fear will eventually happen on a world-wide scale but few realize what Brendan gradually realizes.  When there is no help to be had and no substitution for heat, water, transportation, protection, etc., then human beings show their best and worst characteristics. 

Small groups begin to form, looking to steal and kill just for the sheer pleasure of it.  Families have only each other and seek to escape away from the highly volatile urban areas.  Nine strangers learn to rely on each other and we never learn the full outcome of this Portland, Oregon area.  It seems there will be more to come of this cyberwar series.

North Korea is behind this masterful hacking job and there’s a story behind the solution, but there are human frailties that almost prevent that from happening.  
Sam Boush is a writer who knows how to craft a completely engaging story that is all too real, given our knowledge (and lack of it) about hacking, cyberwar and international spying.  This goes deeper and the rollercoaster ride herein is highly recommended reading!