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I, Robot or I, Human?

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Science Fiction

 

Overall Rating: 4

Quick summary: Artificial intelligence has been around for many years at the beginning of Asimov’s book. In a collection of short stories tied together by an overarching theme, this book explores how far humans could go with artificial intelligence.

So I started this book because one of my romance novels refers to it. Dating-ish by Penny Reid is about robots and after reading Dating-ish, I decided I needed to read I,Robot. I was a little leery at the beginning, though, because of the movie. I didn’t see the movie, but I remember liking the trailer, but any book that’s been turned into a movie is immediately suspicious to me. Don’t ask me why, it’s completely illogical.

I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. In fact, I probably would have read it more quickly, had I not been reading a few other romance novels at the same time. But I thought the writing style was engaging and the characters in the novel very well developed.

Since this book is probably more of a “classic literature” title than just “science fiction” I was prepared for it to be more inaccessible. But the language is very accessible, the science is understandable, and the setting in the future very believable.

One of my favorite components of this book is thinking about what makes us human. Asimov makes a compelling argument that humans are very flawed, and perhaps less human than we’d like to admit. By that I mean, in trying to “save” ourselves from imitators (i.e. Artificial Intelligence) we reveal the weaknesses in our humanity. Indeed, by the end of the book, I think it’s difficult to tell which species exhibits the best of humanity—humans or robots.

Is it worth buying? (Kindle$7.99)

You should definitely read this book, but I recommend borrowing it from the library, like I did, or, buying it from a used bookstore, which I also did. Yes, that means I had two copies of the book, but since I had to give the library book back, it was worthwhile.

Something else you might enjoy:

Reading this book reminded me how much I love classic science fiction. If you haven’t read some of the earlier stuff, I highly recommend Ender’s Game. I read it in high school but it convinced me that any book can be amazing, regardless of genre! I have never shied away from any book, since then, simply because of its genre.

Book Challenge: A Great First Line

2017 Book Challenge

 

A book with a great first line

 

Shopping Series by Julia Kent

Shopping for a Billionaire (Book 1)

 

First line: “I am eating my ninth cinnamon raisin bagel with maple horseradish cream cheese and hazelnut chocolate spread. Don’t judge me.”

Shopping for a billionaire

Synopsis: Shannon Jacoby meets Declan McCormick in the men’s room. With her hand down a toilet. In clothes that belong on a homeless person or a college student. Somehow, they keep running into each other and sparks fly.

Okay, so it’s a great first two lines, but still, who wouldn’t want to continue reading, if only to figure out what the heck is going on?! I happened upon this book by chance. I received it for free from the author. I think I may have won it on Facebook… maybe… I can’t remember. In any case, it was really fun to read. So funny and interesting! One of those books that you can just relax into. However, I’m sad to learn this is just the intro to a 10 book series. Yes, you read that correctly—10 BOOKS!! Now, I’m not afraid of a long series; I did read all of the Sookie Stackhouse books, after all, but still. I’ll have to figure out how I can fit 10 more books into my schedule because these light-hearted, sassy stories need to be in my life.

 

1984 by George Orwell

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First line: It was a bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Winston Smith (party member #6079), knows that there was a time when Oceania was at war with neither Eurasia nor Eastasia. Unfortunately, he can’t find anyone old enough to confirm and he doesn’t want to risk Big Brother overhearing. Winston knows that the past/his memories don’t lie, he only needs to find evidence that the Party hasn’t already destroyed.

I thought 1984 was required school reading for anyone who went through the American school system. Somehow I was never assigned either of Orwell’s most famous novels, and having read Animal Farm on my own, it was time.

The idea of the clock striking thirteen was eerie and mystical to me; the reality that the line merely refers to a society that goes by military time, written in an era before digital clocks was disappointing. There is no question that the themes in this novel are impactful and may serve as an introduction in critical-thinking towards government, but I couldn’t help myself from thinking Orwell wrote this novel as an excuse to have his 30-page essay on socialism and totalitarianism (Goldstein’s The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism) read on a mass scale. However, I hope that my sons are required to read it in school so they understand the importance of questioning those in a position of power (except my authority, which is unquestionable). How else are they going to understand why the reality show is called Big Brother?

Did you join us in this book challenge? Have you ever picked up a book simply based on the first sentence? Tell us about it!

Up Next: A book with a lion, a witch or a wardrobe. We’ll let you know what book we chose and how we liked it on May 26. Pick your own book so you can read along with us!

2017 Book Challenge Book by Its Cover

2017 Book Challenge

A book you pick solely because of the cover

Fit Trilogy by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Sated (Book 3)

Synopsis: Keira Kenney knows she’s an odd duck. While she teaches kickboxing during the day, she geeks out at night and that can be something of a turn off in the romance department. All Keira wants is to find someone who loves her for her. When her friend sets her up with Daniel Song during a science fiction conference, she’s not expecting anything but a fun day geeking out. So she’s surprised when she’s not only attracted to the sexy Korean-American pyrotechnics expert, but he seems interested back. But Daniel has a life behind closed doors and Keira’s not sure she can keep up, or keep Daniel interested when all she knows and likes is vanilla.

I actually was gifted this book from the Ripped Bodice Bookstore on Twitter. I can’t believe I won it! What happened was they tweeted a picture of some books they were giving away and all I had to do was reply with the title of the book I wanted. Obviously I picked Rebekah Weatherspoon’s book because of the cover. And I am really glad I did. Rebekah was so sweet, she even signed it!! I enjoyed this book so much! It made me laugh and giggle and swoon. I also really love that Keira has mocha skin and Daniel is Korean. It is erotica, so be forewarned about that, but it was some of the lightest and sweetest erotica I’ve ever read.

Fallon’s Book

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

By Aimee Bender
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Rosie was able to uncover her mom’s secret, her brother’s dispassion for everything, and a one-sided friendship all by taking a few bites of food. Pre-pubescent Rosie discovers she can taste the feelings and emotions of whoever makes or prepares the food she eats. She finds this, well, distasteful and is caught praying to the vending machine and its heavily processed, unsentimental, machine made meals. She never eats anything she makes herself.

I love lemon cake, though I’ve never tried it with chocolate frosting. This cover was very appetizing and that is the simple truth on why I chose Bender’s novel. (Hey, did you notice that the shadow looks like a person’s, because I didn’t until right now.) The narrative took me to a very different place than where I expected Rosie’s special talents would go. I was about 75% of the way through the novel (thank you Kindle app) before the Rosie I wanted to read about finally appeared. Then at around 90% complete, the timeline jumped and literally left me saying, “Huh?” Not two pages after that, the story ended because I wasn’t taking into consideration the eight pages of book club questions. In-depth discussion about character relationships would probably improve my opinion of the book (no, please just explain Joseph!), but as it was just me and my thoughts, I’m left with a sour taste, tinged with my own thoughtlessness.

Did you join us in our challenge? What book did you pick based on the cover? Did you enjoy it?

Our next book challenge is a book with a great first line… we’ll be revealing our picks on April 28. You should read along with us!

2017 Book Challenge: Re-Read

2017 Book Challenge

 

A book you loved… read it again

Christine’s Book

The Elements of Chemistry

ATTRACTION (Part 1)

HEAT (Part 2)

CAPTURE (Part 3)

from the Hypothesis Series by Penny Reid

Elements of Chemistry

Synopsis: Kaitlyn Parker doesn’t like parties, doesn’t like attention, and certainly doesn’t like her chemistry lab partner Martin Sandeke. The jerk-face is a jerk, no matter how handsome he may be. Martin doesn’t care that he’s a jerk. All Martin cares about is that Parker has been driving him crazy for the past semester. Once Martin backs Parker into the proverbial corner, he’s not going to let her out. In fact, Martin goes so far as to get Parker onto an island so he can finally have her undivided attention. The problem, of course, is that Martin is still a jerk-face, and Parker is still a girl who doesn’t like attention.

I read this series in 2015 when they first came out. It was one of those situations where I bought the first book, not realizing it was a cliffhanger. After finishing book one, I bought the whole series bundled, essentially paying for book 1 twice, but not caring because the books were that good! It was time to re-read it because: 1) I was depressed about some real life drama and needed a pick me up; 2) Penny Reid has announced that she will be writing the second book in the Hypothesis Series, Laws of Physics, and so I needed to prep; 3) I love nerdy, geeky heroines who have a strong moral compass and are all-around awesome. If you’d like to read my original, full book review, you can find it here.

 

Fallon’s Book

Midnight in Austenland

By Shannon Hale

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I absolutely love Jane Austen. And my love for her has caused many relationship problems between me and other authors; I hesitate to start a book by an author I don’t know and usually just end up re-reading a book I know I’ll enjoy. My love, however, does not extend to all Austen inspired spin-offs, sequels, or changed point-of-view novels. I had just finished re-reading Hale’s Austenland and immediately picked up the next in the series (is it still considered a series if there are only two books?). It was at that time Christine and I decided to do this book challenge.
Midnight in Austenland does a good job reinventing itself from its predecessor. The story is once again set at the Regency-era Pembroke Park with a few familiar secondary characters. This time, we follow new guest, Charlotte Kinder, who just wants some time to reset her life but ends up trying to navigate through what’s real and what’s not At the park. During parts of the story I questioned whether I liked Charlotte or not, or if I found her too silly. Although everything about the people in Austenland can be described as silly, I don’t want my thirty-something heroine comparable to the naïve Catherine Morland. Once finished though, I was happy with Charlotte and had all those lovely, warm feelings I like to have at a conclusion. Maybe I should take the words of Hale to heart, “Jane Austen had created six heroines, each quite different, and that gave Charlotte
courage. There wasn’t just one kind of woman to be.”

Did you join us in our book challenge? What book did you re-read and why?

Our next book challenge will be pick a book solely based on the cover… we’ll post our picks on April 14. Hope you’ll tell us about the book you read!

The Bird and the Sword

The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon

Mythology & Folk Tales

 

Overall Rating: 4.5 (xoxo)

The Bird and the Sword

Quick Summary: Lark is special in a land where special means a death sentence. In their quest for equality, the kingdom has decreed that anyone who has special gifts must be put to death. With her dying breath, Lark’s mother tries to protect Lark by tying her fate to her father’s and telling her to pull back her words. Years later in an odd turn of events, Lark is singled out by the young King. Despite her muteness, Taris, the King, finds her useful to have around. As the two of them try to overcome a common enemy, they will discover that there is more to them than what meets the eye.

I love love love love love this book. I would give it 5 stars except that I’m not sure I could re-read it. It’s very emotional and powerful. There is a dazzlingly array of imagery, symbolism, and metaphor.

In some ways, I read this book at a critical time. While I’m not sure Amy Harmon intended the social criticism, I can’t help but make parallels to our lives today. Americans are experiencing a re-awakening in some ways. Regardless of political affiliation, there’s been an increased sense that what happens politically matters to people on a daily level. And for some, the changes they’ve seen are scary; they are matters of life and death.

While there are no direct allusions to our current political climate, how could there be when the book was released in May 2016 and was conceivably written well before that date, I’ll try to share a bit of the connection in my mind. Here’s a quote: “Corvyn was weak, but he wasn’t evil, though I wondered if weakness wasn’t just as dangerous. The weak allowed evil to flourish.” This sentiment strongly echoes Elie Wiesel’s speech, “The Perils of Indifference.” Here’s an excerpt from the speech:

“Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.

Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.

And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century’s wide-ranging experiments in good and evil.” (Elie Wiesel, 12 Apr 1999, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ewieselperilsofindifference.html).

This also ties into another quote from the book, explaining how the persecution of those with special gifts is justified: “convinced that equality could only be realized if no one was special, and the power of the words was eradicated.” Again there is a connection to Wiesel’s speech. He says, “What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means ‘no difference.’ A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.” Equality cannot come by subsuming difference. Indeed, it is an “unnatural” state because humans are not carbon copies of each other. I won’t go into this more, because I want you to read the book .

This theme of specialness, of unique gifts, is one that is explored throughout the novel, and is one that resonated deeply with me. There are many other themes, including the biggest one about the power of words. I could write on and on about this book. And that’s probably the number one reason why I enjoyed it so much. There is something “more” to it that I fall in love with.

Of course I love the characters too. There is action and adventure to complement the philosophical component too. And the fantastical nature of the whole plot is great. I love being transported to the Kingdom of Jeru.

Is it worth buying? (Kindle $5.95)

$6 is a lot for an e-book, at least it is to me. But, this is a really, really good book. So while you should probably check your local library for it first, if they don’t have it, please spend the 6 bucks to buy it. You won’t regret it!

Something else you might enjoy:

I don’t think there is another book out there like this. Not with the kind of allusion and metaphor layered on top of myth. If you want another book like this, you’ll have to read more of Amy Harmon’s work. I recommend The Law of Moses. You can read my book review here.

2017 Book Challenge: Join us!

2017 Book Challenge

 

My friend Fallon and I thought it would be fun to do a Book Challenge. I’m not sure why we started thinking about it, other than Pinterest. I swear Pinterest inspires you in the weirdest ways. In any case, specifically we thought it might be fun to do the same book challenge, but picking different books. So Fallon can pick any book the meets the challenge requirement, as can I, and then at the end of the month we compare notes.

 

Obviously, since there are 26 challenges, we’ll need to read more than one book a month to complete it by the end of 2017, but since we both have kids, and jobs, and spouses that we actually like to spend time with, it may be a two year project. But it doesn’t really matter, because I’m looking forward to seeing what books Fallon will pick to fulfill each month’s challenge and reading what she thinks about the book she selected. I’m not sure she’d say the same thing about me, since she’d probably read my opinion in this blog anyway, but it’s fun to share something with a friend, especially since my family and I just moved away from Fallon and her bunch after living near them for over a decade.

 

We settled on 26 Books with Bringing Up the Burns from burns-familyblog.blogspot. I immediately liked it because of the reference to C.S. Lewis, even though I’ve never read the Chronicles of Narnia. Plus, my son’s favorite color is blue so I figured I can’t go wrong picking a book with a blue cover. It’s from 2015, but these lists never go out of style. To see the full list, click here.

 

We’d like to invite you to join us in our challenge. We’ll announce the next month’s challenge at the end of each blog post so you have time to select your book and read. Our plan is to post on the last Friday of every month, at the very least. You can post your book in the comment section for that month, or you can send me an email and I’ll add you to our blog post (yes! You, too, can be a blogger like us!). These will be short little summaries and reviews, just meant to be fun and interesting with little to no pressure. We hope you’ll come along on our adventure.

 

Our first challenge? A book you loved… read it again! (post scheduled for March 31, 2017)

The Index Card

The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to be Complicated by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack

Personal Finance

The Index Card.jpg

Overall Rating: 3.5

Quick summary: Dr. Harold Pollack from the University of Chicago suggested to financial journalist Helaine Olen that all of the financial advice a person needs can fit on a 4”x6” notecard. The idea went viral and Pollack and Olen followed up with their talk with this book explaining in further depth the basic rules that should govern personal finance.

This is an excellent primer for those who are recent high school/college graduates and those who are new to personal finance. The rules are very basic and only a few of them were surprises to me. The basics of save 10-20% of your income and invest for your retirement. Wait to buy a house till you can afford it and buy insurance (car, home, health, etc.).

The rules that surprised me were their advice not to buy individual stocks as it’s a form of gambling. I knew it was a form of gambling, but I didn’t realize that even experts had such a hard time buying and selling at the right intervals. I was also surprised by their advice about financial advisors. They suggested only using a fee-based fiduciary. The word fiduciary is important because a person with that title has basically pledged to only look after your financial best interest. I had not realized that many of the titles in the financial world meant almost nothing, financial manager, financial planner, and other such titles. I knew that most of them worked on commission, but didn’t realize that fee-based professionals existed.

Overall, there’s no concrete plan the way there is in other financial planning books. They don’t suggest doing one step before another and they avoid getting too specific for the most part. But I did learn some interesting things, like 96% of people have used some sort of government assistant, but only 40% believe that they do. It’s for this reason that they suggest supporting the social network, since everyone needs it at some point or another. Like all other financial books, this suggests a certain political outlook, but it wasn’t pervasive throughout the book, rather it was concentrated in this last step. And to me, it makes sense since it’s hard to imagine going through college without government assistance in some form or another, like a grant or a government loan.

Is it worth buying? (Kindle $9.99)

Yes, if you are new to the world of personal finance. If you’ve never read a personal finance book, this is a great place to start because it has all of the fundamentals without being overwhelming. But like a lot of other books, I borrowed it from the library rather than buying it.

Something else you might enjoy:

I’ve already recommended all of the personal finance books I’ve read and thought were worthwhile. What’s your recommendation?