Monthly Archives: January 2018

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Review (Amazon): “Are you happy with your life?”Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. Hiswife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

My Review (SPOILERS!!):

Executive Summary: it puts the sci in sci-fi

This book reminded me a little of a Michael Crichton book or like a less-funny The Martian. It has a lot of science, specifically quantum physics in it and has an interesting plot because of it.

We meet Jason, his beautiful wife Daniela and teenage son Charlie straight away. It’s Thursday which means family night, but tonight is something a little different. Jason’s old roommate and colleague, Ryan Holder just won the Pavia Prize (a multidisciplinary prize for his work in neuroscience), and we get the idea that Jason just might be a little jealous. He could’ve been a world renowned physicist, but instead he decided to become a teacher when Daniela became pregnant with Charlie. She could have become a well known artist herself, but now she just dabbles. Ryan’s having an informal celebration that night to which Jason is invited but he doesn’t want to go. Daniela convinces him to stop by and to pick up ice cream on his way home. Due to some foreboding language right from the start, we know something bad is about to happen.

He goes to the Village Bar, one of his favorites, to meet his friend Ryan and give him some congratulations. Ryan has always sort had a thing for Daniela, and he asks Jason why she didn’t come. Jason in turn asks if Ryan plans to settle down, and he replies that he doesn’t think so. Work is too busy. Normal chit chat from two colleagues whose lives took different paths.

Jason has had enough and heads to the grocery store. On his way out, as he’s marveling at the crisp autumn air, he hears footsteps and suddenly there’s a gun pointed at his head. The man doesn’t want his money. He forces Jason into a car and directs him to drive to the university where Jason works. As he’s driving, Jason is pondering why the guy wants him, and is thinking about why it is that the guy has been following him (addresses of his in the GPS). He tries to ask questions, but doesn’t get the answers he needs. He tries to send a text message, but the kidnapper takes his phone and sends Daniela a message instead.

The kidnapper starts asking him more personal questions – who the man at the happy hour was, what his plans are for tomorrow, etc., as he’s forcing Jason out of his clothes into new ones as he leads him down into a building in the middle of nowhere. Jason is given some sort of drug in the side of his neck. As Jason is fading off, the kidnapper asks him about his life, and whether he regrets his decision to let his ambition “die off”. Jason talks about the research that he was working on pre-Charlie, the quantum superposition of an object visible to the human eye. The attacker mentions that he is not there to kill Jason. As he administers another medication, he tells Jason that “you can make it yours. You can have everything you never had” as Jason drifts to sleep.

***SPOILERS begin here***

Jason awakes to a man and a woman speaking to him. The man is wearing a Hazmat suit, and put him on a gurney to evaluate him. The man asks him some simple questions – Do you know who you are? Yes; Do you know where you are? No; Do you know who I am? No. The man is named Leighton and says that he and Jason are colleagues and friends. Jason is obviously wildly confused. He’s restrained and being given medical tests, and although he has no idea where he is or who he’s around, everyone else seems to know what’s going on.

He goes for a debrief, and realizes that it’s not a dream or a delusion, but he still doesn’t understand why everyone but him seems to know what’s going on. He’s lucid, and he remembers what it is that he had done previously, so he’s not sure what is going on. He uses the restroom, and tries to think about ways to escape, so when Leighton comes to talk to him, he deadbolts the bathroom and escapes out the window. He heads to his home, but it’s not his home. The pictures of him with his family aren’t there, but the key worked, so it is his home. As he’s walking around in the house that is both his but not his, he spots a certificate awarding the Pavia Prize to Jason Holden.

Freaked, he tries Daniela’s number. It’s not hers. Leighton and some others (obviously) track him down, but he escapes and heads to the hospital for some screenings. The only thing they find from the screenings is that he has high does of ketamine in his system – a surgical anesthetic. The doctor tells him that they can’t find any information about him working at the university, or anyone named Daniela Dessen in the phone book. Jason can tell that they are going to commit him to the psych hold, so he sneaks out of the hospital.

The story cuts to Daniela, who is talking to Jason. She’s wondering what took him so long to get home…she doesn’t know why, but something is different.

Confused Jason leaves the hospital to find Daniela. Hopefully that will sort some things out. When he finds her, she’s a successful single artist, casually dating Ryan Holder. He explains to them what is going on, from what he can piece together, Ryan doesn’t want to believe him. In the end, Ryan ends up going to Leighton, who then captures Jason, killing Daniela in the process.

Back in captivity, still with no real answers, Leighton agrees to show Jason what “they have built together”. Jason has years of notes of what he has done – which is built a “Many-Worlds” box. Basically at any decision point in life, a separate branch splits off for the “yes” and the “no” creating a quantum timeline of every possible scenario. He gets to see a video of himself, who he doesn’t remember, entering the box and then, what he does remember, stumbling back out of the box weeks later.

After Amanda speaks to him some more, they track down Ryan and beat the hell out of him because they realize that this is not their Jason. The Jason who went into the box is not the Jason who returned. It seems a bit dramatic all of this as it isn’t really solving any problems, and certainly you’d think that if they asked him to help, he would have. Instead, they detain him, and eventually, Amanda has a change of heart after learning that Daniela was killed and what they are doing to Ryan and comes to get Jason out of there. As they are being chased, they grab what they can and lock themselves into the “Many-Worlds Box” and begin their adventure.

They travel to a multitude of different “worlds” so to speak – some where things are completely not viable, like one where snow has buried everything and everyone is freezing to death, or with a deadly plague to others that are…close, but not right. They only have a limited amount of options due to how much of the suspension cocktail that they packed. So in the end, Amanda realizes that because in Jason’s life which he is trying to get back to, she didn’t exist, so she has to leave him to allow him to return to his life.

Jason continues forward, slowly, sometimes slipping into deep depressions, particularly in worlds which are close, but aren’t the one he wants to get back to. It starts to get pretty panicky at the end as the number of vials that he has to be able to try again are dwindling away, and then, just to make it more intense, he is mugged and some of the vials are broken, so he’s only down to just 2…then 1.

Once he enters the world that has to be the correct one, he has to figure out what to do with Jason2 (as he’s been called throughout). He decides to get a gun. When he arrives at the store, he’s met with an unusual response from the employee. He had been in there with the exact same request 5 times in the last week. He has to go and figure out what has happened. As it turns out, there are a variety of Jason variants who have split recently, all with the same mission – to return to their original world and to return to Daniela. Not all of the Jasons have the same personality. Some are willing to sacrifice anything to get to Daniela, and one specifically is killing them off one by one. “Original” Jason, if you can call him that, realizes that he has to do something completely outside of the box to be able to thwart his other selves.

He gets himself arrested so that Daniela will come pick him up. He explains to her what has happened, and luckily she believes him. They go pick up Charlie and head to Wisconsin. Daniela struggles with the idea of all of these other Jasons out there, all so close to being the one she knows. And how does she know which one is “the” one. (It doesn’t really matter because the book has been following this one specific version of Jason this whole time so obviously the reader is rooting for him). Jason proposes a lottery system to the other Jasons, and it is agreed upon, however, some of the bad Jasons, including Jason2 who has the most to lose, track him down due to Charlie powering on his phone.  Jason kills Jason2 during a confrontation, and they take his car and leave, but not before he whispers to Jason to look in the glove box. Once inside, he realizes that Jason2 has left some vials for them. This is how they can start anew and move past the threat of the other Jasons. Charlie gets to choose the world in which they live, and presumably they live happily ever after.

Verdict: 4 stars

This book was definitely a thriller and also a thought exercise. There were a few parts where it got a little cheesy and predictable, but it’s easy to look past it as they were needed to keep the story moving forward, but I also think I would have given it a higher review had it not been so predictable. All in all though it is a good story, and I’ll be interested to see the movie which I think comes out later this year!

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A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

Review (Amazon): Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. “If there was an award for ‘Most Charming Book of the Year,’ this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down” (Booklist, starred review).

My Review:

Executive Summary: slow to start but sweet at the end

This book took a little while to get into, but once you were, it was an easy read. It did remind me quite a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, which was on our bookclub list pre-blog, thus it had been a few years since I read it, and it didn’t really make me like this book less.

As I’m writing this review, I just scrolled back to page 1 of the book, and I realize that the first sentence of the book is “Ove is fifty-nine.” Interestingly, I had forgotten this throughout the book, as Ove seems well into his seventies. He’s grouchy, stuck in his ways, and basically hates everyone and everything. He’s the neighbor you don’t want who does daily inspections around the neighborhood, ensuring that not a hair is out of line, even when it’s not a rule for the hair to be in line.

Ove used to be happily married to a teacher, Sonja, a ray of sunshine in Ove’s dark life. And when she died of cancer six months prior, Ove regressed into his darkness. The underlying plot of the book is Ove trying to commit suicide, in a dignified way, because he can’t go on living without his wife. However, each and every time, something bamboozles his attempt. He lives next door to another couple, Anita and Rune, who have been friends and frenemies over the course of their lives, and now that Rune has had a stroke, city officials are coming into the neighborhood to investigate whether Rune should be taken away from his home for his safety. Rune and Ove moved into the neighborhood at the same time and are two of the original members of the neighborhood. With Rune getting sick, Sonja dying, and the additions of various new neighbors, Ove sees his familiar, regimented old life slipping out of his grasp.

On his first neighborhood round of the book, we get introduced to most of the main players of the story. Ove meets a cat who he tells to scram. We meet Anders, who has a lot working against him. He’s divorced, self-employed, drives an Audi, goes jogging, and has a wife nicknamed “The Blonde Weed”. She has a little obnoxious dog, and Ove especially hates them both. Ove also finds a bicycle parked outside the bicycle shed, so he angrily puts it inside and continues on his route. And as he finishes inspecting unauthorized cars parked overnight in the guest parking or trash being properly sorted, we meet the new neighbor family as the husband backs their trailer into Ove’s house.

The Lanky One gets out of the Japanese car, and both Ove and The Lanky One’s pregnant Arabic wife begin to shout at him for being a moron. Ove thinks he may get along with her. The Lanky One tries again, and then runs over Ove’s mailbox, so Ove orders him out of the car so that he can maneuver the car into the driveway for them. Once finished, he shouts at them for driving where cars are not supposed to be and then stomps to his house! Shortly thereafter, the two daughters–a 7-year old and a 3-year old appear with food for Ove because their mom said he was probably hungry.

This begins a begrudging relationship with Parvaneh and her family. Parvaneh encourages Ove to take in the stray cat when it’s near death from being outside in the Swedish cold. Through this, he also reintroduces himself to Jimmy, as he uses his big body and its heat to help warm up the cat…and then realizes he’s allergic and Ove and Parvaneh take him to the hospital.

Parvaneh convinces Ove to teach her how to drive, and in the meantime, imposes herself and her children on him, always at crucial times during his suicide plots, to drive here various places.

But Ove isn’t only making friends with her family. He also helps the teen, Adrian, who owns the bicycle which was not in the shed like it was supposed to be. He’d agreed to help fix it it up for a girl who he likes.  Ove, with Parvaneh, deliver the bicycle to his place of employment, a cafe, where Ove learns that Adrian knows nothing about fixing bicycles, and his dad is in prison. So Ove shows him how to fix up the bicycle. Upon returning into the cafe, Ove meets one of Adrian’s coworkers, another adolescent named Mirsad, who is “bent”, and his father Amel. He also saves a man who has fallen onto the train tracks, as he is there planning to jump in front of them to take his own life. Through this, he makes the acquaintance of a journalist who he continues to shrug off for her story about his heroic deeds

Later in the story, Mirsad comes out to his father, who doesn’t take it well, and Ove ends up taking Mirsad into his home. Mirsad asks if he can accompany Ove and the cat on the daily neighborhood round. Upon this route, they stumble upon Jimmy who informs Ove that social services is coming to get Rune. Anita has been appealing it for two years, but the decision has been made. Ove is furious that he and Sonja didn’t know anything about this, but Jimmy says that they had specifically made the decision to not tell Ove and Sonja because they had had enough troubles of their own after the accident. Ove is furious. He’s had his share of run-ins with the “white shirts” over the years–first when he was younger and his house burned to the ground, and later after Sonja’s accident when the driver was drunk. In both cases, the bureaucracy did not work in Ove’s favor, and he was bound and determined that it wouldn’t happen again.

With the help of all the neighbors, Anders, who works with a towing company, manages to tow the white shirt’s car, illegally parked in the neighborhood of course, while he’s in getting Rune ready to move out. When he comes out and finds his car missing, he of course assumes Ove, who has been badgering him about the illegally parked cars for years and calls the police. When the white shirt returns, with two other white shirts, the neighborhood is ready. Jimmy, Anders, Mirsad, Parvaneh and co., and of course Ove are all there to back her up. So is Lena, the journalist. They show the white shirts a bunch of information about themselves, and basically suggest that the white shirts leave Rune and Anita alone or the information will be published. (This was a bit of a stretch in the plot, but OK.)

They all go on to live their happy lives. We learn that Ove has a heart condition–his heart is too big! Oh the irony is a little ham fisted here. The book technically ends when Parvaneh has her third child, a boy. But of course there is an epilogue to give everyone closure on the story. Four months later, Ove dies in his sleep. He gifts many things to all his recent friends, and over 300 people come to his funeral.

Verdict: 3 stars

Generally pretty good. It’s drily funny, and I always love a good curmudgeon. The ending was a bit overdone in my opinion (a bit too Hollywood ending), but generally the story moved nicely and was a decent “feel good” tale.

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What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – Marshall Goldsmith

Review (Amazon): Whether you are near the top of the ladder or still have a ways to climb, this book serves as an essential guide to help you eliminate your dysfunctions and move to where you want to go.

Marshall Goldsmith is an expert at helping global leaders overcome their sometimes unconscious annoying habits and attain a higher level of success. His one-on-one coaching comes with a six-figure price tag. But, in this book, you get Marshall’s great advice without the hefty fee!

My Review:

Executive Summary: Skip all the chapters and just read the last one

This was my book for the year as part of my development plan at work. It was suggested to me by another book club member to choose as she had found it to be one of the best self-improvement sort of books. Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel the same. Last year I read How to Win Friends and Influence People which I thought was pretty good, and really simple, but this book seemed to reiterate a lot of the stuff from the much older Carnegie book, and I didn’t feel like I was at a point in my career where I really was at the point of needing this book. For instance, the intro page says “To all successful leaders who want to ‘take it to the next level’ and get even better”. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I don’t think that anyone at work considers me a “successful leader”, so I just felt like the book was meant for people at a different stage in their career.

The book is divided into four sections:

Section One – The Trouble with Success – which discusses where you are in your career, why the author is qualified to help you, and why psychologically we as humans are opposed to change. Pretty basic.

Section Two – The Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from the Top – so this section lists out not twenty, but twenty-one bad habits you have that are holding you back. These are things like “passing judgment” or “speaking when angry”. All incredibly basic, and very similar to my previous read. The twenty-first habit is “goal obsession”. Unfortunately this is the chapter that hit me that this book wasn’t really for me. I’m not goal obsessed. In fact, I don’t actually have any goals at work because I have a corporate job and setting goals, to me, is just a way to be disappointed. I used to have goals, but I stopped setting them pretty early in my career after a shitty manager who never gave me a performance review…three years in a row.

Section Three – How We Can Change for the Better – discusses seven different ways of how you can improve. Again, it’s incredibly basic stuff. Like the stuff you leaned in kindergarten but somehow becoming a CEO makes you forget how to do the basics like apologizing, thanking, and listening. Seriously, those are three of the chapters. I mean, I get it. Sometimes people need to be reminded of those sort of things, but I don’t think that the people who are awful at listening realize that they are awful at listening. There are a few better sections in here which relate to feedback, follow up, and what he calls “feedforward”. This chapter actually could have some use if you are honest with yourself about what it is that you would want to change, and then have a good team of people in your life to help you stick with it.

Section Four – Pulling Out the Stops – these last thirty pages are really all you need. They go over how to maximize how to make any change in your life. A lot of the examples are compared to losing weight – something relatable that requires diligence and attention – and explains how a behavioral change is similar. There are a lot of good and relevant examples in this section, but not enough to make the book great overall.

Verdict: 3 stars

I’m assuming I’m going to have to pick another book for next year for my development plan, and I’m going to have to do a better job. Maybe if I had read this book without previously having read the Carnegie book, I would have liked it more. I just felt like it wasn’t telling me much that was new. I have a couple options already for books for next year. I’d love for anyone to weigh in on good ones.

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