Book Review: The Power of the Dog

9781400096930Title: The Power of the Dog
Author: Don Winslow
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: May 1, 2005

From Knopf: The prequel to The Cartel, and set about 10 years earlier, The Power of the Dog introduces a brilliant cast of characters. Art Keller is an obsessive DEA agent. The Barrera brothers are heirs to a drug empire. Nora Hayden is a jaded teenager who becomes a high-class hooker. Father Parada is a powerful and incorruptible Catholic priest. Callan is an Irish kid from Hell’s kitchen who grows up to be a merciless hit man. And they are all trapped in the world of the Mexican drug Federación. From the streets of New York City to Mexico City and Tijuana to the jungles of Central America, this is the war on drugs like you’ve never seen it.

My Review: The Power of the Dog spans three decades, a handful of government agencies and several borders to give you powerful insight into the Mexican drug Federación and War on Drugs. Although the book is fiction the narrative is fact-based, therefore gripping and all-consuming. Any American who has followed politics and the news the past 30 years will find this book evocative.

The Power of the Dog’s plot is complex and the characters equally elaborate, a testament to Winslow’s years of research enabling him to compose this narcos-charged masterpiece.  This story is not for the faint of heart. It’s appalling, graphic, violent and spares no detail. But that’s how the Federación operates. Pay close attention because the cast is extensive and their betrayal unrestrained.

I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Ray Porter.  His narration is brilliant – the pronunciation, intonation, inflection, and delivery were on the money. I highly recommend giving this one a listen if you can stomach the details and keep the characters straight. Winslow is releasing the third book, currently untitled, in 2018 and I will be reading it!

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Book Review: The Hopefuls

img_2062Title: The Hopefuls
Author: Jennifer Close
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: July 19, 2016
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 / 5

From Knopf: When Beth arrives in D.C., she hates everything about it: the confusing traffic circles, the ubiquitous Ann Taylor suits, the humidity that descends each summer. At dinner parties, guests compare their security clearance levels. They leave their BlackBerrys on the table. They speak in acronyms. And once they realize Beth doesn’t work in politics, they smile blandly and turn away. Soon Beth and her husband, Matt, meet a charismatic White House staffer named Jimmy, and his wife, Ashleigh, and the four become inseparable, coordinating brunches, birthdays, and long weekends away. But as Jimmy’s star rises higher and higher, the couples’ friendship—and Beth’s relationship with Matt—is threatened by jealousy, competition, and rumors. A glorious send-up of young D.C. and a blazingly honest portrait of a marriage, this is the finest work yet by one of our most beloved writers.

My Review: THE HOPEFULS delivers a fun and engaging insight into political campaign life. The who’s who of Washington, D.C. flashing their security clearances and acronym employers. I’ve always found the whole D.C. political scene intriguing and glamorizing thanks to shows like Scandal and The West Wing. Close superbly blends a double narrative together about the campaign trail and it’s effect on personal relationships.

Beth and Matt trade in their posh NYC lifestyle for D.C. so Matt can join President Obama’s Inauguration Committee. Beth doesn’t fit the culture and never really acclimates and having Matt’s family close by (with a mother-in-law who treats her like an outsider) gives Beth more reason to hate D.C. When they meet Texans Jimmy and Ashleigh (Ash), the four of them hit it off. Matt’s career slows down while Jimmy’s takes off and Matt finds himself running Jimmy’s Texas Railroad Commissioner campaign. The two couples forge a close relationship and move in together during the campaign but friendships and marriages with the best intentions are tough to maintain with the strains of jealousy, tension and temptation.

I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the narration, especially the Texas accents. I liked the characters despite Beth being a bit too negative and complain-y in the beginning, overall I think this is a worthy read.

Book Review: Lab Girl

IMG_0815Title: Lab Girl
Author: Hope Jahren
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Vintage: Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.

My Review: LAB GIRL is a scientific, biographical memoir depicting the author’s personal journey becoming a woman in science filled to the brim with passion, drive, emotion and rawness. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Jahren and adore when authors narrate their own books because the transference of their feelings and emotions is so real and true to the story. But, if you aren’t a fan of loads of science-y information and a fairly dry prose then this book may not be for you.

A fusion of science and poetry, LAB GIRL opens the door to a front row seat at the arduous and often inane efforts necessary to become a paid scientist and more so for women. Raised in her father’s science lab at a local community college, Jahren learned first hand the attention to detail and long hours required to make it in the profession and the lab quickly became Jahren’s safe haven.

Jahren’s focus is singular, her every breath revolves around having her own lab. She’s often awkward, comes across as both unresponsive and interested and she’s a loner. She has a long running platonic relationship with her equally brilliant and awkward lab manager, Bill Hagopian, who is part of her employment package deal. Later she marries another scientist, Clint Conrad, starts a family and faces the delicate balance between her career, family and her manic depressive episodes. I appreciate the beauty in Jahren’s love and dedication for science and the analogies between her subjects and career.

Book Review: Chemistry

Chemistry by Weike Wang Book ReviewTitle: Chemistry
Author: Weike Wang
Publisher: Knopf
Format: Ebook
Verdict: Read it
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ / 5

From Knopf: Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She’s tormented by her failed research–and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there’s another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can’t make a life before finding success on her own. Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she’s confronted with a question she won’t find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry–one in which the reactions can’t be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.

My Review: Chemistry is a uniquely written story that reads like a non-fiction book. Wang’s brilliant depiction of an unnamed woman who recounts why she left a chemistry PhD program is coursely humourous. This kind of fiction writing is a departure from what I would normally pick up and read but I am so glad I ventured outside of my reading comfort zone. This book is written like a succinct diary and reads quickly so if you are looking for a book in between heavier stories this one is perfect.

The main character reaches a boiling point in her academic career and walks away from the program when she fails to make the leap from technician to scientist. She suffers a breakdown and her boyfriend, Eric, who keeps asking her to marry him, and she repeatedly puts him off, suggests she seek professional help. During her counselling sessions, with ‘the shrink’, the character takes us thru her upbringing as an only child of Chinese immigrant parents, their own personal struggles coming to the United States and the high expectations they placed on her. She wonders what it is like growing up in Eric’s family having your mother slip notes of encouragement into your lunch box every day in contrast to her dysfunctional family. Her parents do not get along with each other, often throw things in the house and show her no compassion and understanding.

What I really enjoyed about this book is how the main character’s ramblings are random but purposeful. They are humourously dry, totally factual and every bit entertaining. What I found unique is Wang’s decision to name only one character in the story, Eric, and everyone else was a descriptor; the shrink, the best friend, the lab mate, the dog. I can only speculate that Wang did this to drive home the importance Eric was to the unnamed woman.

The ending was abrupt and I would have liked to see where the unnamed woman’s future took her but overall it was an enjoyable read.