Sunday, June 17, 2012

An Invisible Sign Of My Own by Aimee Bender

Mona Gray is a 20-year-old, Grade 2 math teacher with curious habits: a compulsive need to knock on things, whether trees, walls or desks; a desire to quit everything that she is good at (except for math); and a knack of noticing strange things, like the unusual practice of Mr. Jones (her former school math teacher and now owner of the town hardware store), who wears wax necklaces of individual numbers that switch daily to indicate his changing moods.

In the background to this offbeat life, is the shadow of Mona’s father who has been sick for years with an unspecified illness. He hovers over Mona’s thoughts and feelings, and is omnipresent when she interacts with her seven-year-old students and other teachers, especially Mr. Smith, the new science teacher who is bound to be fired in no time.

This book is spectacular. Despite being only her second novel, the writing comes across as the work of a master. The literary flow in this book is so good that you sometimes forget that you are reading a story and start to imagine that you are peeking into the mind of a peculiar woman, who comes across as both brilliant and simple, insightful and hopefully naïve. Without a doubt this is a gem and a delight to read. An excellent work that is in a class of its own.

5 out of 5 stars            

Coyote Moon by John A. Miller

After watching his brilliant and close friend Arthur Hodges die, (a world renowned thinker who held an endowed chair of mathematics at MIT), quantum physicist Benny Rhodes has an epiphany: He must quit his job as a university professor and divorce his wife. In what seems like a flash instant, he leaves Boston and travels across the country where he meets a woman who is more than 30 years younger in the parking lot of a drugstore in Oklahoma after their cars collide. The new couple soon find themselves in a trailer park in the Mojave desert, where they meet a strange German couple who believe (or at least the husband does) that they have all come together for a special, perhaps even mystical, reason.

Meanwhile, in Scottsdale, Arizona, a mysterious young man just out of the army, and who has never played formal organized baseball in his life, shows up at the training camp of the Oakland A’s. First dismissed as a nonentity, the player is told flat out that he has no chance of making the team. But when his playing ability reveals him to be a bona fide superstar (some are so shocked by his skill that they wonder if he made a pack with the devil) he is quickly offered a professional contract. Even weirder than his raw talent, however, is his bizarre mathematical ability, and his knowledge of advanced physics. When the player finds himself in the trailer park in the Mojave desert, a debate ensues about whether he is the reincarnation of a scientific genius.

This wonderfully original book was a pure joy to read. With amazing literary skill and a wonderful imagination, John Miller has written a book that is worthy of extensive praise. If this novel were a symphony, it would receive a standing ovation for several minutes from an adoring audience.

5 out of 5 stars

The Fractal Murders by Mark Cohen

Three math professors in three different U.S. states are found dead. At first glance, none of the cases appear related, except for the odd fact that all three were experts of fractal geometry. Convinced that this link is not a mere coincidence, math professor Jayne Smyers from Boulder, Colorado, hires private detective (and former Marine JAG) Pepper Keane to investigate.

In the ensuing search, Pepper finds himself travelling to several states, taking a road trip with his best friend, and unravelling a mathematical secret that was designed to beat the stock market. As he gets closer to the truth about the three dead professors, he finds himself falling in love with the affable Prof. Smyers, all the while working through the fascinating (but poorly written!) philosophical classic Being and Time from the German philosopher Martin Heidegger.

This fast-paced novel is a fun read that will appeal to mystery fans and lovers of math / philosophy alike. A good, fun book that is worth picking up.

3 out of 5 stars