Thursday, September 19, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: In The Clearing (Tracy Crosswhite, #3) by Robert Dugoni

This is the third book in the Tracy Crosswhite series by Robert Dugoni. In The Clearing was a nice change of pace from the previous entries, which involved a serial killer in Book 2 (Her Final Breath) and the solving of her own sister’s decades-old did appearance in the excellent Book 1 (My Sister's Grave).

Here we again have a cold case which is central, about a young Native American girl whose body was found floating in the river forty years ago but the young deputy who investigated the case never believed was a suicide. His daughter becomes sheriff and brings the case to Tracy. This is after Tracy catches a complicated case where both the estranged wife and the troubled son admit to shooting the husband/father in a domestic disputes during a bitter divorce.

Surprisingly, it is the cold case which occupies more of Tracy’s time in In The Clearing. The girl who died was well-liked and was loosely connected to four star football players who despite playing for a small-town high school team had gone on to win the state championship the next day. Tracy pounds the pavement and finds leads and clues left by the original investigator.
Eventually Tracy solves both mysteries, using insights gained by seeing how relationships in families (especially parents and children) can be warped by self-interest and ego.

Overall, I’d say this third book was a bit more formulaic of a police procedural than the first two entries in the series, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the first two books the story lines are so emotionally charged and Tracy endangers herself do recklessly that it became a little exhausting to read. The romance/relationship with Tracy’s boyfriend Dan is nice and realistic. One drawback in the structure of Book 3 that there is much less interaction between Tracy and her Seattle Police Department detective colleagues, which is a shame. However, as a solid, suspenseful, nicely plotted and well-executed mystery, In The Clearing lives up to this description.

Title: In The Clearing (Tracy Crosswhite, #3).
Robert Dugoni.
Paperback: 479 pages.
Date Published: May 17, 2016.
Date Read: September 7, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


Monday, September 16, 2019

EYE CANDY: Kalmon Stokes

Kalmon Stokes is a model I initially found on Instagram (@kalmonstokes). He has been featured in Obvious magazine (in 2018) when they said he was 24 years old and 6-foot-3. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I have been procrastinating reading The Sparrow for a very long time. I have been curious about this 1997 book because of the over 50,000 ratings on Goodreads with an average well above 4.0/5.0 (53,447 at 4.17 as of 9/1/19). I was aware of the acclaim and many plaudits (The Clarke, Tiptree and BSFA awards) it had received and was intrigued by a blurb which describes a first-contact mission organized by Jesuits and reviews which mention that the book will be loved by “believers and non-believers” alike. I’m here to tell you that I seriously doubt the last assertion is true. While I do appreciate the overwhelmingly positive reviews for The Sparrow and though I have multiple reasons for not enjoying the book as much as the average reviewer, my disappointment was not rooted in religion but science, i.e. not my lack of belief in God or a higher power but my inability to suspend belief about (micro)biology. 

My review of The Sparrow is not intended to be a negative one; the writing is excellent, the plotting brilliant (the two time lines set in 2019 and 2059 are devastatingly executed). The structure of the story is such that we see the events leading up to discovery of the existence of intelligent life, the details of the preparation and journey to their planet, and the meeting between humans and aliens on the planet of Rakhat in the Alpha Centauri system. All of that is well done and quite compelling, if a little unbelievable due to the notion it would be spearheaded by the Society of Jesus in the 21st century. However it is the second, future time line (after the ultimately catastrophic and tragic events of the first time line) which really elevates The Sparrow; it transforms the book into a moral mystery novel, because the reader is constantly trying to reconcile the main characters’ behavior in the early time line with how they are (achingly slowly revealed) in the later time line. That dramatic tension alone may be enough for some readers to satisfy and thrill them. Sadly, for me it wasn’t, although it did provide me with enough energy to complete the book.

The primary source of my dissatisfaction for The Sparrow is not (entirely) based in its attempt to make one of its central plots revolve around the faith (or loss of faith) of a handsome Jesuit priest, Father Emilio Sandoz, the main character of the novel. I simply was unable to completely disregard the likely existence and presence of microscopic pathogens on an alien planet. When the humans meet the aliens they interact with them like they are “First World” colonists visiting “Third World” lands on Earth. There’s no breathing apparatus, concern that flora and fauna that is alien may also be deadly. It’s such a fantastical and facile choice that it took me out of the story so dramatically that I was unable to return. I was very surprised by this choice because there are so many examples in classic science fiction where the dangers of alien microbiology are key plot points (The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky are just a few that come immediately to mind.) It is very possible that I may be one of the few readers that feel this way. 

In fact, I would barely call The Sparrow a work of science fiction. It’s aims and contexts are sociological, anthropological and philosophical, not scientific. (Of course there exist works of science fiction which share some or all of these aims.) That’s fine, but that’s not the reason why I read science fiction. "Science" is right there in the name! The Sparrow completely ignores vast segments of scientific knowledge in pursuit of telling a particular story. (I would explicitly name microbiology and engineering as areas the author, or at least the text, seems to deliberately ignore.) I am somewhat curious about the sequel, Children of God, and will probably read it at some point. However, even though Father Sandoz's story arc in The Sparrow  is compelling and life on Rakhat is intriguing I’m also in no hurry to return there any time soon.

Title: The Sparrow.
Mary Doria Russell.
Paperback: 416 pages.
 Ballantine Books.
Date Published: May 27, 2008 (First Published 1996).
Date Read: August 28, 2019.

★★☆☆  (3.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+/B (3.16/4.0).


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

2019 US OPEN: Nadal Wins 19th Slam, 4th US Open Title

As I predicted, Rafael Nadal won the 2019 US Open title, by defeating Daniil Medvedev in a surprisingly tight 7-5 6-3 5-7 6-4 6-3 in nearly 5 hours. This is Nadal's 19th major title (1 Australian Open, 12 French Open, 2 Wimbledon, 4 US Open), putting him just one behind Roger Federer's total of 20 and increasing his lead over Novak Djokovic's 16.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

2019 US OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Daniil Medvedev (RUS) [5] vs Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2]
Here are my predictions for the men's final between  Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev at the 2019 U.S. Open Championships. I also (incorrectly) predicted the women's final between Serena Williams and Bianca Andreescu. This year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals, 1 of 2 men's semifinals,  4 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 1 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. Last year I incorrectly predicted Serena Williams would defeat Naomi Osaka.

Daniil Medvedev (RUS) [5] d. Grigor Dimitrov (BLR) 7-6(5) 6-4 6-3.  Despite having fewer winners, more errors and a winning fewer points in the first set, Medvedev was able to steal it in the tiebreak.  He was able to continue his improbable winning streak by ending Dimitrov's even more improbable run at the U.S. Open. The 6-foot-6 23-year-old Russian played the bigger points better and was rewarded with his very first major final appearance.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2] d. Matteo Berrettini (ITA) [24] 7-6(6) 6-4 6-1. Matteo Berrettini  made a lot of fans with his play in the first set of his very first major semifinal. He was up 4-0 and 6-4 in the tiebreak but somehow Nadal was able to win the last four points and the set as the young Italian got tight at the sight of the finishing line. After that, Nadal was able to squeeze out the second set and run away with the 3rd to reach his 5th major final in New York City (3-1 record).

These two met in the final of the Rogers Cup just over a month ago and Nadal won easily (6-3 6-0). Although no one expects the final to be that one-sided, Nadal is a clear favorite to grab his 19th major title (in his 27th major final), and become the first man over 30 years old to win 5 majors. He has only lost one set so far (to 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic) and also had a walkover. Medvedev has had a much tougher path to the final; only his first round and semifinal round were straight set victories.  MadProfessah's pick: Nadal.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

2019 US OPEN: Andreescu Wins 1st Major, Delaying Serena's Quest For 24

Defying my prediction, Bianca Andreescu defeated Serena Williams in the women's final of the 2019 U.S.Open 6-3 7-5 to win her first major final. The 19-year-old Canadian became her country's first major title winner (of any gender) and the first player born since 2000 to win a major title. (There is still no player born in the 1990s or the 2000s who has won a major title on the ATP tour.)

For the fourth time in a row that she has played in four major finals since returning after getting married and having a baby, Serena was unable to play her best tennis. Despite winning the first point with an ace, Serena still got broken in her very first service game, by hitting a double fault on breakpoint. In fact, this was an augur of things to come, because Serena had an awful serving performance today, with only 44% of her first serves going in (compared to 66% of Andreescu's). But even from the back of the court, Andreescu was able to match (and at time, outmatch) Serena's power, and most definitely consistency. For the second US Open in a row, Serena played a player more than a decade younger who had won the Indian Wells tournament and who was completely unfazed by playing in her first major final. Some people say that Serena lost these matches to Osaka and Andreescu because the younger players played the "best match of their lives." I strongly disagree. They played well, but not extraordinarily so. Andreescu is always aggressive and today was no different. After losing in the first round of qualifying last year (and the year before), the 19-year-old won the entire tournament in her first maindraw appearance. In fact, she has won her first 8 matches against Top 10 players and will make her debut in the Top 10 herself at #5 on Monday. How many more majors will Andreescu win? Time will tell, but she appears to be the multi-slam winner women's tennis has been waiting for.

2019 US OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Serena Williams (USA) [8] vs Bianca Andreescu (CAN) [15]
Here are my predictions for the women's final between Serena Williams and Bianca Andreescu at the 2019 U.S. Open Championships. I will also predict the men's final between Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev. This year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals, 1 of 2 men's semifinals,  4 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 1 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. Last year I incorrectly predicted Serena Williams would defeat Naomi Osaka.

Bianca Andreescu (CAN) [15] d. Belinda Bencic (SUI) [13] 7-6(3) 7-5.  This was the first meeting between these two players and the score doesn't reflect the level of drama that resulted. Bencic was the better player for most of the first set; she had 6 break points to go ahead but Andreescu was able to win all of these pivotal points. Then in the tiebreak Bencic had her one double fault--a devastating mental error. However she rebounded strongly in the second set, quickly racking up a 4-1 (double break) lead. But in the very next game she inexplicably got broken at love and although she was able to break Andreescu again, the 19-year-old raised her game and from 2-5 down she was able to win 5 consecutive games (three service breaks!) to reach the US Open final in her major draw debut.

Serena Williams (USA) [8] dElina Svitolina (UKR) [5] 6-3 6-1. Serena continued the focused, destructive play she showed in her 6-1 6-0 quarterfinal to dismiss the World #5. The pivotal point of the match was the very beginning, when Serena fought off three break points to hold serve and then a 9-minute tussle occurred on Svitolina's serve which resulted in a 2-0 lead for Serena. Fron that point on the tension from the match was removed as Svitolina's shoulders slumped and Serena's eyes glittered with menace at the inevitable victory.

This is the fourth major final Serena has reached in the last 6 majors played; she has lost the 2019 Wimbledon final (lost to Simona Halep), the 2018 US Open final (lost to Naomi Osaka) and the 2018 Wimbledon final (lost to Angie Kerber). Since she returned to the tour after getting married and having her daughter Olympia Ohanian she has not won a single tournament and has been so overwhelmed by emotions she has been unable to player anyway near her best tennis in these finals and has yet to win a single set! I believe that will change today, but she it may be that for the first time in one of these finals she may be considered the underdog! That seems insane when you compare the 37-year-old 23-major champion facing a 19-year-old playing in her first major final but it is true. Bibi Andreescu has played 7 Top 10 players in her career and has won all 7 of them; Serena will be her 8th, and both will be in the Top 10 when the rankings come out on Monday. A year ago, Andreescu was not yet in the top 100 and since then she has won Indian Wells and Cincinnati. The last time she lost a completed match was in March!

All that being said, I think Serena will finally be able to play her tennis unencumbered by emotional baggage and in that scenario I still give her the edge against any active player.

MadProfessah's pick: Serena.

Friday, September 06, 2019

2019 US OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's semifinals at the 2019 U.S. Open Championships I will also predict the men's semifinals. This year I predicted 4 of 4 women's quarterfinals correctly and 1 of 4 men's quarterfinals correctly. Last year I predicted 1 of 2 men's semifinals correctly and 2 of 2 women's semifinals correctly

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [23] Daniil Medvedev (RUS) [5] vs Roger Federer (SUI) [3] Grigor Dimitrov (BLR).  After bludgeoning the World #1 in the round before I (like many people) would have thought that the 3-time major champion would be able to eliminate the #5 seed in their quarterfinal, but Medvedev keeps on winning, fueled by the enmity of the New York City crowds. The other quarterfinal was even more shocking, with Dimitrov finally earning his first win over 20-time major champion Roger Federer, whose 38-year-old body let him down against his 28-year-old opponent in the last two sets. So the result is that we have two first-time US Open semifinalists competing to reach their first major final. 23-year-old Medvdev has been the hottest player on tour for the past two months, losing only two matches (in the finals of the Citi Open to Nick Kyrgios and in the Cincinnati Masters to Rafael Nadal). He has risen to World #5 in the rankings. Dimitrov and Medvedev have split their two previous meetings, both of which occurred in 2017. Dimitrov is the better athlete and has had the (much) easier route to the semifinals, including a walkover from Borna Coric in the second round. But 6-foot-6 Medvedev has a huge serve and a big game, so even though he must be tired he may have enough firepower to make his way into his first major final. Dimitrov will certainly be the crowd favorite, and the sentimental one.  Mad Professah's pick: Dimitrov.

Gael Monfils (FRA) [13] Matteo Berretini (ITA) [24] vs Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2]. Gael Monfils was up a set and a break before the wheels came off and he lost the next two sets but was able to fight off numerous match points to bring the match to a deciding fifth set tiebreak. In which he inexplicably double faulted, not once but twice! These mental errors basically were the deciding factor as he lost the tiebreak 7 points to 5 when his 23-year-old opponent was able to hit a serve on his 5th match point which Monfils could not return into the court. In some sense it won't matter, because the title is now Nadal's to lose, with Federer and Djokovic and Wawrinka being eliminated it is hard to see anyone preventing him from winning his 19th major on Sunday.  Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.


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