Monday, May 14, 2018

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3)Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. So the depth of this series is amazing. It reminds me of the Wheel of Time as far as scope, but seems to be better contained. Sure, there are subplots happening elsewhere at the end, but the main wrap-up is, well, wrapped up. It is like one conflict ended, and then a new one started. He keeps the characters growing and keeps them at the heart of the story. Even with political or religious intrigue (or hints about the cosmic connections), the characters are center stage.

Things that I'm glad about:
- A resolution [for now] to the Adolin - Shallon - Kaladin love triangle. Is it really the end of that issue? I don't know and I don't care. It is wrapped up enough that I don't feel an ongoing conflict for now, which I think would detract from the conflicts that are continuing on. I generally prefer to wrap up interpersonal conflicts at the end of the book, and let the overall plot conflict carry the series from book to book. Does that make sense?
-More explanation on how soul casting works. This came mostly at the end, some in the epilogue I think, but it is a major part of the book, and not very well explained. As long as there is action and the characters keep growing, I can be patient, but I appreciate the explanation when it comes.
-Queen Jasnah. Yes.

Things that I'm not excited about:
Taravangian's diagram. I'd just like to have a better idea of where it came from. I felt like I'm supposed to know more about it, as if the hints were there, but I missed them. The whole negotiation between Taravangian and Odium at the end confused me. I thought Odium was already behind the diagram? So confused.

Long endings. There was a final battle and then the book went on and on. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate the wrap up, but it just felt like it took too long. It is like a really exciting party or event, and then a long ride home afterwards. The excitement wears off and you just want to get home and go to bed.

Finally, I can't not say it again: Brandon Sanderson is a genius. He has such an amazing natural talent, and then he adds dedication and effort on top of it, and shares it with us. Thank you, sir.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

New Spring by Robert Jordan

New Spring (Wheel of Time, #0)New Spring by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last year I finally finished the Wheel of Time series, and celebrated the achievement of over a decade. I excluded this prequel in my definition of the series though. The story started and ended just fine without it, I thought, so why bother? Well, it hung around in my to-read list, and finally made it to the top and I found that I really enjoyed it.

I think time made it sweeter. It returned me to a world that I have spent many hours in. Sure, some of those were hours of frustration... ok, many of them. But it is still an experience I enjoyed. This book brought it all back, with new events for the same old characters. If anyone out there is thinking of reading the WoT, start with this book. While it does have pages here and there that show the characteristic slowness of the series, it is worth the extra pages.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone RollingJoseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was educational. I learned some new things about Joseph Smith, a man I have known about and revered most of my conscious life. I leave the book respecting him more, while seeing him as a man as much as a prophet, which was his religious calling. Was he perfect? No, he was a man who made mistakes, misjudged, and sinned at times. Yet, he was the right man to restore the church to the earth. Who else would have moved forward with confidence on the revelations he received? How else would the church have survived his martyrdom?

A few impressions I left with:
-History has compressed his story. He spent years of his life working at what he felt was his calling in life, and it is now presented as a clear path from A to B to C and so on, but the reality of his life was not like that. He wandered a bit, trying to figure things out. Sometimes he seems to have inserted more of himself in the work, while other times he seems to have worked more from external inspiration. The zoomed-out result can be presented as one path, but that isn't realistic.
-Contemporary Mormonism has evolved, and continues to evolve, as it should. As a church member it sometimes seems like the church is slow moving or unchanging because we understand that our doctrines are anchored and immovable in certain places. But when you look over the long run, it is a work that progresses as needs change. It is a challenge for church leaders to both guide and accept progress while seeing to and protecting our doctrinal anchors that are unchangeable.
-I feel like I understand both why Mormonism is hard to accept, and hard to reject. The story of the restoration is very divisive. It is hard to believe that this boy, and then this man, saw what he says he saw, and did what he said he did. Yet, it is also hard to believe that the Book of Mormon, and the church, came from an uninspired farm boy, and the fallible man we meet in this book. Defending either side can be tough, which I why I think it comes down to each person asking for them self, and then developing faith around their position. Interestingly, that is also the advice in the Book of Mormon itself.

This book does address some of the controversies surrounding Joseph Smith, such as polygamy. Those controversies are hard to understand, but that is not without precedent and probably shouldn't be surprising. Many historical figures also have controversy surrounding them, but those quirks don't diminish their contribution to history, and the same is true for Joseph Smith from my perspective. Men such as Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson seem to get more attention for their faults than their contributions these days, and some of their faults are disturbing. But their contributions were real, and the institutions that resulted from their efforts have largely survived in spite of the weaknesses of their founders.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Dark Talent by Brandon Sanderson

The Dark Talent (Alcatraz, #5)The Dark Talent by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I went into this thinking that it was the last book in the series, and that I had made it through a decent, although somewhat annoying series. Well, just so you know, it isn't the last book. The last book hasn't been written yet.

This book ends on a cliff hanger, which is incredibly frustrating for several reasons. The first is obvious: cliff hangers are often frustrating. The second, the expectation set did not match the reality. Perhaps after reading the actual last book I'll feel differently, but this does feel like unmet expectations. Third, one of the things that Sanderson does best is provide closure at the end of each of the books in his series'. Minor story arcs inside of big ones. A small victory for the good guys, even though the world is in even more trouble. He totally whiffed this one. No closure, no minor win, just disappointment. Maybe it'll all get fixed after the last book, but this was not appreciated.

If I am to give him any credit, it does say something that I care enough to be this disappointed by a juvenile fiction book. It is a sign that despite other failures, he created strong characters, setting and plot, which is classic Sanderson. Unsatisfying endings are not.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot, #10)Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Agatha Christie is a household name, I believe, yet my experience with her works is fairly limited. After reading And Then There Were None last year, I put this Murder on the Orient Express, one of her most famous stories, on my to-read list. I was not disappointed.

While there were some weaknesses, such as the fact that Poirot happened to know so many details about the Armstrong case, it kept me guessing until the end. Or at least almost to the end. Then there is the style of the classic mystery, which somehow focuses on the mystery and discovery of the cast of characters, and at the same time leaves them underdeveloped. Part of that is due to the limitation of having only one point of view so the reader doesn't get too much information too soon, but it does make the book a little hollow.

I enjoy a good mystery so I'm giving this one a solid 4 stars and recommend it as a standard in classic mysteries.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens (Alcatraz, #4)Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this was another step forward in the Alcatraz series, I feel like I have said it all already. Once again my comments are meta-comments about the writing rather than the actual story.

This was a good story, with good characters, written in an unfortunate style that hides the genius of the story. Some of the funniest stuff is in those awkward sections where the narrator butts in, but as I have pointed out previously, the voice of that writing is pure Brandon Sanderson. Now, I'd pay for a whole book of that content from Sanderson, and he obviously has it in him wanting to get out, but it is unfortunate the way it got embedded in this book. In some ways, it reminds me of Wayne in the Alloy of Law series, but Wayne has a setting and other characters to be true to. The narrator interjections here are really free from most of that since they are out of the timeline and in an unknown setting, so Sanderson can just let himself go. Enjoyable, but misplaced.

I still can't believe I'm reading this series. At this point it looks like I will just finish it out...

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a TimeThe Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book will either convince you that you need to sleep more, or it will put you to sleep. Huffington writes an overly long, overly scientific apology on sleep, but misses the opportunity to drive a single message. If her message is that we should sleep more, then the chapter on dreams and most of the history of sleep was unnecessary. She could have skipped to a few of the benefits, made some astute observations about how we degrade sleep as a culture, slapped us with some consequences of the lack of sleep and sent us on our way. But instead it went on forever, with trivial stories and factoids that did not drive a main message.

So if you are struggling to sleep, you might try this one. There are a few good tips at the end, although solving the problem she presents also does not seem to be the thesis. Hearing some of the benefits and consequences involved in sleep, or the lack thereof, does have a motivating factor. But if all else fails and that motivation doesn't do the trick, the book itself will probably put you to sleep.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am LegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hmm, this was strange story. I can't really say that I enjoyed it, but then again I've never been much for vampire books. In learning a little more about the story itself, which has been published both in a collection of short stories and as a stand-alone book, it was an early foray into both vampires and dystopian stories. Given the popularity of dystopian stories, I can see how this has caught peoples interest again, both on film and in print.

I didn't like Robert Neville much. While he was in a tough situation, and obviously in a mentally straining situation, he also wasn't very deep as a character, so there wasn't much to relate to. His range was from grumpy drunk to raving madman. I wanted him to win, not for him, but because I wanted humanity to win.

What is slow about this book is that there is no real action or plot movement for a long time. Finally when Ruth shows up, things begin to happen. I wonder if that was necessary? Why wait? The story could have been roughly the same and about a third shorter... which is saying something since it is already a short story.

Finally, what did I like about this story? Well it was the prototypical English class short story. There are some obvious themes that you make you think about the world around you. How does change fit into our world? Does the new always have to replace the old? Is someone justified in hating, despising, or fearing the old ways? Or the new ways? How do we demonize those who are different from us? Are there people or things in life that seem patently evil at first, but which might not be what we think they are?

So, I'm not a fan, but I can see why this story has endured over the years. It will be interesting to see what it's place in literary history is in another 50 years.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia (Alcatraz, #3)Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The first Alcatraz books were sorely disappointing. Book 2 was a second chance that piqued my interest enough to get me reading the series, although I was still disillusioned with the style of writing that constantly broke into the action. This 3rd book was more of the same. The plot, characters, and setting all got better, sure. But the annoying breaks in the story annoyed me that much more.

I feel like Sanderson is giving in to the concept of sunk costs here. He committed to this style for the series and feels like he has to follow through for consistency. But instead, he should just throw consistency out the window in favor of creating a much better product. He is capable of switching it up and making it work. His fan base will forgive him as long as he keeps the story and characters going. Just do it. Please.

But for all my criticism, I'm still reading, so he has me along for the ride, whining and complaining all the way. If you ignore the breaks in the action for chit chat, you end up with a 3 or 4 star read.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess BrideAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love The Princess Bride movie. I've been watching that movie since it came out in the 80's, seeing it for the first time at a friend's house on VHS. I knew that I liked the movie, so when I saw this audio book I was mildly interested.

What I learned is that I know and like this movie even better than I thought I did. As they talked about certain scenes, I could picture every one of them. The movie was actually on TV the other night and I found that I knew more of the dialogue than I thought, and I already thought I knew it pretty well. And now I have stories to go along with many of the scenes, which I will admit has ruined the movie just a bit for me, since it is hard to not pull out of the story and think of the filming now that I know the backstage tidbits.

One unexpected fact I learned was that it was a box office dud when it came out. I had no idea! Our family didn't go to movies so I figured I had just missed out. This movie is a classic and hearing the details of its making was way more interesting than I expected. If you like the movie, and are willing to risk knowing the behind-the-scenes stories that may ruin future viewings, I'd suggest reading this. It was fun. And just for fun, I dare you to not finish these lines:

No more rhyming, I mean it! _____ ____ __ ______?
Have fun _________ the castle!
Your friend here is only _____ ______, not all dead.
Gently! _____!
I have something to tell you. I'm not ____-_______ either!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The Neverending StoryThe Neverending Story by Michael Ende
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I saw this audio book when I was in need of something to listen to, and remembered enjoying the fantasy movie from the 80's by the same title, so I checked it out. Strangely, I didn't remember hardly anything from that movie other than a flying dog, so as I began to read (listen) I was having a whole new experience.

The initial journey was a little long, but it was a fun adventure where a little boy takes part in the adventure he is supposedly reading. Finally, we are reaching towards the big moment where the Nothing is overcome and the Childlike Empress is saved. It wasn't my favorite, but it was satisfying to a degree. Then the story wrap up started, and was going a little longer than I expected since the main conflict had been resolved. Then there were new little conflicts, and the story kept on going, and I started to be concerned. Then it kept going, and concern turned to dismay. This story really was never ending! And it sucked! And where was that flying dog?

Finally after hours of unsatisfying torture it ended with the reunion scene between the boy and his father that should have taken place hours ago. Nothing good came from the rest of the book. It was a muddled plot with meaningless characters that came and went. Had it ended when the main conflict was resolved, I think it could have been a 3 star read for me. Now I grudgingly give it a rare 1 star.

I'm now going to go back and watch the movie, and see if Hollywood somehow fixed it, or if we were all so impressed with our new VCR's in the 80's that we would watch any old crap we could find on the shelf at Blockbuster.

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones (Alcatraz, #2)Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't going to read this book. The first Alcatraz was so awful that I wanted to white-out Brandon Sanderson's name on the cover. It felt like false advertising. But after a few weeks I found myself thinking about the characters and the story, and less about the quirky writing style. Somewhere in there I decided to give it one more try.

It was better the 2nd time. First and foremost, Sanderson seemed to both limit and condense his interruptions so they were easier to ignore. Second, underneath the problematic exterior Sanderson was back at his craft of world building and developing characters, and his natural talent is still there covered up by a really bad artistic decision.

I enjoyed this book, and he may just have won me over to reading the whole series, although it is tenuous. We will find out with the next book.

While I don't like the constant narrator interruptions, I do have two things to say about them. One, they are funny. It's not that they are bad reading, they are just out of place, like a stand-up comedian at a funeral. Two, I realized that the voice doesn't match. The narrator is supposed to be Alcatraz telling his story, but when you listen to the quirkiness of the narrator it doesn't match the voice of the Alcatraz inside the story. Maybe the narrator voice is the more mature, grown-up Alcatraz, but I struggle just as much to see that. My opinion is that the narrator is actually just good ol' Brandon Sanderson letting lose and being himself, which is awesome. (He actually took a shot at Garth Nix! Loved it! I like Garth Nix too by the way...) The narrator voice just doesn't work for me in this book.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups by Leonard Sax

The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-UpsThe Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups by Leonard Sax
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 stars. I liked this book, but was disappointed in its execution. Let me explain.

We are in a culture of disrespect in this country. Parents have abdicated all authority, and that abdication is costing our children, and society, a ton. We don't know why our children go to school, and we don't teach them correct principles. Our children are fragile and don't know how to fail, how to recover from failures, or how to be courageous. And this is all the fault of parents. We need to fix these issues in our homes.

Unfortunately, all of these astute and important observations somehow morphed into the same worn out diatribe against cell phones and video games that I hear a lot from the previous generation. While the author successfully made the case that parenting has gone awry, nothing lays causation at the feet of technology. In every example it was parenting that was to blame. So why be anti-technology?

While I am on the topic I'll share this thought from a recent tech conference I attended (sorry I don't have a citation-- I want to say the speaker was a VP of something from Twitter.) For our kids, the digital and physical world are blended, and both are "real" to them. So our parenting needs to become equally seamless. You wouldn't let your kids be alone with a stranger, so don't let them be online in a private conversation with out. But you also wouldn't lock your kids in the house to make sure they never encounter a stranger. How will they learn social skills? So let them safely explore the digital world. Know where they are going, who their friends are, and when they will be "home" (offline.) If they are home late, start hanging out with the wrong crowd, or sneaking out digitally OR physically, stand up and be a parent. Ok, so I might have restated that thought in my own words, but I appreciated the thought. Back to the book...

Yes, our culture has issues, but we all now live in a technical world. Absolving yourself of that world doesn't solve bad parenting. And your fear of technology doesn't solve the parenting problems either. Some of the worst, most fearful, least authoritative parents I know also abhor technology and refuse their kids video games, cell phones, social media accounts, etc. Refusing your kids' access to cigarettes is not the same as teaching them to not smoke. For me this ruined the whole book. I bought into the whole message, I see the problems in our lives and in the families around us, and this is the prescription? Useless.

This was headed toward a 5 star rating until it fell off the rails in the last few chapters. The author goes further down the anti-tech path without returning to the real issues. Parents need to learn to be authoritative again. They need to show love. They need to teach values. None of those have anything to do with smart phones. That is just a symptom.

So for falling off the rails, the best I can give this one is 3 stars. There are good messages in here, but don't get sucked into the false causality that leads you to give up technology in the hopes that all your problems will go away.