Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2)The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Again, loved it.  As I said in my comments on The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, these books are generally ageless, yet there are a few more adult themes in this book, yet they are left as themes.  You don't find adult scenes or major plot elements.  Concepts such as marital infidelity are still approached from the eyes of 10-year old.  I recommend this book, as I enjoyed it as much as its predecessor.

Question of the day:  What is the real series-wide conflict?  Is it the potential loss of Buckshaw?  Or is it the broken family relationships?  Or Harriet's apparent death?  (Yes, I said apparent.  I held out hope for Harry Potter's parents until Book 3 or 4, so I can afford Flavia the same optimism...)

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two things come to mind when thinking about this book that I love in almost all of my favorite books.  Characterization and agelessness.

Characterization is a big word, so let me use some smaller words to explain what it means to me.  It means that the character is real to me.  They have a past, present and future.  Personality traits color their dialogue and perception of the world.  Acting for their own reasons, they shape the plot in an unconscious way, and yet at no time does the reader find them acting in a way inconsistent with who they are.  It is for this reason that I love the Junie B. Jones books, and with this bias is no possible way that I can't love riding on Gladys's handlebars with Flavia de Luce as she solves mysteries.

Flavia, a precocious 10-year old, is the star of Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and its progeny.  Her actions are consistent, her voice is contagious and her humanity is key to the plot.  I can't say enough good things about Alan Bradley's ability to introduce us to such a unique character.

So the other stand-out quality in this book is its agelessness.  By that I mean that it has a potential audience of anyone who can read a 300 page book.  There isn't a demographic that I can think of that wouldn't find something enjoyable about this plot or cast.  As an adult who favors juvenile literature, I really appreciate a story that can apply to all ages.  It is an art that is lost in many of today's action-oriented thrillers, philosophical book club favorites, and overly graphic love stories.

I must give some small comment about the fantastic nature of Flavia's chemical knowledge.  I don't see this as a character flaw, as much as an oddity of the plot or book as a whole.  Being a fantasy reader, I am ok with these kinds of exceptions to reality, and the passion that Flavia has for the subject carries the day for me.

Solid 5 stars.  Go read it now.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership FableThe Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second "fable" by Lencioni that I have read, and I find his books enjoyable and useful for several reasons.

1. The "fable" format works, and I feel a little better about adding them to the Fiction Room blog since they include actual fiction. They are highly consumable and fairly concise. That is what I want in a business book. It is still work, after all, and I would like to get the info I need, along with examples of how to try it out, and then get back to my own recreational reading...

2. The content of both 5 Dysfunctions and Death by Meeting are simple, yet profound concepts that speak to pain points in today's business environment. I don't need multiple studies to prove something that I already know (ie, that most meetings are broken and that most teams don't know how to get results.) I just need suggestions on how to address them that can be tested/implemented fairly quickly.

If I were to include a criticism of this book, it would be that while the story works, the drama/characterization is a little over the top sometimes. Maybe over the top is not what I mean, maybe it is just a weak point in Lencioni's style (we all have weak points.) His creative writing is not bad, but obviously not his first passion.

I recommend Lencioni (it is now required reading for my team) and look forward to products he has to offer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Book Of Mormon

So in case you were not aware, The Book of Mormon is a religious book that lays the foundation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is often referred to as the Mormon church, a name derived from the title of this book.  While I am a member of that church, I have no official spokesperson status.  Just an opinion I will share freely.

The book is comprised of  records of an ancient civilization on the American continent, preserved through the ages by a series of prophets/authors and then consolidated into one volume by a guy named Mormon (thus the name).  Ultimately it was buried for safe keeping, and later discovered in the 1830s by a man by the name of Joseph Smith, per the instructions of an angel.  There are plenty of critics out there for this book, and for the story of its orgin that I just outlined. I can not help them, nor can I respond to them, really.  I can understand that some people may have trouble with the idea of an angel guiding someone to a book.  I have trouble with the idea that the book isn't genuine (I read it, after all.)  So if it is genuine, then it came by angelic instructions.  Im ok with that.

I believe that the Book of Mormon is a true record of a people that really existed.  I can hear the different voices of authorship throughout the book, and I see attitudes and civization changing over time in its pages.  The purpose of the book is to bring people to Jesus Christ, and complements the Bible in that objective.  For me, to attack this book is to attack Christianity as a whole.  Again, this is just my opinion, so I recommend, as I often do on this blog, to read this book for yourself though, and would suggest forming your opinion after that reading, not before.

5 Stars.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Emporer of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan

The Ranger's Apprentice, Book 10: The Emperor of Nihon-JaThe Ranger's Apprentice, Book 10: The Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So another new country, but this time it is on the other side of the world. We see the Skandians innovating with ship building, we watch Evanlyn and Alyss resolve the last of the love triangle that was never capitalized on, and (my favorite) we get a brief suggestion that perhaps this is not a look at Medieval Europe, but maybe a futuristic European result. I know, I am stretching it a bit there, but it is possibilities like that that add dimension to a story, IMHO. (I base that off of the comments the characters made about the Suez canal stand-in...)

I like the good old-fashioned war that Horace finds himself in the middle of, and the outcome works with our expectations of the Rangers from previous books. I liked seeing Horace at the core of the story. The resolution of the romantic side-stories (they never take center stage, if you noticed?) is a good wrap-up, although it feels very permanent, and I'd like to hear more of these tales. I would like to see Horace's weaknesses a little more. So far he is always humble, never makes mistakes, has become witty, and is even catching on to the basics of Ranger training. What can't he do?

Four stars. I can't help it...

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Halt's Peril by John Flanagan

Halt's Peril (Ranger's Apprentice, #9)Halt's Peril by John Flanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 Stars for the following:
1. Pulling in past characters and developing them further.
2. Letting Halt get hurt (no one is infallible.)
3. Another all-around great story.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

The Kings of Clonmel (Ranger's Apprentice, #8)The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I am not such a big fan of the cult-as-an-antagonist storyline. I suppose that it is plausible, but it is just missing something. There aren't really any political struggles, or true military oppositions, just a bunch of easily-duped villagers. I have never supported that view of humanity. Anyway, it is good for what it is, and for this series that means above average, but no 4th star this time.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Erak's Ransom by John Flanagan

Erak's Ransom (Ranger's Apprentice, #7)Erak's Ransom by John Flanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, so this is where I rant for a little bit. What kind of stupid mistake did somebody make to put this book as the 7th in the series? It comes before the previous two books in the overall series storyline! It was written well for that position, so I don't think this is an author issue. I think it is an editor/publisher issuer, maybe when the series was published in the US, but why oh why didn't they fix it! That is totally unacceptable, and if I were going include that fact in my appraisal of this book, there is no way I could have given it over 1 star. I have decided to ignore that whole issue, because it is an otherwise enjoyable book. But really people. That was a ridiculous mistake. I hope someone was fired.

The story fits well in the series, because it cements the relationship with Skandia and Araluen. The story itself introduces new characters as well, although I am still a little confused at how Selethen went from foe to friend so quickly, but I am willing to go along with it and see if he shows up again in future books. I am willing to go to 4 stars again because of the world view Flanagan presents. It adds variety and interest to the book where other factors need to remain simple. As always, he is excellent at remembering who his target audience is.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan

The Siege of Macindaw (Ranger's Apprentice, #6)The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can give this one four stars for several reasons:
1. I am aggregating all of the .2 and point .1 from the other Ranger's Apprentice books :) It is a great series and deserves that credit somewhere.
2. I liked Will handling the adventure beginning to end. No "Gandalf" showing up to save the day...
3. This is both a benefit and a quesion-mark in my mind: Somehow Flanagan is able to pull in other coutnries/cultures as needed. We saw this as Horace trooped through Galicia. Understandably, to adult readers we recognize the European continent and its stereotypical inhabitants, but why were the first stories void of these countries/cultures? Weird. But Flanagan gets points in my book for bringing in the Scotti in this book. Interesting...

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Sorcerer in the North by John Flanagan

The Sorcerer in the North (Ranger's Apprentice, #5)The Sorcerer in the North by John Flanagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked Will doing the Ranger thing out on his own, and dealing with his own insecurities and life lessons. I took his apparent promotion at the beginning of the book in stride (only to be betrayed later, see future posts for those details.) I was not a fan of his separation from the princess(? am I downplaying their relationship by saying it that way?) considering their time in Skandia. It seemed like we were destined for more clashes between Horace and Will over that. Things resolve themselves a little too quickly in these books sometimes, thus just another solid 3 stars...

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

The Battle for Skandia (Ranger's Apprentice, #4)The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This installment continues the development of the characters, while providing another tale of the Ranger Corps. I am behind in my log here, so my comments will be brief: I like the war/fighting scenes. Flanagan deserves credit for keeping the battle scenes simple, yet engaging. He has also continued to maintain the simple language/themes as he did in the previous books. Very well done.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

The Icebound Land (Ranger's Apprentice, #3)The Icebound Land by John Flanagan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So this series is great for a couple of reasons. First, the books are short and easily digestible, which is perfect for my situation (I don't have much free time.) Second, the characters are all maturing, and we get to follow along as the author confronts the inherent conflicts of adolescents and grows his characters to overcome them. Finally, the plot is just a classic fun-to-read fantasy story.

The room for improvement remains in the same areas. This is a fantasy story that lacks magic. A painful omission in my book. While the characters are growing, and the plot is enjoyable, some of the developments in the story line seem overly obvious. I suppose that that is what I get for reading juvenile fiction, but still. My hope is that the tone of these books "grows up" over time, like the Harry Potter books did. (Although, ironically, I was not a fan of that maturing in the HP series, but that is a discussion for a different time...)

I'm looking forward to carving out some more time to keep reading this series...

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan

The Burning Bridge (Ranger's Apprentice, #2)The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm still impressed with this series as it provides a plot that moves along well, and has many deeper aspects to it, but remains at a late-grade-school level. I think it is the model for positioning a book in its category.

The story itself shows the main character, Will, growing and engaging, this time without his archetypal mentor (Halt=Gandalf). They add a potential relationship twist, as well as give his side kick a chance to be the hero. All of this is good.

Flanagan did leave me hanging at the end, from a plot perspective, but since these books are so short, I know that I will be able to chase that resolution through the next book or two, and I'm OK with that. I'm ready for the next one!

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Death By Meeting by Patrick Lencioni

Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in BusinessDeath by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business by Patrick Lencioni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pros for this title are easy to come up with: It was a quick read. The information is easily consumable. The resulting recommendation is fairly specific and easy to implement. The concept behind this strategy for your meetings seems solid.

Cons are that the information, while easy to test, does not seem to come from any sort of empirical source. Most of it sounds like Lencioni conjured it up from nothing. I'm OK with that, since that is how I have come up with some of my best work, but it is an easy criticism for a business book. The strategy sounds good, but will require some tweaking, I think to work in various situations, and I don't think it provides an end-to-end solution to business woes, or even challenges with making your meetings effective.

If I were to sum up the message of the book in a way that I could stand behind it 100%, it would be: "If you want your meetings to be more effective, and ultimate contribute to the bottom line of your business, then introduce healthy conflict within a light weight structure. Let the attendees emotion be the driving energy behind good decisions and business success."

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Monday, May 2, 2011

First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do DifferentlyFirst, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As another research-based business book, this one presented a great point-of-view on managing people. While it does seem that Buckingham departed from his research slightly from time to time, the message still rings true. I would recommend that all managers consider the idea that people are all different, and therefore should be managed differently, not the same.

While I like the main message of this book, I will say that the delivery was somewhat lacking. The content was good, but it just isn't well written. Academic portions seemed to drag on, and the language isn't engaging. This was actually my 3rd attempt at this one, and I made it to the end by sheer will, despite liking and appreciating the message.

All things considered I would give the content a solid 4.5 stars, but taking a holistic view, I can't go over three stars. I plan on picking up a few additional titles by the same guys (Gallup research results) so they will get another chance...

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don'tGood to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven't handed out five stars in a long time. So how did this book get all five? Well, part of it might be that I haven't broken out of the Fantasy genre in a while, given my goal of getting through the Wheel of Time. Or maybe this is just a fantastic study on what makes companies great. Really great.

So the pros: This is a study put together with an approach that can only be called scientific for a topic that is so difficult to analyze quantitatively. That sounds pretty dry, I know. Yet it was very consumable. I had no trouble keeping my interest, and about 2/3 of the way through the book, when my attention started to wander, it ended right on time. The last third of the book held appendices a very helpful index, and basically a variety of a la carte data that backed up the main message of the book. It was very well put together.

The cons: I only have one con, and it is pretty weak. I look at the principles and think that there is room for a lot of personal application. I admit it doesn't fit in with the objective of the study, and any conclusions would be highly suspect, but I was left wanting. So it is my only con.

I recommend this to anyone who owns a business, works in a business, or is just plain interested in becoming not just good, but great at something. So that is just about everybody.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time, #11)Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So after two months and about 30,000 airline miles I finally finished this one. It was a sheer act of will. The good news is that the delay was more due to my workload, the holidays, and my overall lack of time, not the book. Finally this series is picking up again! And some of my less-favorite plot lines are getting resolved! Hallelujah! I gave this a celebratory 4 stars for those two reasons alone.

Things I want to know at this point:
1. What is with all of the darkfriends everywhere? They need to start uniting so we can beat them up in the end.

2. Why can't Rand be straight with people? Yes, I know the abuse he has taken, the stress he is under, blah blah blah, but come on. This is a character who needs some serious counseling. He drives me nuts ( and I used to be a big fan.) I hope he snaps out of it and starts being more "normal" about his problems.

3. Remember when Egwene was being raised to Accepted and she had the vision where Rand is being held in the White Tower? Is that going to happen or not? If so, they should get on with it so we can move on toward more important matters. That has been hanging out in the back of my mind for like 8000 pages or so. A small, stupid thing, I know, but I thought I would complain about it.

Anyway, just some random thoughts. Book 12 is on my shelf at home, but I am tired of carrying a 3 pound hardcover around when I travel, so I am going to take a break for a bit (unless I can find a digital copy.) Not too long though. I'm already forgetting stuff, so I have to keep it moving. I am already wondering if I have to start with book 1 all over again when the last book comes out....

Re-read in 2016.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Book List

Back To Lists

Here is a list of the books I read in 2010. It was a busy year, and overall the books were bigger, so the number read was lower this year. The joy I got from my favorite past-time was not.

#BookAuthorDate Completed
26Crossroads of TwilightRobert JordanNovember 2
26The Ruins of GorlanJohn FlanaganOctober 31
25The Violet KeystoneGarth NixSeptember 15
24Into BattleGarth NixSeptember 6
23Above the VeilGarth NixAugust 29
22AenirGarth NixAugust 25
21CastleGarth NixAugust 19
20The FallGarth NixAugust 15
19Winter's HeartRobert JordanAugust 10
18The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan For Financial FitnessDave RamseyJuly 20
17The Path of DaggersRobert JordanJune 21
16Lord SundayGarth NixMay 28
15Superior Saturday Garth NixMay 23
14Lady Friday Garth NixMay 15
13Sir Thursday Garth NixApril 25
12Do What You Are Paul D. TiegerApril 20
11Drowned Wednesday Garth NixApril 15
10Grim Tuesday Garth NixApril 10
9Mister Monday Garth NixApril 5
8The Last Olympian Rick RioridanMarch 20
7The Battle of the LabyrinthRick RioridanMarch 15
6The Titan's CurseRick RioridanMarch 10
5A Crown of SwordsRobert JordanFebruary 24
4The Sea of MonstersRick RioridanFebruary 11
3The Lightning ThiefRick RioridanFebruary 5
2Lord of ChaosRobert JordanJanuary 20
1The Fires of HeavenRobert JordanJanuary 17