Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fyre (Septimus Heap 7) by Angie Sage

Fyre (Septimus Heap, #7)Fyre by Angie Sage
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So I reached the end of the Magyk series. I have aired my complaints in the past about the lack of a linear conflict in this series, just as I have repeatedly praised the setting and concept. This final book gets the brunt of my frustrations, and those frustrations are all about lost opportunities.

The final conflict was good. It felt undeveloped, but had the makings of a deep, long-term conflict that I could have sunk my teeth into. The history of the ring, the role of the Queen in society and the relation of the Magyk world to ours all hold juicy interest for me. Why then, oh why, weren't those things a part of the series the whole time? Why didn't those ideas get developed and grow to a great finale that leaves me with an I-ate-too-much-for-Thanksgiving kind of literary diabetic coma? Instead a great series is left like an un-watered plant to eke along until someone tries to create and solve a series-wide plot in one book. Great characters (Hotep Ra) get pulled out of the past and set to run around as if they were in their prime. Delightfully evil villians are introduced, set free and then reconquered between one set of covers. It could have been so much more!

Blah. I will say no more. I would love for someone to fix this at some point, but I understand that now that it has been printed, it is over. The cat is out of the bag, and it is too late. And it is time to move on.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, yes, I am giving this book 5 stars, but not because the events depicted in the book were amazing (which they were.) I am giving this book 5 stars due to the way it was put together. Hillenbrand must have done an exhaustive amount of research to tell a story so completely, and from so many viewpoints. Add on top of that the fact it all happened close to a century ago, and I think that it can't be anything less than 5-stars.

Again, I have decided to forego summarizing the books I read (there are plenty of summaries out there), and instead give my pros and cons. You've heard the pros, so I'm obliged to share the dark side. While the author did a fantastic job of pulling random accounts, articles and "data" together into one cohesive whole, I feel that she missed the climax of the story. The after-war part of the books dragged quite a bit, and not for Hillenbrand's lack of talent. You just can't replace the end of WWII with an internal climax. It doesn't work. Everything built up to the end of the war and when it happened, the climax was over and from then on the reader was looking for closure. That closure took a long time in coming, and was hampered by an attempt at a second climax. I'm not arguing that those weren't important events, nor am I arguing that Louie didn't experience his own climactic conclusion well after the war was over, but I don't think it worked to try to bring the reader through all of those experiences, with that level of detail and then have them focus on something outside of the war. Sorry.

It still gets the 5 stars though:)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right by Joseph L. Badaracco Jr.

Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and RightDefining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right by Joseph L. Badaracco Jr.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I also read this book for a class, but I thought it was pretty good. It demonstrates what the author sees as right vs. right decisions, and discuses how various people have responded to some such scenarios in their lives. I think the key to enjoying this book is to not try to take the examples to a deep level. To me this is an introductory book for students/professionals who haven't thought about ethics often, but rather just tried to "do what's right." If you are a philosopher, or already taken courses in ethics, you will probably expect too much.

As for my criticisms, like most business books this book was about 20-30% too long. The last few chapters dragged, and the level of the conversation varies, which probably opened him up for the criticism you see in other reviews, which I alluded to above. All in all, if you want to get a differently point of view about tough decision making, and haven't delved into ethics books in the past, this is the book for you.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Truth about Negotiations by Leigh Thompson

The Truth about NegotiationsThe Truth about Negotiations by Leigh Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, this is a quick read, but unless you have done other reading on the topic of negotiation, I think this is a great introduction to the subject. I have been able to put a number of these principles into action, and feel like I have gotten better results, so it meets the initial smell test.

Were all of the "truths" useful? Not for me. Maybe I don't get all of the final points yet, or maybe I just don't understand how to apply them. At the same time, I don't think I have read yet that is 100% applicable, or that I even agree with 100%, so that doesn't take away from this one that much.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Darke (Septimus Heap 6) by Angie Sage

Darke (Septimus Heap, #6)Darke by Angie Sage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a good progression in the series. Situations get a little darker, and the problems more serious. Previous settings and characters are extended as they interact in new ways.  Sage evoked some emotion when she brought the Port Coven Witches to the Castle, and also (for me at least) when she sent Snorri away.  We will see if either of them return in the next book for the big finale.  I am interested to see how Jenna's "witchiness" is resolved.

Of course the same problem exists as in my previous reviews.  There is only one book to go, and I still don't know who the bad guy is going to be in the next book.  Very frustrating.  Usually the series builds to an overall climax before the last installment, and the anticipation is part of the excitement (and frustration!)  There is none of that here.  At most I have an interest in finding out how the characters fare from here on out, but there is no plot waiting to be resolved.  I hope that the conflict Sage cooks up for the last book is so grand that it does the series justice.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last time I read this book was in high school, and I remember liking it then, just as I enjoyed it this time. To be brief, I will just list one pro and one con:

PRO: The political statement/conversations addressed in this book are fascinating. They are subtle enough to blend into the storyline, but you can't read some chapters without stopping and asking what this kind of political environment would be like? How are we getting closer to it today? While I detest Peter, did he benefit humanity or is he the embodiment of why we want to oppose centralized power (dictators)? All good questions.

CON: I have a hard time appreciating the ending. The battle school experience through the final war are great, but then several chapters of self discovery that lead Ender to learn and appreciate the enemy? I know it would be hard, but it is almost like the climax of the story didn't have all of the information. Couldn't those epiphanies have happened closer together? Couldn't Ender have pondered some of the same questions before the final battle? A subjective criticism, I know, but it was a problem for me.

Syren (Septimus Heap 5) by Angie Sage

Syren (Septimus Heap, #5)Syren by Angie Sage
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Again, I like the Septimus Heap world, but I have the same main concern here as last time: no overall bad guy. She is taking this approach of related antagonists, but it is a lot less cohesive than I would have thought. She may be thinking the same thing at this point, I don't know. It is a good lesson to learn though. It is very important to have one enemy, or at least one group of enemies. The reader wants to know who the bad guy is, so they know what to expect.

Other than that the book was OK. The characters continue to grow, and the Septimus, Beetle, Jenna combination feel very "Harry, Ron, Hermione"-ish to me. Not bad, but interesting how common configurations or themes persist once they are presented in a way that really works. Enough cohesion for a great team, but enough personality differences to provide drama consistently. The three stars is largely for the overall problem I mentioned above. This book is only slightly below the last volume, in my estimation, but you have to round down at some point.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Queste (Septimus Heap 4) by Angie Sage

Queste (Septimus Heap, #4)Queste by Angie Sage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like what Angie Sage has done with the world and the characters, but I have a major problem with the series. There isn't an overall conflict. The bad guy keeps changing to a new character, and in the last two books it feels like she is stretching it by using ghosts as antagonists so she doesn't have to deal with any future plot issues. Really, the goal of each book is for the characters to save the day and thereby maintain the status quo. I want the whole kingdom to be in peril, or the princess to need rescuing or something that would tie the whole series together. I keep reading them because they are great stories individually and because Septimus and Jenna are growing and developing, but there isn't a conflict that brings me back for more. And that is disappointing.

Having said all of that, I still can't help but love the characters and the ingenuity of the world, and the way the back stories keep filling in. So it is another 4-star rating.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Physik (Septimus Heap 3) by Angie Sage

Physik (Septimus Heap, #3)Physik by Angie Sage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked a lot of things about Physik. I liked the character development. I liked the way it drew in past minor characters. I like the the Alther/Alice storyline. But it still isn't a 5 star book. There is one major flaw for me, and that is its disconnected plot. Sure, characters and plot lines are related, but I don't see the larger conflict. Is the series ultimately going to be about Simon vs Septimus? Is DomDaniel coming back (I thought he was thoroughly killed in the last book)? I don't see the larger conflict, and so I don't know where things are heading. Yes, as a stand alone book, this one is decent. Yes, Sage builds on her fantasy world very well here, given her audience. But the still leaves something lacking, and that something is huge. We need an overall conflict to tie this series together. I'm interested to see where she takes it in the next book.

Flyte (Septimus Heap 2) by Angie Sage

Flyte (Septimus Heap, #2)Flyte by Angie Sage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flyte was a good read. Quick, entertaining and sports a nice twist at the end (at least I was surprised). However, it seemed that at random places within the book, Sage would lose her voice a bit. Sections would distract me from the story line, usually due to something silly being thrown in, as if she wanted to make sure the kindergartners in the audience were still listening. It was both obvious and annoying, and I wondered why her editor didn't catch it---or fight harder to change it. I'm not talking about a slow shift in audience, like we saw with the Harry Potter books (how many times do I make a reference to HP?) These were a shift in the character or the prose that didn't match the rest of the story. I should have underlined a few examples, but I didn't, so if you know what I am talking about and have an example, please comment and share. Other than that, it is a great followup to Magyk, and I am looking forward to Physik.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Magyk (Septimus Heap 1) by Angie Sage

Magyk (Septimus Heap, #1)Magyk by Angie Sage
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know, I know. Five stars? Really? Lets just call this a moment of weakness. I was just in the mood for a whole new world, and then along came Magyk. That's right, I am giving this 5 stars due to the setting. I'm usually a characters-make-the-story kind of person (and they do), but every once in a while I need to see a special setting, and this scratched that itch, and is rewarded thus.

So, I read Magyk back in 2007, but neglected to write anything about it, and frankly, after around 6 years I have forgotten most of the details anyway, so I can only speak to my impressions on this second go around. I liked the plot. I said that one already, but here are my reasons: made up or reinterpreted creatures, geography that affects decisions, a culture/political environment that directly deals with magic... I think it is all there. Bravo.

Sage also goes after the boy-without-parents-saves-everyone plot, but adds a nice twist (I'll avoid a spoiler here, in case someone accidentally stumbles across this review and reads it.) Still, twist or no twist, I think from now on every book I read in this genre that does NOT look or smell anything like the "orphan boy becomes King/Prince/Wizard" plot gets and extra star.

So congratulations Magyk on winning big with this first book. Now lets see how book 2 (Flyte) measures up...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your CareerThe Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career by Reid Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't pick up this book of my own choosing. A chapter or two were required for an MBA class I am in, and due to my nature as a finisher, I have gone back to it over the last few months to finish it off. My four star rating is mostly due to the fact that the overall message resonates with my own observations about the employee-employer relationship these days: the commitment level can change on either side of the equation at any time, so it is best to be prepared. What this books adds to the observation, however, are some ideas of how to prepare. Through guidelines on structuring your online profile, to specific assignments to think through you Plan B, or even your Plan Z, Hoffman and Casnocha make a true effort to provide material value to the reader.

As with almost every business book I read, I feel that it could have been 20% shorter and not missed out on any value at all. Still I would recommend this book to anyone who is a material contributor to the household income. The ideas are universally applicable across industries and political geographies.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Keys to the Demon Prison by Brandon Mull (Fablehaven 5)

Keys to the Demon Prison (Fablehaven, #5)Keys to the Demon Prison by Brandon Mull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hmm, so I really enjoyed this series as a whole, and this was a satisfactory finish. It didn't blow me away though. The plot was an extension of what was already established in the earlier books and seemed a little rushed as Mull was keeping his word on finishing the series here. I see how both Seth and Kendra have matured, and how they still make mistakes, and how they are human. I recognize how much the setting has evolved, with the fantasy world fully explained. Seth ran from one impossible encounter to another, and eventually won his battle with his own "demon." Kendra's position in the fairy world is more secure now, with a long-term love interest to boot. It is hard to put my finger on it after these statements, but I still feel like it could have been more.

After ruminating on it for a bit, I've decided that my first two observations above are really at the core of my concern. First, the plot was clearly laid out, and progressed along a fairly straight line. There were no last minute plot twists (the dwarf's betrayal is the last I remember, and it was fairly early on...) Second, the whole thing felt a little rushed. I appreciate not having days of traveling around from place to place, but either this could have been two books (the first ending with the Fount of Immortality changing hands) or this should have been trimmed a little. The Singing Sisters could have been excluded, for example, with Seth going straight to the Totem Wall.

As usual, don't take my nit-picky criticism to mean that this wasn't a fantastic book/series, I just came away with a single concern that felt like it needed to be voiced. And now I have voiced it.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull (Fablehaven 4)

Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary (Fablehaven, #4)Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe I'm being too free with my stars on this review, but I am really enjoying this series. It has also been a while time since I have taken time out to read a whole series for recreation, so Fablehaven may be benefiting from my overall love of reading as a hobby, especially in this genre.

So Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary has a couple of intriguing developments, including the big shocker at the end, which I won't discuss here. But I can talk about how well Brandon Mull positions Vanessa throughout the series. She keeps being relevant, but completely unresolved from a reader's point of view. She is like the Snape of Fablehaven, and Snape was a key to the Potter series...

I also like that Mull is not hesitant about diving deeper and deeper into the Fantasy world he has created. For most of the book Kendra and Seth are in a fictional setting, which Mull has complete artistic control over, yet we identify with them as contemporary school children. It is a well thought out plot. I'm looking forward to the finale.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull (Fablehaven 3)

Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven, #3)Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I have nitpicked at the previous Fablehaven books, finding fault with some small facet of the book to justify 4-star ratings. With this third installment I can't find the flaw. The small things that bothered me before have fallen into balance as the characters and plot have stabilized. Dragons, kachinas (?!?!?), and a mysterious leader with questionable loyalties. I can't wait to get to the next book, and so am going to hand out five stars and go back to my reading...

EDIT: So I noticed that I have another review for this book from a previous reading.  That happens sometimes, and it is interesting to see how my perception has changed over time (and how it hasn't :) )

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing ImprovementThe Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So this book is a must-read for any professional in an operations role. And I mean any operations role, not just manufacturing. There is an approach to life here that is important not to miss: have a goal, and then do what is necessary to reach that goal. Avoid extraneous activities that don't help you accomplish your goal.

The story is fairly well-written, although at times you can tell Goldratt is trying to pack in data/specifics into the story for their academic value only. However, this was written fairly early in the overall history of business "stories" meant to teach in an entertaining way, and it is very well done given when it was published.

Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull

Rise of the Evening Star (Fablehaven, #2)Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great followup book in this series, expanding on the plot and developing the characters. Seth wasn't even as obnoxious this time (that is a relative statement though... still over the top.) I liked getting to know some of the other roles/characters in the fairy-aware world, although that is a fine line to walk, because the bigger that world gets the more complex it is and it gets more and more difficult to keep the ignorance of the regular world believable. But it is fantasy, and the reader understands that, so there is room to grow here.

Brandon Mull did a great job with this book, and with the series so far, but I only give this one 5 stars because I wasn't wowed by anything in this book, and you have to save the 5-stars for those books that are truly special.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Fablehaven (Fablehaven, #1)Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So after reading the Beyonders series, and remembering how talented Brandon Mull is, I remembered that I never finished the Fablehaven series. It is really strange for me to not finish any series once I start it, and I realized that there were 3 such series for me right now. I didn't finish them because they were not all published when I started them, and I didn't get to each new installment as they cam out. (For those interested the other two series are the Magyk series by Angie Sage and the Leven Thumps Foo series by Obert Skye-- I will go back to them next, since I think they are both complete now.)

So I picked up Fablehaven, and immediately began to enjoy the experience of reading a well crafted story. It had been long enough since my first reading that I had forgotten most of the details of the plot, so there were those awesome, "Oh yeah, THAT is what happened!" moments.

A specific thing I appreciate about Brandon Mull is that he manages to break away from some of the archetypal plots that persist in fantasy literature. No, this story is not about about a boy with no parents who learns about his royal or magical lineage and saves the world while growing into manhood at the same time. Not that I don't love those stories, because I do. And for as many times as I have heard that plot retold, I think there are a million more tellings worth reading. But Mull brings original ideas to the table, and for that he should be lauded. It is similar to my respect for Garth Nix. If those guys are ever in the same room, I want to be there too...

Anyway, so after this glowing review, why dock Fablehaven a star? Seth. He is an annoying character (reminds me of my complaints about Rachel from the Beyonders series ) And it isn't just that he is annoying, because real people are annoying sometimes, but he is so annoying that it pulls me out of the story. No one can be that stupid, and repeatedly to things that dumb. If they were that ridiculous, then I would expect other negative personality traits along with it. So the fact that he seems to have decent relationships with other characters despite his major flaws makes him an unbelievable character. To give Mr. Mull credit, I see that he was trying to create well-rounded characters with flaws that make them human (again similar to Rachel) but this was just overdone... So I'm keeping a star this time, but looking forward to the next book...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chasing the Prophecy (Beyonders 3) by Brandon Mull

Chasing the ProphecyChasing the Prophecy by Brandon Mull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, as I mentioned on the previous installments in this series, Brandon Mull does a great job at moving his books along. I'm sure that takes a lot of time and effort to pull off, but because he does it so well, I find myself wishing he would take the series further. If I feel like I got 6 books worth of reading out of 3, think how awesome it would be to get 10 books worth of content out of 5!

Having said that, I can only give 4 stars here. I don't know if I can even blame the author, as he might have intended to include what I see as a mistake: Rachel. She spends half this book being very whiny. She drove me nuts. From a writing perspective, I am tempted to say that he overdid it when he was developing that side of her character. I mean after the second conversation about how she felt everything was hopeless we got it. She wasn't on board. Move on. HOWEVER, I also recognize that it might not be an accident. Maybe her character is that whiny, and a little bit annoying. Maybe that is why Corinne is a better match for Jason. If that is a part of your master plan Mr. Mull, then the un-awarded star is for a slightly annoying protagonist. There, I've covered my bases.

Still, this is a great series, and I highly recommend it...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Seeds of Rebellion (Beyonders 2) by Brandon Mull

Seeds of Rebellion (Beyonders, #2)Seeds of Rebellion by Brandon Mull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great read from Brandon Mull. I couldn't put it down. I like how the plot has developed, and yet at the same time how he keeps it simple. No extra story lines. No flashbacks, chapters written from the antagonist's view, etc. Keep it sharp, clean and moving in one direction. This is the genre and level of book that I think can capture the most readers and deliver value to the most readers (not the same thing...) Can't wait for book 3.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A World Without Heroes (Beyonders 1) by Brandon Mull

A World Without HeroesA World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brandon Mull has become a fantastic author. Sure, his stories have depth. The plots are intriguing. His characters are genuine. But just as every person has a unique set of skills in life, I believe that if you are going to be a successful writer you have to have an edge, a competitive advantage if you will, that you can leverage into a career of bestsellers. After enjoying this book (and the whole Beyonders trilogy) I think that Brandon Mull has a gift when it comes to pacing a story. I feel like I got 6 books worth of content and story in just 3 books. I don't feel like he left anything out, or rushed any part of the plot. We didn't turn the page to find magically-developed characters, or too-good-to-be-true resolutions. No, everything developed in its own time, but he just keeps the pace going all the time, consistently. And for that I give him the full range of stars, and I look forward to reading his future books.