Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Book List

2016 Book List

At the end of every year I create a post from the year's readings. I like wrapping it up this way, with a few thoughts packaging up a specific section of time, and yes, a specific goal.  Every year I pledge to read 52 books, and once again I fell short in 2016 (17).  As usual, I have a number of things I could blame, but my key take-away this year is that I didn't make a plan to succeed.

I love to run, not as much because of the running, but because of the success I feel for having planned, trained, and completed a goal.  Well, this year I aim to approach my reading more like a marathon. I am going to make a plan, and follow it as best I can, and lets see if I don't get closer in 2017!

1What the Most Successful People Do Before BreakfastLaura VanderkamJanuary 6
2Shadows of SelfBrandon SandersonJanuary 20
3A Crown of SwordsRobert JordanFebruary 9
4The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetDavid MitchellMarch 23
5FirefightBrandon SandersonApril 3
6CalamityBrandon SandersonApril 10
7The Path of DaggersRobert JordanApril 30
8The Name of the WindPatrick RothfussMay 30
9The Bands of MourningBrandon SandersonJune 19
10A Man Called OveFredrik BackmanJuly 24
11Winter's HeartRobert JordanAugust 10
12Wednesday WarsGary D. SchmidtSeptember 16
13Five Dysfunctions of TeamPatrick LencioniSeptember 27
14Crossroads of TwilightRobert JordanOctober 5
15Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North KoreaBarbara DemickNovember 20
16The RithmatistBrandon SandersonNovember 27
17Knife of DreamsRobert JordanDecember 31

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

I read this back in 2011, so you can read my old review here,  or you can keep reading for my new review which was written independently of the old one.  It is interesting what they have in common.

2016 Review:
This book is like that first breeze hitting  sailors that have been stuck in doldrums for weeks.  It promises the potential of movement,  but only promises. It isn't enough to create real movement yet.  Plot lines here and there started to get wrapped up,  but at the end I look at where we are in the story and we didn't get anywhere.  Most of the sub plots that were completed were extraneous anyway.

An example: Aram. Here is a character who we have known for most of the series.  He was developed as a significant secondary character tied to one of the main characters, Perrin. And then in this book,  in one scene,  the plot line of Aram is concluded.  I'm trying to avoid a spoiler, so I won't go into the details, but I can say that the whole plot line,  and character,  was unnecessary.  Pages of the overall series could have (and should have) been cut out.  I feel like that was the purpose of this whole book--to clear up plots and characters that should have never been created in the first place.

Was this book refreshing?  Absolutely.  Did it demonstrate the problem of the series? Yes. Did I enjoy it?  Yes,  I still like this series, so this was much appreciated. But like the stranded sailor,  the real excitement lays in the winds to come that will really get us where we want to go. And that is Tarmon Gai'don!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist, #1)The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brandon Sanderson is a master ninja wizard sensei whose writing ability is both a gift and a natural wonder. After Mistborn and the Reckoners, two very distinct settings and magic settings, I guess a third setting and magic system should be a surprise. Each one is different, and yet carry his mark. Natural ties into religion. The real-world complexity of the magic system that makes it believable, even though there is nothing like it in the real world.

My only criticism of this book (and it is still a 5 star read) is the concept of chalklings. They are made to sound so terrible and dangerous, but they are 2-d images. There should be a myriad of ways to fight them and beat them, as exemplified by the buckets of water/acid. Why not just go to Nebrask with fire hoses and soak the place and take the chalk away from whoever is stuck there creating the problem? But the rest of the book was good enough, and the characters great enough (somehow I haven't mentioned them??), that I will trust Sanderson to close that gap in the subsequent books. So go read it, then join me in the activity I hate above all others: waiting for the series to be finished...

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North KoreaNothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As far as non-fiction goes, this was an eye-opening page turner for me. Well, mostly it was. I have traveled through South Korea for business several times, and like to get out of the airport and explore a bit on my frequently long layovers. That little bit of exposure to South Korea culture really added some depth to the story for me. It is amazing that a dictatorship built on lies and exploitation lasted past one dictator, let alone out of the the 20th century. Overall this book was biased towards western culture, as to be expected by an American author, but that shouldn't overshadow the facts that create an appalling scene on their own in North Korea. The bias I noticed was subtle, and more based on word choice than anything else, but I found it annoying because the reality of North Korea is condemning on its own, and adding emphasis to it makes it seem that the reader needs to be convinced. It is like when a child who you believe to be innocent, proclaims innocence so vehemently that you start to suspect something.

While I thought that the subject matter was covered well, I was annoyed by the jumping around from story to story, often on tenuous connections. I can imagine Demick gathering all of these stories and wanting to get as many narratives into the book as possible, but at this point I feel that dropping into backstory over and over created a mess that I would have sacrificed the overall chronology for. The stories themselves would have carried the interest more than the wrap up of defector profiles did (the where-are-they-now style.)

Having noted my issues with the book, this is a solid 4 stars. If you are looking for a non-fiction book that makes you think about the world we live in today, and the power of governments, then I'd recommend this one. It is worth your time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

Crossroads of Twilight (Wheel of Time, #10)Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, this was disappointing, not necessarily in plot, but in plot progress.  Also, there is an overall issue I have developed.

Every romantic relationship between main characters has some similar flaws.  No couple communicates well.   They don't trust each other, and they uphold gender stereotypes in their conversation all the time.  Jordan has even built in flaws to certain cultures.  Is there any culture that could survive having Saldean-style marriages?  Maybe that actually happens somewhere, but I have a hard time picturing it.

Anyway, I hope that Jordan's real life relationships were better than the ones he writes about, because none of the fictional ones look functional to me.

Link to my previous review:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

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

So I read this book every year, which means I have commented on it before.  This year our team discussion of this book was less about the content, and more about how we are doing applying it, and how we can better teach these principles at all levels in the company.  All in all, I think this is where we should be with this one.

If you are interested, here are links to my previous reviews.


Friday, September 16, 2016

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

The Wednesday WarsThe Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book. I like it so much that I am going to make a list of the things I liked about it (because I also like lists...)

1. Depth. This book ended up involving many weighty subjects that gave in an intellectual depth that was both surprising and enjoyable.
2. Surprise. In some ways it would be hard to write a single sentence that really communicated the plot, so I will just say that I was surprised at every turn. Unexpected events, characters, and conflicts kept things fresh and moving throughout the story.
3. History. I actually learned a lot of history in this book that was recent enough to not be covered well in my history classes growing up, but that I didn't experience first hand in any way.
4. Holling. While I didn't agree with everything he did, overall he was just a likeable character. It was easy to root for him. He had a good heart.
5. Writing. At first I was put off because I didn't think that Holling was being developed. He didn't think or show emotion often. But then that became the genius, because for a teenager, I don't know how much of your feelings or emotions are conscious vs. just embedded in your actions. Schmidt pulled that off perfectly.

So, if I spent longer on this I could probably expand on this list, but for now this is good. I will admit that while I really liked this book, I can't give it 5 stars. For me, it lacked that something that makes me want to read it again, or tell all my friends to read it. Yes, you should read it, but I'm not gushing. It is a good, honest 4-stars.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan

Winter's Heart (Wheel of Time, #9)Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I didn't write a post right away when I finished this book, and when I finally got around to it, I was trying to put together my thoughts when I read the blog post from the last time I read this book. I decided that my previous post would be hard to improve on, so I will refer you to that.

On to book 10!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a book club read. If you aren't in a book club, I suggest you join one, and this is a prime example of why. Never in a million years would I have picked this up on my own. If I had picked it up, I would probably have struggled to make it through the first few chapters. What I found by the end of this book was a heart warming, emotional tale of love, death, and growing old. It had characters I could relate to, and was constantly addressing challenges that we all face in life, but in laughable ways. From disagreements with neighbors to deep questions about our commitments to those we love, this book walks us through it all with a narrative that is both entertaining and direct. At the end of the book, I felt like I not only knew the characters better, I knew myself better. This is a 5-star read.

My only issue with "A Man Called Ove" is that some of the social and political stances that Ove takes, and that I think Backman is representing as positive traits, are not ones that I agree with. But that is like disagreeing with a family member over the desirability of chocolate pie over apple pie. I still love the book even though I don't agree with every viewpoint (chocolate pie is the hands-down winner, fyi.)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, #6)The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has all of the elements I have grown to love about Brandon Sanderson's work. It has a great setting which is built upon throughout the series, interesting characters (Wayne continues to be an all-star) and exciting action. But the thing that makes this book great are the plot twists. Action is great, but unexpected action is fabulous. The only detractor here is that it feels like we are getting a little far-flung, having introduced an entirely new civilization which somehow was not included in the original series. New theology, new history, etc. I loved the book, and trust Sanderson to pull it all together, but right now there are a lot of different strings tugging at different parts of this plot, and I hope it doesn't collapse on him. This is kind of how it felt at the end of the Reckoners series, and that wrap-up was a little messy to me. Simplicity in good entertainment is tricky.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, what to say... The Name of the Wind is such a fantastic fantasy book. The world-building is great, the characters are complete, and the good vs. evil conflict is up and running. I just can't go above three stars. While the big picture is all sunshine and roses, up close there are too many things that bug me. I can't call them out as flaws, that would be pretentious, but I can hold back a few stars.

Here are a few of the things that bugged me:
1. I would have preferred a direct narrative rather than the "story within a story" approach. The story was too deep and it was too long for that type of action. We even got into a story-within-a-story-within-a-story situation for a while. Not necessary.
2. The plot, while enjoyable, just didn't get it done. The train didn't get to the next station. All of a sudden the book was over, sans major climax and resolution. It was a huge let-down and I was willing to go down to 1 star at first, out of indignant anger. I've cooled off a bit, but I can't give more than 3 stars to a book that didn't actually have an ending...
3. Kvothe, the protagonist. While he had some quirks that made him human, which I appreciate, the chip on his shoulder was too much for me. He spent too long trying to get even. Admittedly, this is different than my other issues because it is dealing with a character rather than a feature of the writing itself, and it is the least of my concerns, but it is true. I want to like the protagonist, even after all their faults, and a lot of the time Kvothe just wasn't a character I could connect with. He was well-written, but was, well ... a punk.

As I said, the rest of the book I liked. It was a great read. While I hope that the series is "fixed" in the next book, I've heard that it might be a little slow at times, so I'm just enjoying what was there, and hoping for the best. The next book is in on my list.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan

The Path of Daggers (Wheel of Time, #8)The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Previous review from June 2010.

April 2016: I made it through this one again. As is the trend on my latest journey through this series, it was a little better than I remember. That is about all I've got. The story grows long and the characters are frustrating. Are that many people that thick-headed? Rand is an emotional wreck that defies his upbringing as a level-headed farm boy. Egwene is just as bad. Jordan gave these characters backstory, and to me he trashes it with their behavior in these books. It seems that he has them acting in certain ways that perpetuate his plot line rather than keeping them true to who they are. It is either that, or he is a true master and has tricked me into strong feelings about his characters but it is all going to be justified in the end. I'm doubtful about that at this point, but it is possible. So I'm giving it 2.56 stars, which rounds up to 3...

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

Calamity (Reckoners, #3)Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will be brief. The winner in Calamity, was... well, the identity of Calamity. That was a great twist (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here.) I had several theories about how the books would culminate, and they were all wrong, and I honestly prefer it that way. I WANT the author to be one step ahead of me as the reader.

On the flip side, I think that Megan's powers were kind of muddled. I mean, in hindsight, I think I see where he was going with the whole alternate dimension thing, but as with time travel, I think it brings up more questions than it answers. Through this book David builds an affinity with one such dimension, but what of the others? Is there a true dimension? Does success in one equal success in all of them?

I'm not saying that those questions necessarily detract from the plot in Calamity, but to me they are distracting. Sanderson has a gift for writing great action scenes, but alternate dimensions require too much attention when there are bullets flying around.

This book is an almost 5 stars (which still equals 4) due to the overall story. He remains a master at his craft, and while I might not appreciate every choice he makes, I do appreciate how he continues to push the envelope with his immense creative ability.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight (Reckoners, #2)Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really like this series. The action is intense, the danger real, and the setting is both familiar and foreign at the same time. The weakness, for me, is in the characters. Especially David. He seems like an immature, hot-headed weakling a lot of the time, and yet somehow he lives through scenes where everyone else is being wiped out. It is like an action movie where the hero runs across open ground while an entire army of bad guys is shooting machine guns at him and somehow he never goes down. His planning isn't as good as the Reckoners, yet he still kills Epics. Don't get me wrong, I loved the book and I don't think of David as a flaw, rather that he has flaws...

Overall this is another solid read. If you took my advice and read Steelheart, I don't have to tell you to read this one, because you probably already have.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the benefits of a book club is that you are introduced to a wide range of books that you might not ordinarily encounter. You often implicitly agree to read a book selected by someone else, a situation that many of us have not encountered outside of our formal education. I encountered this book in such a situation. Finishing this books was a challenge. On the positive side, I can honestly say that it got inside my head and made me think--about history, about medicine, about cultures, and about life. For that it gets the second star. Other than that, there are so many downsides. I will just briefly list a few:

- There is a plot within a plot and I don't feel they meshed well. Tell the story of Japan, or of the Dutch. Trying to tell a Japanese story inside of a Dutch story stranded characters for the middle third of the book.
- Love in the 1700's came with different cultural baggage to be sure, but love is love and people are people. Jacob fell for Orito too quickly for me and it turned to obsession without any provocation. I'm calling a foul.
- The side agenda to share intimate details of the medical practices of the period did not really add to the plot or characters. It was distracting and gruesome, much the way excessive violence is used in bad movies to make up for poor writing.
- The mysticism of Enomoto was never explained. His dealings with "life forces" left the book on the brink of the fantasy genre, and I think I would have liked it more if the author would have pushed it over the edge. Mitchell was already trying to add too many editorials (medicine, slavery, caste societies, etc.) that he might as well thrown in this for fun... or left the whole thing out.
-Finally, the crappy ending. Jacob doesn't get either of his love interests. He does get a son, but is separated from him and then the son dies before they can have a late-in-life reunion. On his deathbed he is still pining for Orito. Boo!

So, to sum up, this book could have been half the length with fewer editorials, more direct ties to the various plot elements, and an ending that made me glad I read it. But it didn't do any of those things. So I recommend you pass on this one unless you are the type of person who likes to watch long, drawn out drama movies where everyone dies in the end and you are left crying, wondering why life sucks. In other words, unless you are the complete opposite of me (not saying that is a bad thing, just trying to aid in your literary decisions....)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan

A Crown of Swords (Wheel of Time, #7)A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I re-read this book, and wanted to add more thoughts to my original review.

I'm still plugging away at the Wheel of Time series, and it is taking me a while. Finishing up book 7 was a hard one for me, and it is a little hard to explain why. It was like when I assign a task to one of my kids, and I check in on them, and they seem to be working away at it and at the same time making no progress. This book seemed to be moving along--there were lots of pages with words, and characters were going here and there and doing things--but the plot just didn't progress as much. The big let down for me was the ending. There were two climactic events; the finding of the Bowl of the Winds and the defeat of Sammael. The former came first, and lived up to the promise implied by the build-up before hand, while the latter was anti-climactic and unbelievable at the same time. Rand is going to leap off his sick-bed to go after a villain that has been the focus for almost 3 books now? Really? And there isn't a face-off, an exchange of witty insults, or a mighty struggle between powerful foes? Disappointing.

Another disappointing facet to this story that continues to be a growing theme is the "powerful woman who everyone leaps to obey for no reason." Basically, Jordan is trying to create powerful women as central characters in his story. Great idea. Unfortunately, rather than actually have them be powerful, he has them be bullies. Rather than beat people who need to be beaten, or show actual leadership qualities, they just stand around bossing people around and they stare at people really hard. Lame. And unrealistic. If a Cadsuane or Sorilea were up against a real villain, the villain would laugh at their frosty stares and then murder them. If they gave an insolent youth "the rough side of their tongue" that insolent youth would laugh at them and then continue in their behavior. Why do I know this? Because that is what happens in the real world. Mean people, immature people, and bullies in general don't just change behavior because someone they don't know stares at them. Yet this is such a common occurrence in this series that you'd think Tarmon Gai'don is just going to be a staring contest. Pathetic. What would be a remedy, in my opinion? Actual power. A political edge. Dirt on the person being bullied. Some kind of actual leverage.

So 3 stars for this one. I'm still enjoying the overall journey here, but as with all journeys, some parts are less appealing than others, and that describes this book perfectly.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Shadows of Self (Mistborn, #5)Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While it feels like I just read Alloy of Law, I was surprised to see that it was actually last April… nine months ago! Thankfully, I enjoyed those characters so much that I picked up right where I left off.

Wayne is still awesome, the pace is great, and Sanderson is still capitalizing on a superb setting he has created, and is still developing. I struggled a little with the plot in this one, simply because it hints at a larger conflict, but didn’t give me enough clues to feel like it is going somewhere solid. It feels too muddy. I’m not against a good plot twist, something that Sanderson always delivers (and does again in grand fashion in this one), but give the reader something of a teaser to keep them focused on the next steps. The twist at the end IS the teaser this time, and it is hard to see exactly how that is going to tie in to the bigger plot.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that it will. I trust Brandon Sanderson to provide everything I want in a novel and more, I just think he left me a little TOO much in the dark this time.

I should admit that I might be way out of line here. I finished this while half asleep on an airplane, so perhaps it was all there, and I missed it, but this is where I sit with it today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

What the Most Successful People Do Before BreakfastWhat the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So at first glance, it may look like I’m cheating with this one. It almost more of a pamphlet than a book. However, if I’m counting the Wheel of Time books one at a time, averaging around 800 pages per book, I’m certainly entitled to a few shorter additions as well.

So as for content, this book is very predictable. Here comes the spoiler: Successful people get up early and have good habits, like exercising, meditating, and religious worship. They do the most important things first.

So now that you know what the entire book says, here is why you should still read it. In its own strange way, written by journalist, it works as a motivational piece. I think it would be impossible to read this and not think about what you do in the morning and set your alarm a little earlier the next day. It is just too direct, and the benefits too appealing. I don’t even know that the author is “selling” the concept, it is just obvious when you hear the data that taking control of your mornings is a good idea. I think most of us would come to that conclusion without reading the book, but we lack motivation. This is the recipe for adding something good in your life, and a great January pick.

Now, while I like good motivation, I can’t give this more than 3 stars. There just isn’t enough there, but I still think you should consider it. It will take less than an hour to read, I promise. I would also suggest following this up with Influencer, a book about making lasting change. The connection there should be obvious.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Book List

Another year is in the books. (Ha ha, that was funny.)  How did I do?  Well, overall, I made it exactly halfway to my goal of 52 books per year with a nice round 26.  And what about my second goal of at least 26 fiction books?  I got 14 out of 26. So also about half.  If I stated that goal as a ratio (50% of all books read would be fiction) then I would have made it by one book.  This year I started keeping an audiobook going most of the time, and that really helped me fit reading in my schedule. Halfway through the year I recommitted to adding in fiction, and that was important for me as well.  

I’m also finally starting to get back my desire to write, partly due to one of my sons, who has aspirations of writing as well. He actually has roughed out 3 or 4 chapters in several different books already, so he is winning that one. I’ll admit, with school and work this last year, the dream of being a published young adult fantasy author was fading to the point where it was just about gone, but it is amazing what encouragement from a loved one will do.  So this year, I will add to my list of goals, despite not having actually attained either of them last year.  In 2016, I will read 52 books, at least 26 of which will be fiction, and I will write at least 12 chapters of a book of my own.  That is one chapter per month.  As a friend used to say: “Good luckers to me.”

Here is my 2015 list:
1The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful BusinessesEric RiesJanuary 7
2Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn 1)Brandon SandersonJanuary 26
3The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer ConversationMatthew DixonFebruary 3
4The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2)Brandon SandersonFebruary 9
5Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and SuccessNapoleon HillFebruary 11
6The Hero of Ages (Mistborn 3)Brandon SandersonMarch 2
7The Oz Principle: Getting Results through Individual and Organizational AccountabilityRoger ConnorsMarch 27
8Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don'tJames C. CollinsMarch 27
9The Alloy of LawBrandon SandersonApril 11
10Artemis FowlEoin ColferApril 14
11The Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieAlan BradleyMay 20
12The One-Page Financial Plan: A Simple Way to Be Smart About Your MoneyCarl RichardsJune 8
13The Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagAlan BradleyJune 18
14The Illustrated Guide to Selling You: Custom Design Your Work LifeJohn BoydJune 23
15Winning Every DayLou HoltzJuly 2
16The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes EverythingKen RobinsonJuly 22
17Wake up and Live!Dorthea BrandeJuly 29
18The Eye of the WorldRobert JordanAugust 19
19The Great HuntRobert JordanAugust 23
20The Five Dysfunctions of a TeamPatrick LencioniSeptember 2
21The Dragon RebornRobert JordanSeptember 5
22The Shadow RisingRobert JordanSeptember 15
23The Fires of HeavenRobert JordanOctober 9
24Lord of ChaosRobert JordanNovember 16
25The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of ConflictThe Arbinger InstituteDecember 21
26SteelheartBrandon SandersonDecember 30