Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Book List

Well fans, 2018 is over.  It was consistent, in that I didn't quite make a number of goals I had for myself, but I made a good showing in all of them.  It is interesting that in 2017 I hit every goal I set for myself, and in 2018 I didn't really hit any of them.  Is that a life lesson?  Success is an all or nothing proposition?  Sounds like a writing exercise waiting to happen ;)

I read 46 books in 2018.  While I didn't get to my goal of 52, I will repeat what I said last year: I was blessed by these books.  Even those that seem frivolous have affected me and how I think about the world.  I feel like I'm just a little bit better than I was a year ago due to what I have read.  So with that I recommend that you consider a reading goal for yourself.  It might just be one of those "shoot for the stars, and hit the moon" type of things, but I'm confident it will be positive for you.

I should report on my ancillary goals I added last year to read within certain genres.  To be honest, I didn't track this at all this year, so I'm just going to count up what I did and be surprised with you.

Self Help/Business (11)
Fantasy (26)
Religious (2)

Well, that is what you get when you don't track a goal, friends.  I was supposed to get at least 12 in each category.

I'm resetting on the same goals and hope to improve this year.  Have a great 2019!  See you in a year!

1The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-UpsLeonard SaxJanuary 3
2Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's BonesBrandon SandersonJanuary 17
3The Neverending Story Michael EndeJanuary 17
4As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess BrideCary ElwesJanuary 24
5Alcatraz Versus the Knights of CrystalliaBrandon SandersonJanuary 29
6I Am LegendRichard MathesonJanuary 31
7The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a TimeArianna HuffingtonFebruary 10
8Alcatraz Versus the Shattered LensBrandon SandersonFebruary 12
9Murder on the Orient ExpressAgatha ChristieFebruary 16
10The Dark TalentBrandon SandersonFebruary 22
11Joseph Smith: Rough Stone RollingRichard L. BushmanMarch 24
12New SpringRobert JordanApril 10
13OathbringerBrandon SandersonMay 14
14Richest Man in BabylonGeorge S. ClasonMay 17
15The Total Money MakeoverDave RamseyMay 18
16Rich Dad Poor DadRobert KiyosakiMay 29
17How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do ItMark CubanJune 1
18Domes of Fire (Tamuli 1) David EddingsJune 15
19The Final Empire (Mistborn 1)Brandon SandersonJuly 7
20The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2)Brandon SandersonAugust 1
21CaravalStepanie GarberAugust 10
22The Hero of Ages (Mistborn 3)Brandon SandersonAugust 26
23The Cash Flow Quadrant - Rich Dad's Guide to Financial FreedomRobert KiyosakiAugust 28
24The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's WealthyThomas J. StanleySeptember 3
25The Alloy of Law (Mistborn 4)Brandon SandersonSeptember 4
26Shadows of Self (Mistborn 5) Brandon SandersonSeptember 9
27The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn 6)Brandon SandersonSeptember 18
28Shadows for Silence in the Forests of HellBrandon SandersonSeptember 19
29NeverwhereNeil GaimanSeptember 23
30The Tao of PoohBenjamin HoffSeptember 26
31The Art of WarSun TzuOctober 6
32The Sword of ShannaraTerry BrooksOctober 24
33The Emperor's SoulBrandon SandersonOctober 27
34Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere CollectionBrandon SandersonNovember 3
35WarcrossMarie LuNovember 14
36SkywardBrandon SandersonNovember 25
37The Camel ClubDavid BaldacciDecember 6
38MitosisBrandon SandersonDecember 6
39Stone ColdDavid BaldacciDecember 10
40A Confusion of PrincesGarth NixDecember 12
41SabrielGarth NixDecember 20
42Hit RefreshSatya NadellaDecember 26
43Mary PoppinsP.L. TraversDecember 28
44The Shining OnesDavid EddingsDecember 30
45White Sand, Volume 1Brandon SandersonDecember 30
46A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger LifeBrian GrazerDecember 31

A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer

A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger LifeA Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was not my favorite. The stories of the movie industry and other Hollywood tidbits were interesting, but the theme around curiosity was way overdone. It was an example of taking one word and extending its meaning to take in all adjacent concepts. In this case those concepts included innovation, creativity, and persistence. These are not the same thing, but the author kept trying to push them into the same box. The attempt to equate them turned into an unstructured rambling of sorts, not unlike the rambling you would expect from a Hollywood movie producer I guess. I mean, he put in almost a whole chapter about his hair! What in the world! I didn't even know who this guy was when I picked up this book, and I don't give a rip about his preferred hairstyle. It was very odd. All I can do is chalk it up to ego.

The closest parallel for me to this book was The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington. There is the feeling that they woke up one day and said, "I'm famous. I want to write a book." But then they found they lacked enough content to meet the publishers length quota, so they start pulling in adjacent stuff to spread the covers a little further apart. Perhaps I'm being overly critical of books by non-professional authors, but these are my honest thoughts, so there you go. Flaws and all. I can only hope that one day I write a book, and it gets published, and then when I get roasted on Goodreads I can regret all of these honest posts about how I felt about other people's books.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

White Sand, Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson

White Sand, Volume 1 (White Sand, #1)White Sand, Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My son got these graphic novels by Brandon Sanderson for Christmas, so it was my turn to take the first one for a spin. I don't usually pick up graphic novels. I read a few comic books as a kid, and the drama levels were usually too high for me, but given my fanboy status for Sanderson products I decided to put that aside and give this graphic novel a chance. I pulled on the beanie I got for Christmas with a shash mark on the forehead, and sat there in my new t-shirt featuring Kaladin and Sil, and dug in. Sanderson is a prolific novelist, so his stuff had to read different than a pictorial soap opera, right?

Well, the story and the world are well done. In Arcanum Unbounded earlier this year I had gotten a glimpse of this world, and the extension in this book did not disappoint. However, I did not find the graphic format helpful. Sanderson does a great job of creating his worlds with words, and I've never felt like I was missing anything. Here, I had detailed color graphical representations of his world and characters, and I felt like I had less. The characters looked too similar, and I ended up relying on the dialogue to figure out who was who. While you can get immediate details on scenery, and a feel for the environment, I just didn't get the feel of an arid desert, the way I would have had he described the characters experience.

In creative writing there is the maxim to "show, don't tell" which is good advice. As a writer your primary medium is words, and you want to tell the reader everything you want them to know. Instead you are supposed to hold back and show them what is happening in a scene, and let the reader learn what they need to know. While not a frequent reader of graphic novels, I think the opposite might be true here, to a degree. The primary medium seems to be the art, where you are showing everything rather than telling, and the pendulum might be swinging the other way. I felt starved for description and detail, even though I had more concrete images to help me visualize what was happening.

Again, I'm out on a limb here, not being a frequent consumer of this format, but I'm just sharing my opinion. It is still a solid story, but if I had a choice, I'd ask for the full text version.

The Shining Ones by David Eddings

The Shining Ones (The Tamuli, #2)The Shining Ones by David Eddings
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have been trying to move forward in this David Eddings series for months, but with travel and the ease of audio books, this ebook just never got any attention. I'm at the end of the year and trying to finish up what I can, so I finally made it a priority to finish.

This installment of the Sparhawk series is very similar to the others. The characters are shallow, the plot is shallow, but overall the book has just enough to keep me reading. It isn't that it is a bad book, it is just predictable and dated. It is similar to how a nice house from the 1970s, if preserved, might still be a serviceable home, but would be missing a lot of features we expect in 2018. Will I finish this trilogy? Probably, some day. Am I in a rush? No.

One more thought, or pet peeve, is how there are gods and people with extraordinary gifts always around to help solve problems. It is a bit cheesy. The only thing that keeps that from ruining the book is that they don't seem to really test the limits of the divine capability to short cut the bad guys. Good thing, I guess.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins, #1)Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've watched the Disney Mary Poppins movie my whole life, and found the backstory in the movie "Saving Mr. Banks" intriguing, although a bit on the dramatic side for my tastes. When the recent sequel came out, which we watched on Christmas Eve, I decided I needed to read the book and find out what the story was really about.

While I see the connection to the movie, this book, and the original Mary Poppins character, are totally random. Having said that, the characters presented in Saving Mr. Banks match up pretty well to the book. If you thought the movie was random, the book lacks utterly in plot, and the characters are shallow, even for a children's book. But being originally authored in the 1930s, I think it was the way of the times. Although the Wizard of Oz was written decades earlier, I find the two similar in style and feel. It makes me want to pick up the classic Winnie the Pooh book for comparison (it is already on my to-read list from the Tao of Pooh), which had had its own back story cinematographied in the recent file Christopher Robin. It is an interesting trend to pick up on pop culture from our youth and present backstories, knowing that a certain portion of the population will pay to see it just out of curiosity and nostalgia.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella

Hit RefreshHit Refresh by Satya Nadella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Over the last decade I have really soured on Microsoft. Their solutions just seemed so clunky and expensive, although they have incredible market share on several levels. About 7 years ago I said enough was enough and uninstalled MS Office, and have actively avoided every Microsoft product since then, with the exception of the Windows operating system, which is ubiquitous. I have even tried to go non-Windows several times, but it has never worked. Too much of our technical environment still has bits and pieces stuck in the Windows mentality that it was impractical to keep fighting that fight. I have a Chromebook that I love and use as often as I can, but all too often it just doesn't have what I need, although I think that will not always be the case.

Why do I share this rant with you? This is the background with which I picked up Satya Nadella's story. I have watched the recovery of the Microsoft stock price, and being in a technical resource industry, have felt the shift in Microsoft's approach to the market. The smugness of MS fanboys turns out to be just as annoying as the Mac fanboys that reemerged into the light as Apple made its resurgence over a decade ago, and that leaves me hating just about everyone in the tech industry. But I digress. Back to the book.

The first half of the book sold me on the changes I have seen at Microsoft. That huge ship is making a course correction, I just don't know where it is headed yet. Still, I like the shift, and find myself willing to give Microsoft a chance again. And that is saying a lot. The last few chapters, however, were less impactful. Just when Nadella seemed to be making sense, some politically correct nonsense seemed to get in the way. I like the idea of empowering countries and peoples with technology, but why the political name-dropping and pandering around access to opportunities? Are you a capitalist or not? It sounds like he views Microsoft as a non-profit, and that he personally has the leaning to become a politician. No thank you. The last thing we need is more political ties in the business community. That is everything I dislike about big business.

The book was ok. If you listen to it at 1.5x the normal speed. And can sort out the real business content from the technological prophesying and policy comments included for political correctness.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel (Abhorsen,  #1)Sabriel by Garth Nix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw one of the newer books in this series in a used book store, and picked it up, and that has prompted me to reread the whole series, since I'm the type of person who likes to start at the beginning and end at the end. After A Confusion of Princes I'm seeing a pattern with Nix. His books are pretty random for the first 3rd, but with enough compelling story and characters to keep you reading. By the last 3rd you have been totally sucked in and can't put it down.

I learned in this book that you don't always need all the details in magic systems. For example, if Brandon Sanderson had written this one there would have been complete descriptions and diagrams of the charter marks, but Nix just has the characters use them. We don't know what they look like or how they work, yet their use and function are consistent, so we accept that.

I really enjoyed this story and look forward to reading the rest of the series, especially the two newest books that weren't published as of my last reading of this series.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

A Confusion of PrincesA Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know what category to put this book in. Fantasy, YA, SciFi? Sure. Stretch it a bit and you could talk about romance, post apocalyptic, or thriller. But I'm going to just call it literature. Why? Because at the end of the day this off-the-wall story of space ships, cyborgs, and a dictator-lead galactic empire makes you think a lot about humanity: what it means to be human, what we become when we give ourselves over to humanity, and when humanity is achieved by giving up everything including life itself.

Garth Nix was a favorite of mine a few years ago, and somewhere between feeling like I finished what he had published and discovering Brandon Sanderson, I forgot to check in on his stuff. This little gem is either new, or I had overlooked it, but this is the Garth Nix I remember. Strange off-the-wall fantasy that you just about give up on completely, only to find that you can't put it down. One minute you are about to huck it out the window, and the next minute you are hiding out, shirking responsibility just to keep it going. Seriously, the first third of this book was straight up confusing, while the last third was a page turner.

I do have two criticism (if I didn't come up with anything, you would probably question if I actually read the book.) First, the book got a little edgy in places (swear words, adult situations.) It wasn't overly frequent, but when it sticks out to me in a book, it is often because I feel like it was unnecessary to move the plot and characters forward, especially for the intended audience. For example, the last book I read, Stone Cold by David Baldacci, had a fair amount of language, violence, and a bit of adult humor, but it didn't stick out to me as much because the type of book it was and the audience it was aimed at. A YA fantasy should probably live without it. I actually really like Brandon Sanderson's approach which is to create your own lexicon of foul language for each world you write in. Then you can be offensive without offending. My 2nd beef is that several of the supporting characters felt weak. Raine's motivations and opinions seemed underdeveloped, and Adelyn definitely seemed underdeveloped.

Overall this is an impressive book, and if you're interested in a YA Fantasy/SciFi that makes you think a little deeper than usual, it is worth your time.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Stone Cold by David Baldacci

Stone Cold (Camel Club, #3)Stone Cold by David Baldacci
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I decided to try a second Baldacci book, just to get another data point. The writing in this one is much improved, but still has some of the same stylistic annoyances. While it was less frequent, Baldacci still likes to pause the narrative to give backstory. He doesn't teach the reader about the new character smoothly as the plot moves forward. Also, while less frequent, his characters still make logical jumps (it's not deduction) that are never wrong. So it was better, but still a little painful.

On a personal note on the content, I dislike books where none of the characters can put together meaningful relationships. All of these characters are relationship-stupid. The one character who is supposed to have a positive family life doesn't actually act in a way that would keep his family together, it just does because he is supposed to be a family guy. I don't know Baldacci's story, and this isn't meant as an insult, but I would guess that he either has a saint for a wife, or doesn't have a great track record with relationships. That part of the book smacks of someone writing about something he doesn't know much about. Less research on guns, more on successful marriage, that would be my advice. Which no one asked for. So there you go.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

Mitosis (The Reckoners, #1.5)Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, my friends, this is what is known as a slippery slope. A while back I read few novellas and decided they were beefy enough to be counted as books. In the same light I am here after finishing Mitosis, which is shorter than those other novellas book, but it was offered through the library as a standalone book, so it's getting counted. Slippery slope. A life lesson.

Did I enjoy it? Yes! It took me back to the Reckoners series (Books 1, 2, 3), which was quite a while ago. It was a great concept then, and I still liked it now. If anything, it was just over too quickly. So for that, 4 stars is the best I can do.

The Camel Club by David Baldacci

The Camel Club (Camel Club, #1)The Camel Club by David Baldacci
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a new genre for me, but I was recommended this author by a coworker who claimed to not like fantasy. He said fantasy books were boring. Naturally, I found this unbelievable, but was curious to understand this perspective, so asked for a recommendation, and David Baldacci was the immediate response. I randomly searched for Baldacci in my library app, and The Camel Club was one of the first options that showed up, so I grabbed it.

It was a slow start. The author had the unfortunate habit of introducing a character, then stopping the story to give that character's backstory. This happened often enough that it took the first half of the book to get anything started. It did pick up though, and the suspense started to build. And then the magic happened.

I thought this wasn't supposed to be a fantasy, but what else can you call it when really important facts just happen to fall into the protagonist's lap? When huge leaps in logic, bordering on a random guess, happen to be exactly right. Really, I don't think any one main character had a false assumption in the entire book. If these were real people, I'd want to meet all of them. I mean, heck, Harry Potter Potter was a fictional wizard, but even with the benefit of magic he was often wrong in his assumptions, and he certainly made mistakes. He would not have been invited to join the Camel Club. Their intuition is 100%.

And can anyone tell me why these grown men formed a club with meetings and stuff in the first place? They were like a bunch of 10-year-olds who have a tree house and paper hats. Only these guys have cars and an occasional gun here and there. "I used to be a government assassin, but now I am calling this meeting in the woods to order. Billy's mom said he has to be home for dinner by 5 so we have to hurry." It just seems silly.

So to wrap it up, it was gripping at the end. When it came to the final confrontation, he really had me. But overall the book was just ok. Fantasy or no fantasy, the writing quality wasn't there. I was sharing this opinion with another well-read friend who told me that this was one of Baldacci's early books, and that he got a lot better, so I'm not writing him off, but this one was just ok for me.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

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

I get why this is fantasy, but honestly, it is probably the coolest scifi book I've read in a long time. There is enough technology in this book to satisfy the scifi crowd, and enough world building and politics to satisfy us fantasy geeks. All in all, another great Sanderson read.

I did feel like it took a little while to get going, but I didn't mind all that much. The plot did move along, and by the end I couldn't put it down. I would understand that casual fantasy/ scifi readers might draw a lot of parallels or offer criticism, on potential parallels with Ender's Game, but there was enough that was unique that none of that bothered me at all. Sanderson books are also always heavy on physics, so expect physics puzzles in this one as well.

The biggest challenge for me, might have been the exceptional mechanical skills of a teenage kid with a single wrench, but I suppose I've suppose I've read worse. Looking forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross (Warcross, #1)Warcross by Marie Lu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I went into this with dreams of another Ready Player One. RPO has surprised me by becoming one of my all time favorite books, and not because of the movie they made. It stunk.

Sadly, Warcross is no Ready Player One. It is a decent idea, plagued by multiple drawbacks. The characters are annoying. The plot is as holey as swiss cheese. The setting is a waste of a virtual space.

Characters: Emika seems like a weak, powerless character who for some reason is taking out bad guys while on a skateboard. What? This makes no sense, other than a potentially flashy book cover/movie poster. And then there is Hideo, with all of his internal anguish and unexplainable tech genius. He is a mishmash of so many fantasy characteristics (rich, attractive, genius) and antagonistic roles (insane, dictator, control freak) that in the end he didn't make sense either. He was a too perfect as a good guy, and too perfect as a bad guy that it left him, in my mind, not a person at all.

Plot: Why didn't Zero try to recruit Emika from the beginning? She apparently had some hacking skill, and then was obviously in a useful position, but that didn't even come up. Then, the first time they met, why not just tell her what he was about? If this game has professionals, no amateur is going to hang with them. That is how being a professional at something works.

Setting: Why does Emika need to be physically close to someone to hack them? How come she hacks everyone, and never gets hacked herself? Why is there an awesome VR world all centered on ONE GAME? That is the craziest part. It is like the XBOX/Playstation/Nintendo shows up with one game and everyone is just like, boom, that's all we need. Never need another game. It would never go down like that. (To get an idea of how it WOULD go down, check out RPO, or if you're into serial murdering psychopaths, Otherland by Tad Williams.)

To be fair, I might be overly critical given the expectation set by RPO. That is possible. Yet, when I look at these issues, they do all seem to stand on their own. And in the end, all I feel toward this book is disappointment.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere CollectionArcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Arcanum Unbounded (which I will call AU from here on) has been moldering on my to-read list for a long time waiting its turn. As a collection of short stories, it just didn't have the appeal that other full length works did. Short fiction reminds me of English classes where you spend more time discussing the story than you do reading it. After AU, I've decided that Brandon's experience in English class must have been wildly different than mine, because his version of short fiction is wildly different. For one, it isn't actually short. As I mentioned in my last post for the Emperors Soul, it was a full length, satisfying story that was the introductory piece for this book. I struggle to see that as short, especially with the full benefit of an existing world to build on.

In any case, my fears of unengaging and unsatisfying stories and characters was unfounded. This is a great read, but I do recommend leaving it until you have a good handle on other Cosmere books. This content isn't needed to understand or appreciate those stories, but there is extra value in this book if you have the background, and emotional investment, from the other Cosmere works, especially Mistborn and the Stormlight Archives.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor's SoulThe Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book unexpectedly on a random trip to the library. I thought I had covered Sanderson's published works fairly well by this point, so I was surprised to encounter this one.

I'm not sure I have a lot to say about it. It was everything I have come to expect from Brandon Sanderson. Intriguing, inventive, and enjoyable. I do think that he is too close to soul casting with this magic system, from an originality standpoint, but that bothers me ... not at all.

The most notable thing is that shortly after I picked up this book at the library, I started Arcanum Unbounded as an audiobook. Arcanum Unbounded is a collection of short stories by Sanderson with interesting introductions and post scripts relating them to the Cosmere, Brandon's fictional universe. The whole concept is amazing. Anyway, what is the first story in that collection? The Emperors Soul. So I'm double dipping a bit here, which also bothers me ... not at all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

The Sword of Shannara (The Original Shannara Trilogy, #1)The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was another re-read of a classic that got me into the fantasy genre decades ago. Time has shined new light on these classics as newer authors and works have explored and improved the genre. In many instances, this first Shannara book is a retelling of The Lord of the Rings. A multi-race (or species?) band of adventurers set out to find a magical artifact that can only be wielded by an unlikely hero. They have to travel through a mountain full of dead kings. The elves show up to narrowly save the day at a besieged fortress against a mountain. There is a fight between a thing of evil and the master magician/mentor and they fall into a fiery pit and are thought to be lost. You get the point.

Yet, it was fun. If I put aside the deja vu born of too much experience with the genre over the last 20-30 years, why not enjoy such a retelling? Why not go on another adventure, even if it is similar to others? So while I can't say I'm as excited by it as I once was, I appreciate both what it is, and the place it holds in the growth of fantasy fiction.

Finally, I think back to my fairly recent rereading of Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom For Sale series (Books 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), and about the improvement in writing over the course of that series. The first 3 books were similar to this one in what I will call "quality", but as the series progressed and Brooks revisited the setting years later, the quality of story telling and writing was significantly better. I don't know when or if I'll get to the next Shannara book, and I know that it will be quite a while before I get to the newer Shannara books that might show similar progress, but I think I can expect that kind of lift over time, and so this early work gets a break overall in my opinion.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Art of WarThe Art of War by Sun Tzu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have had The Art of War on my To-Read list for years. It is a classic book about wartime strategy, as well as ancient Chinese philosophy. This specific edition is not just an English translation of the ancient work, but also includes commentary from 4 or 5 other translators throughout the centuries, citing examples from the Moorish wars, French Revolution, and even World War 2.

I feel that the content was valuable, given the history, but it was a little hard to follow. At face value, much of it seemed contradictory. Don't go fight doomed battles. If you throw your troops into doomed battles, they will win because they are desperate. Use trickery to win to save lives and reduce the cost of war. But don't be tricked by your opponent. And the advice goes on.

The best thing about this version of the book were the examples. By hearing the stories of generals that endeavored to apply the lessons from this book it made them real, and it is easier to see how they might be applied. At the same time, even in those examples I see where the other side still could have won, so while this is good advice, it doesn't seem to me to explain the outcomes of battles as thoroughly as it claims to.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

The Tao of PoohThe Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was another of those audio books I saw available from my library, so picked it up. Either this book was over my head, or it was not worth the paper it wasn't printed on. The most interesting parts for me were when the author quoted directly from Pooh stories. In the end I actually put Winnie the Pooh on my to-read list.

To be fair, it could be that it was over my head. There were references to eastern philosophers that probably would have been funny, or at least witty, if I had known who they were. Also, a basic background in Taoism might have helped redeem the book as well. I think the author just made a marketing miscalculation. Perhaps he felt there was a basic awareness of Taoist principles in the minds of the Pooh fan base. Obviously he represents the opposite of a Pooh fan with Taoist awareness---a Taoist practitioner with a basic understanding of Pooh stories. If he would have understood the Pooh fan base better he might have been more careful assuming that deep philosophical thinking was characteristic of the Pooh-loving population at large.

A final thought: While it was a little bit of a sleeper, I do think the author hit on a commonality between two unrelated things. From what I could tell, Pooh did often reflect a Taoist view of the world in the stories. But did we need a book about it? I don't know that we did. If anything, selling it (and writing it) more as an intro to Taoism aimed at Pooh fans might have been a better approach, although, again, I'm not sure that crowd is looking for such an introduction. If that is what he meant to do, well, I have bad news for him...

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere (London Below, #1)Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This started out slow for me. The first chapter or so literally put me to sleep and I had to restart it. Part of that was because I was tired--a common prerequisite to sleep--and part because I had to reorient myself to the world on this book. I didn't know anything about the book, so I was trying to understand it as a British coming of age relationship story, when I was encountering a dark fantasy-world-hidden-in-our-world thriller. Once I got into the right frame of reference things went smashingly.

Croupe and Vandamar are superb villains, as they strike the terror of torturing serial killers with the readability of Horace and Jasper from 101 Dalmatians. Without that snappy--albeit dark--dialogue, I think they would have been a bit too much for me and this would have moved toward being a Dean Koontz style thriller, which I sampled in Jr. High years ago and decided wasn't for me.

The concept of having a story about multiple Londons, with a main character with the ability to magically open doors seemed a bit worn out after reading VE Schwab's Shades of Magic (book 1, 2, 3) series in the last year or so. While there are some overlapping features, the plots are different enough that I suppose it's ok, but to me there was also a similar writing style, as the level graphic violence/torture was also similar. I wonder which book came out first, and if the second author would admit to being influenced by the other... (I looked it up later. Neverwhere was first by over a decade, so Gaiman wins.)

Finally, the magic system. In this book magic is ever present, but never really center stage. Many characters have special abilities, but the origin of those abilities are never explained, and they are generally secondary to everything else going on. They are treated more like innate hereditary talents than character defining traits. Even Door's family is more defined by their political role than their magic ability. Their titles are political (Earl, Baron, Marquis) rather than magical ability (wizard, mage, witch, Door Opener). A final comment on the magic system: a rare but interesting approach is to mix religious characters and features into the magic system. Having an angel, a traditionally religious figure of power, central to the plot was a nice twist.

Overall, this book was unexpectedly good. Interesting concepts and characters throughout. Weaknesses for me were in certain characters at certain times. Richard was a wimpy corporate figure who was supposed to be old enough to work in an investment house, but acts like a teenager at times and is even called a kid by the Marquis near the end. I don't know what to make of him. Door is portrayed as a teenage girl, but sometimes acts like a mature woman. In both cases, I think the intent was to provide character growth to explain the concern, but they are inconsistent and flip flop through out the book, with mature moments at the beginning and juvenile moments at the end. When it comes to Croupe and Vandamar, their intrinsic motivations are unclear. Time traveling serial killing partners, yes, but why? Characters are the weakness for me, but this is a book club read for me, so I'll see if someone in that group can handle my concerns.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of HellShadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a novella, but it was a rich story with its own world in the Cosmere. This book managed to be gruesome without being terrifying. It was full of unspeakable violence perpetrated by the most unlikely of characters, yet in a way that felt totally justified and reasonable. As with all Sanderson stories, the ending was both foreshadowed, but unexpected. And totally satisfying.

My only complaint is that there is no commitment for a further story in this world or with these characters, at least not that I have heard.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn 6) by Brandon Sanderson

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

Once again I am amazed at the economy of Brandon Sanderson's writing.  He packs so much story into one book. In this book he could have drawn out endless descriptions of the setting, or spent unneeded pages inside the heads of his characters, and then ended it after the first initial conflict was overcome.  But he kept his writing focused and moved the story along constantly as he grew his setting and his characters in our minds.  So when the initial conflict was overcome, his sister was rescued, and more light was shed on the Set's plans, we were ready to keep going and get to an even bigger conflict, and an even bigger revelation.  It was very well done.

In my first reading of this, I really enjoyed the character of Wayne, and whats not to like?  Comic relief mixed with tragic back story all piled on top of a healthy serving of an unfailingly effective sidekick.  Yet, on this second time through, I found Marasi to be worthy of attention as well.  She could have been a weak, bitter, spurned love interest.  Instead she is taking action in her life from page one, proving herself professionally, and then challenging tough questions internally of who she is, and who she wants to be.  In terms of character development she is right there with Wax himself, which is interesting given that one of her issues is how she is always in his shadow.  It makes a much better story to have multiple protagonists and antagonists to deal with.

Excellent book.  I'm just frustrated that so many of Sanderson's other projects have stepped in front of the wrap up of this story line.  Grr.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Shadows of Self (Mistborn 5) by Brandon Sanderson

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

Previous comments here.

This book is different than other Sanderson books for some reason. He stays true to the magic system and world he built, and I still love the references back to the first Mistborn trilogy, but it feels like this is where it gets a little far afield. I think I recognize the problem: he has to create an antagonist for the overarching protagonist (Sazed). Wax and Wayne do their thing, and their story line is fine, but to make this series' story arc work, the conflict can't be just about them. So in this book we learn about Trell. I think the issue might be that Trell was not really a legitimate character/force in the first trilogy, but rather just mentioned in passing. So this feels very "bolted-on." Where Sanderson's stories usually give you these huge "ah-ha!" moments when you look at the story through the rear view mirror (the Lessie revelation for example), for me the Trell thing is more of an "uh-huh?" moment.

That aside, I once again loved the book and can't wait to pick up the next one. Of course I have 3 other books in the works I need to finish as well, but I'm pushing on all fronts since we are staring down that last quarter of the year and I'm behind on my goal again...

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Previous Comments here.

Ok, so while I really enjoy fantasy series such as Mistborn, they do slow down my overall book consumption. So I planned on taking a break after the first Mistborn trilogy and clear out a stack of business books I've been meaning to read. But then we went on a bit of a longer drive and my wife announced she had just started the Alloy of Law, and was willing to start it over so we could listen to it together. And 4 days later (thanks to a plane ride over the Pacific) it is done and I'm fully engaged in the next trilogy, like it or not.

I'm a Sanderson fan boy on here enough that I don't need to parrot my appreciation for his craft again. But I kinda will anyway.

This book kicks off the follow on series to Mistborn and is an awesome extension of what was established in that first series. Superb characters, dialogue, and action. If I had a gripe it would be that like an action movie, some of the fight scenes stretch what is believable given the rules of the book. But those details are easy to disregard in the moment. A better gripe would be: how do people have Koloss blood? They don't reproduce, so how can they have interbred?

I'm looking forward to Shadows of Self to continue the story, although I hope to finish at least a couple of those business books on this trip.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's WealthyThe Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great study of the classic recipe of wealth. The message of frugality, humility, hard work and consistency is something that is lacking from the millennial mindset. I noticed that while the message of frugality seemed to be a common theme, it was generally a relative comment. It isn't that these millionaires didn't live comfortably, and have what they wanted in life. It is more that their desires were modest, down to earth desires revolving around their families and security. If you dig beneath the surprise that the millionaire group members were not caviar eating snobs, you find that the stories he cites were ones of gifts for kids, paid college tuitions, paid off cars of their choice, fishing boats, vacations, etc. The key is that none of these features were gaudy, or even came close to testing the limits of the financial means.

The other thing I noticed is that the recipe for success in this book was not just financial. There was a strong social correlation to those who succeed financially. They lived among the middle class, and married spouses and then stayed married to them. How much impact would it have if society just returned to these basic principles?

This book is a little dry, as it slows down at the end, and tends to interrupt dialogue with numbers. However, if you give it a chance I think the data presented here, while dated, could be hugely valuable to future generations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Cash Flow Quadrant - Rich Dad's Guide to Financial Freedom by Robert T. Kiyosaki

Rich Dad, Poor Dad 2: Cash Flow Quadrant - Rich Dad's Guide to Financial FreedomThe Cash Flow Quadrant - Rich Dad's Guide to Financial Freedom by Robert T. Kiyosaki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I listened to an abridged version, but I decided to count it anyway. It was a great reminder of content I heard over a decade ago, and it was different hearing it this time. I've always thought of Kiyosaki as kind if an anti-Dave Ramsey, but really they teach 90% of the sane stuff. Don't get in debt, be financial wise, invest. Kiyosaki just focuses more on the invest part where Ramsey focuses more on the get out of debt part. Also Ramsey is anti-debt, where Kiyosaki is ok with debt as a form of leverage when investing wisely. Overall, a great read.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3)The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book had both an exhaustive treatment of the characters at the end of the story AND at the same time it was too short. Weird. From the wrap up of detailed explanations at the end, to the path that was laid so carefully throughout the first books, all of it was carefully crafted. This was my 2nd reading, and the details were really apparent on this trip through the Final Empire. I wanted it to go on and on, as I found it so immersive that I should have taken notes as I read.

Did I find a few holes in the story? Yes, I think I did (usually around laws of physics), but they don't matter compared to the larger work. One or two brush strokes out of place does not ruin a masterpiece.

Well done and thank you.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval (Caraval, #1)Caraval by Stephanie Garber
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I tried to like this book. There were certainly reasons, or at least excuses, to like it, even though there were strong romance themes that generally had me rolling my eyes. But it wasn't to be. Why? The characters were too frustrating. They did dumb stuff, starting with Scarlet, and ending with everyone else. She lived in abusive situation, yet believed she could negotiate with every antagonist. Threatening to hurt herself, promising to obey, trying to sacrifice herself to help someone else when she obviously had no leverage. Did she learn nothing from her youth with her father? She was so annoying I could barely stand to read it. I found the setting interesting, and was willing to overlook the shudders that overtook Scarlet every time Julian sneezed in her direction, but she still made no sense. One minute a villain was murdering the love of her life, the next minute she was having a calm conversation with him, and the next thing you know she is trying to negotiate with him, willing to do anything if he promises to be nice. He's the bad guy. That never works. Frustrating.

So I still would have been tempted to give the book up to 4 stars based on all the twists and turns, but then I finished it. Well I didn't really finish it, it just ended on me. No wrap up, just a totally dissatisfying lack of resolution. In the end you don't know who anyone is or what really just happened. I know this is supposed to be a series, but you still owe it to your readers to provide closure to the conflict of this book before setting up the next one. I don't know if anything was resolved here. At the very least it was dissatisfying. So this is now in the 2-3 star range for me, and I don't know if I will be reading the next book. Usually I can't help but read any series I start, but I could see this being an exception. I don't know that I trust the author to wrap up details at the end to provide a real satisfying read, and if I have to endure any more sappy, hollow teenage romance my eyes won't be able to roll my far enough back into my head.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2) by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2)The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2) by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm short on time, so I'll keep my thoughts from my 2nd reading short. I didn't like the Zane story line the first time I read this book, and I didn't like it this time either. Yes, I suppose he helped Vin grow, and he provided key opposition, but he is just so annoying. But any angst I had for Zane is countered by my appreciation for Sazed. He is a great character. A man of special abilities, but humble and unassuming. His people are kept in slavery and yet maintain a resistance and rise above it. He is likable, and yet still surprising when he takes the lead to be a hero.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)The Final Empire (Mistborn 1) by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A quick glance at my reading list would tell you I'm a Brandon Sanderson fan. The Final Empire was the first book I read of his, and after multiple books and recommendations later I decided I needed to go back to this initial book and see if it held up after some time had passed. It did. I caught more in the 2nd time through that I missed the first time. It is like staring at a painting from a master of the art. After a while you can see the brush strokes and appreciate the vision and ability of the master, not just the pretty picture. I look forward to reading the rest of the series again, which is really all one story.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Domes of Fire by David Eddings

Domes of Fire (The Tamuli, #1)Domes of Fire (Tamuli 1) by David Eddings
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this book out of nostalgia. I like David Eddings as an author, and it's been a long time since I read this series. I read the previous Sparhawk books a while ago, and this second trilogy is similar to the first so far. Good story, fun characters, but with a underdeveloped writing style. Overall, it's a mediocre book, but I'm enjoying it anyway. On with the series.

Friday, June 1, 2018

How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It by Mark Cuban

How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do ItHow to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It by Mark Cuban
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this was a quick read that had a lot of good on-the-ground advice from a guy who has been successful at business. Thanks to its roots as blog posts, it is less like a business book and more like a mentorship session. Is Mark Cuban my hero? Not by a long shot. His lifestyle, personal choices, and opinions about the role of business in your life are not healthy in my opinion. But that doesn't make his book less valuable, it just means I have to take the good stuff and leave the rest untouched. I did love the brevity, which was enabled by the lack of polish. I'll make that trade off pretty much every chance I get.

Here is a list of what I learned, mostly for my own benefit:

  • Win the battles you are in first. It is the same concept as the hedgehog model (Good to Great), but angled more toward the entrepreneur. Focus and win at what you are doing before trying to do something else. Don't drown in new opportunities.
  • The worst person to assess talent is the player themselves. We cannot be objective with ourselves.
  • Do what you are good at, and find others to supplement your weaknesses.
  • Consumers are lazy. Put your product in their path of least resistance and you can win. Make it more difficult to use your product instead of your competitor's product, and you will lose.
  • Good salespeople love their job, their product, and their clients. They show up every day excited to call prospects and share what they love about their product.
  • Living cheaply gives you lots of options (opportunities.) Reduce expenses and take risks.
  • Listen to customers to know how to make them happy, but don't let them dictate your road map. Innovation is your job. Customers are horrible at it.

So there you go. While only 3 stars IMHO, the minimum length makes it a bargain and a good investment of time for an entrepreneur.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

Rich Dad, Poor DadRich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I have read this book before, I learned a lot this time around. For example, I thought Ramsey and Kiyosaki were opposites, but they actually have a lot in common.  Don't live paycheck to paycheck. Focus on building assets. Don't get addicted to the desire for more stuff.  Build a strong financial base first. Your assets buy your luxuries, not your job or debt. Success comes from controlling your emotions and behaviors regarding money.

Somewhere in my early years I missed the emphasis on those parts of this book.  All I heard was that debt is OK if the cash flow it generates is positive.  That may not be a false statement in Kiyosaki's opinion, but that is not the whole story either.

This is a great book, and with the right companion texts it brings some important insights to the personal finance discussion.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial FitnessThe Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read this book a number of times, so I do not have much to add this time around. I'm in a bullet point kind of mood,  so here I go.

  • It was shorter than I remember.  I finished it in an afternoon this time. 
  • I didn't really get new info from this reading.  A few details on the "rules" of a few baby steps,  but by now I've basically got the plan down. 
  • So why did I read it?  Two reasons. First,  motivation.  I've found myself slipping in the smart money choices area lately, and this was just what I needed to recommit. Second, I just read The Richest Man in Babylon, and while these books are more complimentary than competitors, I wanted the refresher to do a legit compare and contrast.  In short, I feel that RMIB covers the salient points,  including motivation, more completely.  However,  TMM gives the detail needed to really succeed at the baby steps in today's world.  What TMM is missing is advice on what types of risk are worthwhile and when to take them. Rich dad Poor Dad is the other side of that coin, I think,  so that is next on my list.  It's been quite a while since I've read that one,  so it is time.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason

The Richest Man in BabylonThe Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read this one before, since it is one of our company's annual reads,  but this year for the first time in years it is my turn to teach it. While the language of the book is definitely dated,  it does a great job of sharing simple principles in very consumable ways. Like the Total Money Makeover, the strategies for managing money are not revolutionary, or even exciting. They are boring, almost insignificant sounding adjustments to how we live our lives in relationship to money. Yet the principles are simple enough that they work.

I recommend this to be in your "re-read occasionally pile."

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.