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.