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.