Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 Book List

What can I say? I did it in 2019!  I hit my goal of 52, and added an extra like a cherry on top. And I finished 10 days before the end of the year.  That makes this my most successful reading year yet.  And as I observed last year, success seems to be an all or nothing proposition. I hit most of the goals I set this year.  Interesting.

As for my sub-goal of reading at least 12 books in 3 genres, to keep me balanced, once again I didn't really track that well, so I'll go back and get the numbers and see how I did after the fact.

Religion (3)  +1 from 2018
Fantasy (28)  +2 from 2018
Self Help / Business (9) -2 from 2018

It looks like I read a little more of what I enjoyed, and a few more that didn't fit in any of these categories (like mysteries). And overall, I just read more.  Again, interesting.

So the next steps are the same.  I'm going to re-affirm my 2020 goal of 52 books, and try to keep this rolling.

Here's the 2019 List

1White Sand, Volume 2Brandon SandersonJan 1
2Winnie-the-PoohA.A. MilneJan 3
3Newt's EmeraldGarth Nix Jan 7
4To Kill a MockingbirdHarper LeeJan 15
5UnwindNeal ShustermanJan 21
6LiraelGarth NixJan 27
7AbhorsenGarth NixJan 31
8GoldenhandGarth NixFeb 8
9The Year of LessCait FlandersFeb 11
10To Hold the BridgeGarth NixFeb 20
11Assassin's ApprenticeRobin HobbMar 1
12Royal AssassinRobin HobbMar 4
13Assassin's QuestRobin HobbMar 21
14Economics in One LessonHenry HazlittMar 26
15The Princess BrideWilliam GoldmanMar 29
16The Talent CodeDaniel CoyleMar 30
17ClarielGarth NixApr 9
18Ms. Bixby's Last DayJohn David AndersonApr 11
19The Grave's a Fine and Private PlaceAlan BradleyApr 16
20The Golden Tresses of the DeadAlan BradleyApr 20
21Cold IronMiles CameronMay 3
22Whose Body?Dorothy L. SayersMay 8
23Have Sword Will TravelGarth NixMay 13
24Mister MondayGarth NixMay 16
25Grim TuesdayGarth NixMay 21
26Drowned WednesdayGarth NixMay 25
27The Feather ThiefKirk Wallace JohnsonJun 4
28Sir ThursdayGarth NixJun 5
29Five Languages of Appreciation in the WorkplaceGary ChapmanJun 12
30Lady FridayGarth NixJun 20
31Superior SaturdayGarth NixJun 27
32Lord SundayGarth NixJul 6
33Catch-22Joseph HellerJul 17
34LegionBrandon SandersonJul 26
35SnapshotBrandon SandersonJul 30
36Willpower Doesn't WorkBenjamin HardyJul 31
37Let Sleeping Dragons LieGarth NixAug 10
38The Hidden CityDavid EddingsAug 21
39Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young GirlAnne FrankAug 24
40Death on the NileAgatha ChristieSep 1
41Walking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the ChurchPope FrancisSep 6
42Brigham Young: Pioneer ProphetJohn G TurnerSep 25
43Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better LifeJohn WoodenSep 29
44The Fifth SeasonN.K. JemisinOct 2
45Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take ActionSimon SinekOct 9
46Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's KillerJames L. SwansonOct 26
47The Library at Mount Char Scott HawkinsNov 15
48The Dragonet ProphecyTui T. SutherlandNov 21
49The Last Days of NightGraham MooreNov 29
50StarsightBrandon SandersonDec 3
51The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership FablePatrick LencioniDec 3
52Influence: The Psychology of PersuasionRobert B. Cialdini LencioniDec 14
53On Writing: A Memior of the CraftStephen KingDec 21

Saturday, December 21, 2019

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a re-read for me (from before I started keeping a list), and I found King's advice, style, and experience with writing to be everything one could hope for. Direct, efficient, and validated by success. While he does speak to the use of crude language in your writing, and when you should and shouldn't use it, he sure uses a lot of it himself. In his quest to be true to himself as a character, he drops a lot of f-bombs and other colorful terms. This tells me that his true self is crass and unfiltered, which is a great way to be true to a character, but this is nonfiction. I'm less interested in the character of Stephen King, and more interested in his content, so I don't know if all of that was necessary, but whatever. So I dropped a star because I can't recommend this book to all audiences of aspiring authors, but if you can handle the adult content and want to be a better creative writer, this is a great read.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Influence: The Psychology of PersuasionInfluence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first glance this appeared to be a dry, but relevant, book on persuasion that came up in my search for the book Influencer, a past favorite that I was looking to revisit. I started listening to it, and found it to be dated, with pre-Millenial examples.

Having said all of that, I was surprised to find myself fascinated by this book. It moved at a decent pace, and had relevant insights. I am a sucker for social science books, so that might play into my opinion quite a bit, but I appreciated the content and the presentation. I found the cult references to be fascinating, and that the reciprocation principles hit too close to home. This is a great read for anyone in sales or marketing, but really is a great read for anyone who can stay engaged with it.

The writing voice was a little dry, or at least academic, at times, but with my original expectations being low, I'm going to give this one a rare 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership FableThe Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I continue to review this book with my team annually, and every couple of years I do a complete cover-to-cover re-read.  This was one of those years.  See my previous reviews here:




Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Starsight (Skyward, #2)Starsight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been experiencing a drought of sorts. It's been ages since I encountered a true page turner. Like the drop-everything-including-the-important-stuff-because-I-have-to-know-what-happens-next level of page turner. Well, the drought is over. Starsight isn't a perfect book, but it is fantastic compared to most of the other stuff I've read this year. It almost makes me think I should just give up on all the books I try to read and just cycle through the collected works of Brandon Sanderson instead.

There isn't much I can say without spoiling the whole book... so I guess this is your SPOILER ALERT. Stop reading if that kind of thing bothers you. Spoilers, that is.

I only have one major beef with this one. Delvers are immensely powerful creatures from another realm that can invade Spensa's realm and go around turning everyone to dust, right? So how come you can literally fly into a Delver in a ship and not get disintegrated? And when you do fly into one and not get disintegrated, why does this immensely powerful, other-worldly being resort to hucking rocks at your ship? I feel like I missed something there. I am confident that if I asked Sanderson this question he would have an answer. I attended the release party for this book, and after a short speech he took questions. It was less a serious Q&A and more of a game called lets-try-to-stump-Brandon-about-the-worlds-he-has-in-his-head. Yeah, B-Sand won hands down. He knew every detail about everything.

In case you want to know, if a Mistborn tried to burn a piece of a shard blade, it would work, since shard blades are theoretically allomantically active. Yeah. I know. Trippy.

So that Delver issue was my one big complaint. The rest of the book flowed well. The characters faced conflict and had to grow and change to overcome it. The plot and world building for this series both took steps forward. The pace was good, and the cliff hanger at the end is as frustrating as it is calculated. I will admit that this space setting isn't my fave (I'd rather be on Roshar), but I can live with it, considering what I'm getting as part of the package.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Last year I read Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla and while it was a bit long, and overly technical at some points, it was interesting and stayed with me. My wife read this book for a book club, which reviews some of the same events with the same people, and as we discussed our different perspectives I was often confused by the major differences between the two historical accounts. Then the day came when my wife was chosen to pick a book for the one book club we share (she is in 5 book clubs to my 1) and of course she picks this book.

The picture this book paints of Tesla did not at all match what I knew of him from my previous read. The further I got into it, I knew one thing. One of these books was materially misrepresenting the man, and likely other characters as well, and was not to be trusted.

I made it to the end of this book with a bunch of questions waiting to be asked, and then found the author's note at the end. The one where he enumerates what was fact vs fiction in the book. I was shocked. I didn't realize this was supposed to be a work of fiction. The characters were real people, in a real historically significant event, in real places. He just made up the stuff they said and did, which misrepresents, oh, just about everything. The few facts he randomly strung throughout this narrative were so out of context that they shouldn't be trusted.

This is a great example of how not to write a historical fiction. The reader needs to know up front that it is fiction. Either the character, setting, or plot need to be completely fictional. Then one of those other elements should be as accurate to reality a possible. Most commonly the setting is the historically accurate part, leaving the characters available to be fictionalized, with the plot somewhere in between (Les Miserables?). Or you could have a real character in such a fantastic, outlandish plot that the reader knows fact from fiction (Abraham Lincoln obviously did not spend his time hunting vampires.) Last Days of Night, however, doesn't do this. It's attempt to put real people in real settings, and in plausible plots confuses the reader and misrepresents history. Why not do the rest of the research and just write a history, instead of this full dramatization? State your assumptions and unknowns as you go, in the text of the book, rather than stuffing them at the back of the book where many readers won't bother to read them.

Outside of my chief complaint, I can say that the book is well written and if you sort through the end notes and can separate fact from fiction, there are some good insights into the events covered. But the damage is done. Even with these bright points, I can't recommend this book. It is like propaganda for an unknown cause. Go read Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, or any of the others that Moore cites as sources instead. Don't waste your time on fake history.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland

The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, #1)The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My 6th grade daughter loves this series and I told her I would read a book of her choosing, so here I am. This isn't my normal style, and it's been a while since I read something targeting this age range. My struggle in forming an opinion is mostly from my attempt to account for those 2 facts.

This is a well written juvenile fantasy. I'm not familiar enough with the middle reader market to know exactly, but I think it's target audience is something less than 6th grade, but it's hard to tell. I tried to think of what I was reading in 6th grade and if it was similar, but I had a hard time coming up with anything.

Pros: Solid fantasy plot. Bloody succession war leads to a prophecy about a child (children in this case) that would save the world. The twist: everyone is a dragon. It's well written, and the plot moves along fairly well. Characters have unique traits and histories.

Cons: the personification of dragons is over the top. The have scrolls, manipulate objects such as chains with their claws, and are surrounded by "human" artifacts such as thrones, iron bars, and wires. They have conversations, engage in politics, but it's OK to eat a live animal, or kill another dragon. Sometimes you kill the other dragon by humanely snapping its neck, while other times you bite and claw it to death. It's just strange, strange enough to be distracting.

If I was in grade school, would I keep reading? Probably. But can I say that this is a great book? No, it's good, and I get the appeal, but it's not a classic. The real question: what do I tell my daughter about my opinion of her favorite book?

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have so much to say and yet nothing to say. This book was the product of a random search for an available fantasy audio book from my library, which is all too often the case.

It started as a 1 star read for me. Violent, crude characters and a muddy plot I couldn't follow. What the heck was this all about?

Then it turned into a 3-star. It was still more violent/graphic than I usually choose, but there was a compelling plot developing. I've always liked creative ideas in plot, which is why I'm a fan of Garth Nix stories. I've recently discovered classic mysteries, which has me looking for Agatha Christie recommendations all the time. This dark, violent book somehow also had both of those features. Where was Caroline's Father? If he was dead, who killed him? And how? Were the other adopted children going to kill each other off before we found out the answers to those questions?

Yes, it made it to a 4-star level. This has all the same features as the 3-star phase, but now I HAD TO KNOW what happened next. Some questions were resolved, only to create more questions. You could feel a crescendo building...

Back to 3 stars... while the crescendo was building and I was fully engaged, I started to notice cheesy moments here and there. He was taken down by dogs and almost killed, only to get around and function and think clearly? What? He fought a lion with his bare hands? And then got his back stapled back together and was fine after that? Hmm...

And then... it was over. The crescendo came and died down. The mysteries were solved. The bad guys were vanquished or whatever. But it didn't end. There were, well... relationship issues. What!?!? Emotional turmoil took center stage, while our entire planet and humankind were on a path to self-destruction in the background.

1 star.

The book was over. Find a way to wrap it up and write a sequel or something. Nope, the plot struggled on, gurgling on its own blood as it gasped its last dying breath (everyone dies a bloody, gory death in this book, so it seems fair to give the book itself the same treatment.) And when it was over, I was disappointed by its last gasps. It stayed in 1-star territory.

The writing in this book was inspired. The concept and world building [of the library] was original and amazing. There is so much you could do with it. The talent of this author to take something that wasn't my genre and make me need to keep reading was fantastic. But the end product... not so much. I feel like the right editor could have helped mold the vision of this ending a different direction? Maybe not. I don't know that much about the writing and editing industry, but where there was so much potential, I have to believe that the industry should know how funnel that project to a reasonable ending. But again, I don't know. I do have the freedom, like every other unqualified reader on the internet, to rate it according to my own unqualified opinion, so that's what I've done.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's KillerManhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not a big history guy, and I approached this book with some hesitation. It just looked dry. It was actually very fascinating, and not just for the insights into the events around the assassination of President Lincoln, but also for a look into the day-to-day lives of the people of that era. A group of states wanted to leave the Union and go their own way. It sounds democratic, especially with our current news stories around Brexit. It is just another piece of evidence that history is written by the victors. The book moved along fairly well, and had enough background info to get a feel for the characters and the era, but not so much that you get bogged down. It was well done.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take ActionStart with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are a lot of fans for this book, and I had seen Simon Sinek on YouTube and liked his TED talk. However, this landed at a 3-star for me in a weird way: sincere 2 star disappointment with some occasional 4 star tidbits.

Disappointment - he's an unabashed Apple fanboy, and it's so over the top that it undermines his premise. He would do better to use examples of other people connecting with brands to let him maintain some distance from the examples. Second, his theory doesn't account for macro economics. You can have all of the "why" and social good you want, but if you're in an unprofitable, declining industry, you better start thinking about a new why and a new social injustice to solve in some other industry. As I was listening to this, I started to feel confused about Sinek himself. What was his angle? His data choices were obviously biased in many cases, which I was strangely ok with,
but I just didn't understand where he was coming from. Then he explained his marketing background (and his why) and it clicked. He's a marketer, and he stumbled across a good idea he could articulate, and he was marketing it. Marketing it really well, in fact. And like most marketers, his job is to sell the positive benefits of his idea, and he would struggle to share both sides of the coin. I've noticed that great marketers lack objectivity, and if there is ever a description of Sinek, this is it. When did he address the downside of getting driven by a "why"? There are two sides to every coin, just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, yet he presents and defends one way, and one way only, to achieve success. And lucky for us, it has no downsides.

I started reading this as a pre-built fan of the "why" idea, eager to get more details, and instead left the book a skeptic. It's easy to get caught up in the hype and the emotion of his examples, but at the end of the day how deep is this theory? Is success, however you define it, predicated by this concept?

An example of the 4-star tidbits I encountered: Sinek is a great marketer, and I love a good marketing insight. One of my favorites was about the need for people to join groups. I see this as a key observation, that when applied could account for as much, or more of, the positive results he cites than his why theory.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found a lot of positives in this book. It was deep in a many areas. The magic system is complex, and is probably my favorite feature of the whole book. The characters are compelling, and it is easy to care about their struggles. You want them to win. The pace of the book is great, once you get in to it. It did start a little slow, but I think that is because it was complex enough that it just takes that long to get the background you need to understand what's going on. Once you're in though, it moves along well. Finally, while this is solidly in the fantasy genre, for the reader there is a mystery aspect that unfolds as you're introduced to different characters and you slowly figure out how they are related. I appreciated the ah-ha moments that brought.

But even with those positives, I can only give it 2 stars. There were too many obstacles for me to really enjoy all of the positives I just listed. I'm going to try to avoid spoilers, at the risk of making this unintelligible. While I said that the magic system was complex, it's also true that the plot was complex. It jumped from place to place, changed time frames, with characters that appeared and disappeared, sometimes to reappear later. Or not. While I said it is easy to care about the characters, that is because they are well written. Unfortunately, I didn't like them, especially the main character. She was well written, but made no sense. Her lack of attachment made no sense. Realistic, I suppose, but if I met her in real life, I also wouldn't like her. In a real world context I would see her as a self centered, I'm-a-victim, whiny type of person that is all about "finding herself". In short, annoying. I'm also not a fan of sex-as-a-plot, which I felt this degenerated into a few times. This wasn't constant, but occasionally there could have or should have been deep relationship or emotional development, but instead there was just sex. Blah. Maybe that's how the author sees the world, or maybe that's just the main characters being shallow people I wouldn't get along with. Either way, I felt it detracted from what could have been a 5-star story.

In short, I think I'd enjoy a retelling of the conflict in this world from a different set of characters, and from a different point of view. The writing, world and magic system had a lot to offer, but I think we were let down by the characters, plot line, and overall complexity level.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life by John Wooden

Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better LifeCoach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life by John Wooden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up, ready for a quick business/ motivational read. I was surprised to find a quasi-sermon based on the teachings and experience of the great Coach Wooden of UCLA basketball fame. Similar to the Lou Holtz book I read a few years ago, this was a book of solid life lessons from a great coach. I found myself thinking that they just don't make men like this anymore. He calmly and persuasively told you what you needed to do to be successful, and it was to do what's right, work hard, and follow Jesus. I would love to hear a contemporary basketball coach say those things.

Why only 3 stars? While I liked his old school, conservative message, I thought his pyramid was too complex. Many of his principles could be combined and reordered to get the same message across without so many pieces and mortar principles. Simplify. Also, while I agreed with his message, I don't feel like I came away with anything new, or any burning desire to do anything differently. That might be on me more than the book, but I felt it was missing something there.

Still, it was a good read, so if you need solid life advice from your grandpa, and he isn't around, this might be a fair substitute.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner

Brigham Young: Pioneer ProphetBrigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I approached what looked like a dry history book with a little trepidation. It was long, for one. As I actually got into it, I found it quite interesting. Not a nail-biter for sure, but interesting. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and many of the stories included in this history-first rendition of Brigham's life were not new to me. Some of the details were, however. Many of them showcased questionable decisions made by the pioneering church leader, and, well, true history is like that. Part of the challenge of learning the history of someone you revere is discovering the inevitable--that they were human. The fact that Brigham Young made some sketchy decisions, and had an imperfect personality, shouldn't be shocking, although to many Church members it is. I'm a fairly objective sort of person (although no one is really objective, I know) and I prefer to know the person. By knowing the person, I feel like I understand more about how they tried to apply what they knew about God's teachings. I don't just say this through the lens of my church membership. The last book I read was written by Pope Francis, and I was looking for the same thing there. I wanted to see and hear the man that was the Pope, and get to know him. That book failed at that objective for me, but what glimpses I did have of the man, I saw someone who was also trying to live out God's teachings as he understood them. Despite the mistakes and weaknesses of mankind, I feel that the world improves as each of us try to live out God's teachings as we understand them.

So do I leave this book with my faith shaken at all? I don't think so. I feel educated. I know more about what happened in the past, and I see more of why our current world and local culture is the way it is. I see the mistakes of others and see how we can learn from them. I see how trying to following God's laws, despite the lack of perfect execution, can bring about great results.

I appreciated this author. My 3-star rating is not really a rating of the quality of his work, but in part my interest level in the topic. He did a great job of writing a historical biography and not succumbing to the temptation of taking sides. He does not discredit the Church, and makes this clear in the prologue and epilogue. He also does not make this an endorsement for the church, or in any way a spiritual book. Brigham Young was a religious leader, and so he had to address spiritual topics, but he does so only in respect to his goal of writing an accurate history. He does not coddle the past, even the ugly parts. If you feel he defends Brigham Young now and then, remember that he was writing about the man, and in order to understand him, you have to understand his justification for his choices, so presenting his view of events and reasoning for his actions is justified.

An interesting note: As I was listening to this book, I talked about it with several other Church members, and was surprised at the level of push-back I got. It caused some introspection. There is a lot of negative, incorrect content about our faith out there, and as members of the Church we purposely and justifiably choose to not subject ourselves to it. I think this has unintentionally created a fear of any content that might be less than positive. While I understand the purpose behind that fear, I think that this actually weakens the faith of church members. They start to believe in an infallible earthly organization free from error, but by definition that also means free from humanity. Individuals within the Church make mistakes. They always have and they always will. While it is more infrequent, the Church as an organization has made mistakes. Thankfully, the organization of the church and how it has evolved continues to make that more and more unlikely in my opinion. But from on top of my oh-so-small soapbox, I would suggest to Church members that they learn about the history of the Church, and accept historical facts as they are. Don't base your testimony of the Church on the infallibility of men, even good men. You will be let down. And to those who aren't of our faith, if we seem like we have our heads stuck in the sand and are ignoring historical facts, remember how much misinformation is out there. Remember the history of persecution and hardship that are now a part of our cultural heritage, and it will be easier to be a little more forgiving of our oddities, but also to see where our real spiritual commitment lies.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Walking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church by Pope Francis

Walking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the ChurchWalking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church by Pope Francis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So, I don't know what was expecting from this book from Pope Francis, but it wasn't a long dissertation on Catholic doctrine on various topics. I guess I thought there would be some kind of conversation with the reader about the challenges the Catholic church faces, and by extension Christianity faces, and what his plan is to deal with it. I expected stories, engagement, and real conversation. But no. I was bored by a compilation of one-sided, dry sermons instead.

That is not to say I didn't learn things. I am not of the Catholic faith, and so there were many new things I encountered in this book, as well as a few things I already knew, but that I was reminded of. I will list them, mostly because I love lists.

- The Catholic church, like any other group, has its own jargon. Litany, homily, Eucharist, etc, etc. I've encountered these terms here and there, but only in passing, and never in complete context. Well, I'm much more aware of these terms now, although I doubt they will show up in my vocabulary, or that I could really define them in a way that wouldn't have my Catholic friends rolling their eyes.

- The Catholic religion has many doctrines that are different than my faith. That is no surprise to anyone. However, when I put Sunday sermons aside and look at outcomes, these two religions have a lot in common, as do most other religions I have encountered. Take care of the poor, beware of greed, pray. We should all be leveraging our commonalities to promote peace and a general community of faith, rather than focusing on differences.

- But to talk about our differences... the main differences between what I heard in this book, and what I hear every Sunday at church, for me, boiled down to how we see mankind among God's creations. This book left me with the impression that man is worthless, and without power or choice. That we are meant to suffer and be poor during our whole existence, and that to exercise freedom of will, or to strive to improve our temporal means is an act against God. I just can't see humanity in this light. We are obviously beings who have the power to make choices, and if we choose to better our lives, we have even more choices to do good or evil. So I don't want to dwell on this difference, but if I summarize it to one main difference, that's it.

- Finally, if there is any doctrine I straight up disagree with, it is the concept of abstinence as a spiritual requirement. Several times in these speeches, the Pope gives advice on marriage and raising kids. At best, it was the advice of someone trying to teach someone something they read about but never tried themselves, and at the worst, absolutely awful advice. This is not just an idle opinion, but from someone who has been married for over 20 years (to the same person) and is raising 4 children. They really need to revisit that whole concept. Man was not meant to be alone.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile (Hercule Poirot, #17)Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have found that I really like mysteries, and no one is more adept at the whodunit than Agatha Christie. To me these are the most timeless stories written. Yes, there are the older classics to consider, but none of them carry the pace and interest level for me that these do. In the case of most other classics, I read them because they are classics. I read Agatha Christie books because I want a good mystery.

To be specific about this book, I'll admit that occasionally throughout the book I suspected the correct murderer, although without all the details. Yet, each time my suspicions were discounted by some apparent fact and I looked elsewhere. To have it come back to that suspect in the end was both impossible and enjoyable. It's the twists and turns that keep me coming back. Surprise is everything.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young GirlAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Events from the Holocaust are so much more real and disturbing when you get to know someone who lived it. And that is what this book does. You get to know Anne as a person, with all of her strengths and weaknesses. You feel her fears and frustrations, her petty disagreements and her adolescent highs. When those final entries come, and you sense some maturity coming to her, and with it her growing fear, the events of the times take on new meanings. It was an awful time to be alive, and and this book does an unusually effective job at portraying it.

I don't think I needed to read the definitive edition. The entries of a young woman going through puberty were not meant for the public, and even if they were, I didn't gain anything from them. They don't add to the experience or the message of the book, so I can see why they were edited out of the mass-market version.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Hidden City by David Eddings

The Hidden City (The Tamuli, #3)The Hidden City by David Eddings
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Previous books in the series:
Domes of Fire
The Shinning Ones

It took me a year or so to read this book. It wasn't bad, but the whole series is just... dated. It is a mediocre classic fantasy book, displaying a lot of the features that have been the focus of writers to improve on in the last few decades. The plot was often predictable, the characters felt shallow at times, and the bad guys were just bad. It was in all ways a 3 star read.

So why did I read it? I just like a good classic fantasy from time to time. The escapism that draws fantasy readers is still there, even with the concerns. Keep expectations low, and go on a little journey to save the world with Sir Sparhawk and friends. Just don't take a year going about it.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie by Garth Nix

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie (Have Sword, Will Travel #2)Let Sleeping Dragons Lie by Garth Nix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm, I need to go back and read my review of the first book. I might be at risk of repeating myself. This book was entertaining at a juvenile level. While maintaining a simple plot with simple goals, the authors were able to maintain a storyline and set of characters that appealed to their audience.

The best thing about this book is actually the epilogue. This postscript kicks off the next conflict, which was set up by both book 1 and 2. If not for that I think I would be done with this series, but now I might consider reading one more. Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Willpower Doesn't Work: Discover the Hidden Keys to Success by Benjamin Hardy

Willpower Doesn't Work: Discover the Hidden Keys to SuccessWillpower Doesn't Work: Discover the Hidden Keys to Success by Benjamin Hardy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This random selection started out 5-star strong, and after the first few chapters I was taking notes and dreaming up opportunities to practice environmental design in my life. Unfortunately, that experience was short lived.

Subsequent chapters in this anti-willpower book described scenarios that sounded good, but still had their roots in willpower. For example, if I decide to do 10 pushups when I feel the pull to go back to an old habit I'm trying to get rid of, what is the force that makes me stick to that decision? Oh, right. Willpower. Only he just undermined the idea of willpower in a very compelling way. Strike 1.

Then the small-time local entrepreneur stories and cultural references started popping up. I'm a Utah resident, and there is a distinct culture here, and I started hearing that culture in the examples he gave. Even Stevens sandwiches? Really? The willpower-is-not-the-answer platform that he defended so well at the beginning devolved into the storyline of risky entrepreneurship. Sometimes it pays off, but what does that have to do with the thesis? And to top it off, the culminating example was the publishing of this book. So the book was about publishing the book. Ouch.

To be fair, I think there are a lot of good ideas in here. Gems, if you will. At the same time, the concepts do not have the seasoning of time and experience. While I like hearing the author's story, and he sounds like he has made some good changes in his life, I wasn't here to read his memoir. He needed an editor that would focus him on his core message around why willpower isn't the answer to making life changes, and how designing your environment can fill those gaps. He gave some great examples of how to do that, but he diluted his good ideas with not-so-good, off topic tidbits. I hope he continues to develop his ideas around environmental design and that he writes a better book about it later in life when he has more experience. I equally hope he doesn't buy into the popular strategy of selling flimsy ideas with over-the-top marketing rather than delivering real value.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

SnapshotSnapshot by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I'm always looking out it for Sanderson material I haven't read, and I saw this in a picture on one of his Instagram posts. Weird that I hadn't heard of it before.

The concept of snapshots was a little hard to grasp at first. I don't know if he didn't explain it well, or if I just wasn't ready for it. I was halfway through the book before I really grasped the concept and the implications, and then it was over really quickly. I almost want to go back and re-read it with the understanding I have now, but now that I know the ending I doubt it would be worth it.

So in the end, I liked it, but it's not my favorite Sanderson story. By the time he got the story spun up, it was over. He had more bones, not enough meat. I often feel like I want his novels to last longer, but this was different. It felt incomplete somehow. Don't get me wrong, I liked it, but it just wasn't great.

A final thought: I'm trying to avoid any spoilers here, but I'll state what the twist ISN'T. I was waiting the whole time for one of the main characters to meet themselves in the snapshot and had theories about what that would mean. Didn't happen. Well played, Sanderson, well played. I hope it was intentional misdirection, or else you might have missed an opportunity in my opinion...

Fun fact, I finished this one in the bottom of the Grand Canyon as I waited out the hottest part of a July day at Phantom Ranch. Great way to kick back and let my legs recover from the hike down!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Legion by Brandon Sanderson

Legion (Legion, #1)Legion by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm always on the lookout for any Sanderson book that I've somehow missed. Legion was one of those.

The premise of this book at first glance seemed very unique. Schizophrenia as a superpower? Who does that? It turns out that Marvel did. With a guy named Legion. I want to ask Mr. Sanderson what happened there. Luckily the two characters/ stories diverge drastically, but still, a pretty sketchy similarity.

This magic system is very tricky, and I'm pretty sure I can identify a number of mistakes in this book. But in the end, as I've said a hundred times, it's about the characters. I viewed all the characters as real characters, even the imaginary ones, and their interactions are the meat of this book. They are genuine and real. You get to know them and want them to succeed, even when you don't know exactly what their goals really are. That is enough to overcome the quirks in this book.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 (Catch-22, #1)Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is supposed to be some sort of classic. I first heard about it in high school, as some classes were assigned it as required reading, although I never was. It had sat on the edge of my awareness, and I had even used the colloquialism "Catch-22" from time to time in common language to describe events where the results of an action would undermine or invalidate the reason for taking the action in the first place. And then it was chosen for a book club I am in, and I read the book.

This book is a heap of rubbish. Sure there are opportunities to discuss human nature here and there, but all of the characters and situations are so far fetched and extremely fictional that it isn't a discussion of human nature at all. The characters aren't human. In mind-numbingly stupid scene after scene, characters are faced with insanity and the author plays at making rational decisions in the face of insanity. The whole thing is a dumpster fire.

How could there have been value here? If any of these situations were real situations, with actual people and organizations trying to make decisions in them, then there would be potentially valuable topics for discussion here. But that isn't the case.

On top of the insanity that this book is trying to pass off as human behavior, it is coated in a layer of immorality that doesn't need to see the light of day. I thought that the constant objectification of women was a thing of the past? If it is, then this book should be cleared off the shelves. Prostitution, casual sexual encounters, and general abuse are just where it starts. The book itself objectifies female characters often by not bothering to give them names or identities as characters outside of their roles as objects for the men to use. If you step back you will find that there was not a single female character of note in the whole book. Nurse Drucker is as close as it came, yet our introduction to her was in the form of a sexual assault by our supposed protagonist. So her character is unraveled by taking the abuse and forming a romantic relationship with her abuser.

This book is awful, and it depresses me to think that so many of our children have been required to read this in our school system. I'm generally not an advocate for censorship, but I am an advocate for education, and from that standpoint this book is worthless.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Lord Sunday by Garth Nix

Lord Sunday (The Keys to the Kingdom, #7)Lord Sunday by Garth Nix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read my previous thoughts here.

From my July 2019 reading: So I've been moving through this series so fast that I didn't stop and write as much as I would have hoped as this story arc wrapped up. I have a few questions I jotted down though:

-Why did the architect leave in the first place? The explanation seems fuzzy to me.
-Are wings on the denizens suppose to suggest angels? Hasn't Nix introduced "angels" into other stories of his?
-Why didn't the papers of peoples lives come up again late in the series? It seemed like a powerful magic feature that was mostly ignored.

I don't know if these were good questions or not, but they must have impressed me as I was reading it. I will let my first review stand on this series though, as I did enjoy it quite a bit on this second time through.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Superior Saturday by Garth Nix

Superior Saturday (The Keys to the Kingdom, #6)Superior Saturday by Garth Nix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review from my previous reading from 2010.

Review from 6/27/2019:
I'm re-reading this series, and I was reading so fast, and like I mentioned here, if I had the next book handy I'd just keep reading. Well, that is what I just did this time. I had book 7 handy, and I kept reading and neglected to write much on this book. So I'm sticking with the original review and my 4 stars.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Lady Friday by Garth Nix

Lady Friday (The Keys to the Kingdom, #5)Lady Friday by Garth Nix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

See my previous review where I only gave it 3 stars here: Lady Friday

Review from 6/20/2019:
This is another good book in the Keys to the kingdom series. There are times in the middle of the book that it feels like there are too many plot lines going, but Mr. Nix wraps them up fairly well in the end, leaving the need tension in the larger plot surrounding Saturday and Sunday. If anything, the rush at the end to tie in all of the details might have resulted in a few shortcuts. Freeing this part of The Will was a little too easy in the end. The touch of the true heir was enough? Really? How come that never worked before?

Still this is an enjoyable series best read quickly in one go, as it is all really one story. I am moving my rating up to 4 stars though (previous concerns still noted.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman

The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging PeopleThe Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a huge fan of the Five Love Languages, the predecessor of this book. I eagerly put this one on my list, and shared it with others in my company. However, when I finally got around to reading it myself I was a little disappointed. This is a perfect example of a business book that used 200 pages to give 50 pages of information. It was laughable. The audio version I listened to had supplemental material that included interviews of the authors that I gained insights from, so I don't think there was as lack content. It just feels like it was a lazy attempt.

Am I still a believer in the Five Love Languages? Yes. Do I think this book hits on a real need in the workplace? Yes. Did this book do an effective and efficient job of repackaging the love languages into business form and delivering them to the business community. No.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Sir Thursday by Garth Nix

Sir Thursday (The Keys to the Kingdom, #4)Sir Thursday by Garth Nix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Link to my 2010 notes.

Update from my 2019 read:

Once again, I'm giving this 5 stars, more for the whole series rather than this one book. I like the depth in the setting and plot we get in this juvenile fiction, even though it stays true to the level of the audience it was written for. Also, this being my second time through the series, I'm still finding fantastic foreshadowing I missed the first time through.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

The Feather ThiefThe Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My wife read this book, and loved it, and persistently recommended it to me (I didn't use the word "nag"). Then she organized a book club at MY family reunion, and assigned this book as the subject and it was over. I had to read it.

It was a fascinating read, and in the end, I'm glad I read it. It left me with a bunch of questions however, which I will list here as both my response to the book, and my teaser for anyone who hasn't read it yet.

1. How was the theft really committed?
2. How did an ex-military guy ever get paid to write this book?
3. Is there another side to this story that isn't being told? Every attempt I've heard so far to justify, even in part, the events in this book has fallen very flat.
4. While I'm not a fan of the over-used term "sustainable", the fly tying community is so obviously not sustainable that there isn't another term to use. How do they justify that?
5. While I found the blatant nature of the crime disturbing, and the attitude of the perpetrator annoying, and the failure of law enforcement and modern society to address his wrong-doing astounding, I am left with the unanswered question of what am I supposed to do with this information? I am a doer by nature, but can't join some save-the-animals type group, since I generally don't align with their assertions. Yet, this is a specific infraction being committed for an unjustifiable reason. Shouldn't we DO something about it?

So go pick this up and give it a go. It is a worthwhile read, and then there will be one more person in the world who can help me decide what to do with it.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix

Drowned Wednesday (The Keys to the Kingdom, #3)Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Link to my brief comments from my 2010 reading.

From my 2019 read:
So I'm doing it. I'm giving this 5 stars (was 3 stars). Is this better than the previous books? Not really. But I'm ready to give up any hangups I had about this series. It isn't perfect, but it is everything I look for in a book. There is always movement or progression of plot and characters. I always want to know what's going to happen next. I don't want to put it down. I have 3 other books I need to read in the next 2 weeks for various reasons, yet as I finish each book of this series I find myself moving straight to the next book and procrastinating my other responsibilities. Obviously that is a win.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix

Grim Tuesday (The Keys to the Kingdom, #2)Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read this in 2010, but my comments were... lacking.  See my entry here.

This is a great page-turner for young readers. Its originality and great characters pair well with the expanding conflict that Arthur, the young protagonist, faces. As with most good fantasy books, the fate of the entire universe is at stake, but Nix has cleverly reframed the universe into a conceptual house, and introduced politics at an age appropriate level into the house. It is very well done.

Strangely, I can't quite put my finger on why I'm not giving this 5 stars. I can't think of any criticisms I have for this book, which is unusual. It is strange that the house that controls the universe has a Victorian industrial age steam punk feel to it. But it feels like it fits with the story, and so is hard to complain about. After thinking it over, I think that I'm just anticipating more story, so having just this one piece of the story isn't as satisfying. Not fair you say? Well, I've heard that life isn't fair:)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Mister Monday by Garth Nix

Mister Monday (The Keys to the Kingdom, #1)Mister Monday by Garth Nix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My 2010 Review

Comments from my 2019 reading:
I decided it was time to revisit a series I already knew and loved. This young adult book has the originality that I have come to expect from Garth Nix, and this reading did not disappoint. This second time through I caught more of the details and foreshadowing of the final ending than I did the first time, and it adds some depth that I appreciated. All in all, I'm excited to plow through this series again.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix

Have Sword, Will TravelHave Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a decent book for young readers. I'm not actually sure what age group it was aimed at, but I'm guessing it is a pretty young demographic. It moved along quickly, and had a good story.

So why was I disappointed? I picked up this book because it had Garth Nix's name printed on the cover. After my last few random selections at the library I wanted to turn to an author I trusted for a great book. Nix always has some original concept that makes his books exceptional. This book lacked that originality. I guess I was supposed to be more intrigued by the sword-as-a-character, but that didn't do it. There were too many cliches, from magic swords to dragons that talked, for this book to meet my expectation as a Nix work.

Was it a bad book? Not at all. Was it a fantastic book written for kids, but that would appeal to all ages? Not at all. It is just a plain old fashioned good book for kids.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

Whose Body?  (Lord Peter Wimsey, #1)Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After my disappointing results of random selection in the fantasy category, I decided to turn back to mystery. I searched the library for a classic whodunit and found this one in my usual audio book format.

I was almost immediately disappointed by several things. First of all there was the reader. His attempt to be theatrical took some getting used to, and while he was ok, this was not my favorite performance.

Second, the author has this odd style of dropping half of the dialogue in a conversation. A character goes off on a monologue, and then starts responding to unheard comments i.e. reactions of others. It's like listening someone talk animatedly on a phone call, where you only hear their side of the conversation. Can you follow along? Yes, with effort. But why do that to your reader?

Yet all of that was justified by one much appreciated feature at the end of the book. This author understands how to wrap up a mystery. In a mystery you drop clues and add twists and turns to keep your reader guessing. At the end of all that you owe it to your reader to explain everything. I mean everything. Every clue, every false trail. This is what bothered me about the last Flavia de Luce book I read--no exhaustive explanation. Well, this book did it right. Was the setup a little cheesy? Yes. There was the stereotypical suicide note that explained everything. But as a reader this is what I want, so this book redeemed itself in the end, and I've already recommended it to others. You will have to get over some odd stylistic habits, but it's worth it in the end.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Cold Iron by Miles Cameron

Cold Iron (Masters & Mages, #1)Cold Iron by Miles Cameron
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This was another random selection from our local library's audio book section. Again, I was disappointed. The overall concept wasn't bad, but the execution of the idea was... awful. I'm sorry. If I ever get around to writing my own fantasy story, I will admit right here and now that I probably won't even produce something half this good, but as a reader, I expect more. One of the challenges is that as readers we consistently have greatness at our fingertips. How can the new writers in the market hope to compete?

As usual, I just paused to look up this author on Wikipedia. Of course, he isn't new. He has a decent bibliography, which leaves me more confused than ever.

Let me add some specifics:
The characters were flat. Aranthur gets a job offer from everyone he meets. He is big, strong, talented, powerful magically, yet humble as a farm boy. Oh, right, he is a farm boy. And of course, the ladies love him. What is interesting about Aranthur as a character? Nothing. He is all plot driven.

Everyone is young, fit, and promiscuous. From the General, to the innkeeper's son. Where are the old, overweight, and chaste? I thought Sassan to be an old drug addict, with a long past as a nobleman in a different culture, but then he sobers up in a few chapters, and before you know it he is another young, fit person who is sleeping around.

Why are all of these people in a fantasy medieval setting using our curse words? Why do we have to call a gun a "puffer", but then hear/read the F-word every other sentence? I read a review that said this book was a great example of world-building, but I don't see it.

The magic system is fairly complicated, which is fine if you get the same level of explanation as you go. I felt that while the magic was compelling, it was too complicated to leave it to a Night-Circus-style "and then there was magic" type of explanation. It didn't have the explanation of Sanderson's Mistborn Allomancy so you couldn't anticipate magical responses and let that be a part of the story.

Finally, to top it all off, a talking dragon and a unicorn show up in this book. A unicorn. That doesn't do anything. And a talking dragon that is treated like an animal in one scene, and then is called on for help in the next scene as if it were a regular ally. And it shows up. And helps. Why? Because all fantasy books require dragons and elves?

So while I did like the potential of this book, nearly 100% of that potential was unrealized. I have never read another book by this author, and in the last 20 minutes I've learned that he has written a lot of books, so I'm not judging his collected works here, but I generally finish every series I start. Its a curse I have. But I won't be finishing this one.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The Tattooist of Auschwitz (The Tattooist of Auschwitz #1)The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't watch dramas. I just don't enjoy the extreme tugging of emotions back and forth. I prefer emotions in the background, subtle and meaningful. Given this opinion, you can guess that I don't enjoy World War II stories. Whether tragic, heroic, or despicable, the stories produced from those sad days and years were not subtle. Violent external conflict on the national, local, and personal levels does not equal enjoyment for me. Yet, here I am having read the story of an Auschwitz survivor. It was an interesting story. It was well written. For the most part it was tastefully done, given the circumstances, but not my cup of tea.

Having said all that, I am firmly in the "never forget" camp. I've been to several concentration camps, and spent hours in the Holocaust museum in DC on multiple occasions. The Holocaust was a horrific event in the history of the world, and unfortunately does not stand alone as the only event of despotism in history. I have strong feelings about it, but that does mean that I want to read book after book about it. That feels like wallowing in misery to me. I prefer to move on to other uplifting or educational topics and overcome darkness with light.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

The Golden Tresses of the Dead (Flavia de Luce #10)The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really want to like this series more than I do. I like mysteries, I like period British stories, I like Flavia's character. Yet these stories just haven't ended satisfactorily to me. And this doesn't end the series well at all. Where is Flavia headed, as she rides off into the sunset? Is Collin a future love interest? Is her future really based on a partnership with Dogger, a man old enough to be her father, if not grandfather? If nothing else, Undine is a loose end. Are they really going to coexist? I thought for a while that maybe Flavia would accept her as some sort of partner, yet in the end she obviously still thinks of her as a child. If this is really it for the series, I want all of these questions answered. Instead we embarked on another stand alone mystery, which was ok for what it was, but lackluster given the expectation to wrap up the series as a whole. Disappointing.

Of course, if he continues to write these, maybe there is a chance of a better wrap up in the future, but even in that case, this book didn't move her character forward at all. Waste of space.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (Flavia de Luce, #9)The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm returning to the Flavia series to finish it up now that the final books are out. Flavia is a great character because she is incorrigible, but the start of this book was a little heavy handed with her precociousness, even for her. This story introduced another new, albeit temporary, setting, but the downside is that there were none of her hallmark chemistry experiments, since she didn't have her lab at her disposal. I did like the increased part played by Dogger, and look forward to his further character development, even though the series is wrapping up.

Finally, if there was anything that made this book ho-hum for me, it was the ending. I felt like it was missing the complete wrap up scene, where all of the evidence was explained and dots connected. Yes, there was an effort, but it didn't feel complete. Also, the plot didn't contribute to a bigger picture such as her mother's disappearance, or her father's death, or the fate of her home, so this also falls flat because it doesn't move the greater "Flavia" story arc forward. I'm looking forward to the wrap up, and better execution of a classic mystery, and hopefully a good wrap on Flavia's story arc.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson

Ms. Bixby's Last DayMs. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

3 star.

My wife recommended this one, comparing it to Wednesday Wars, a book we both read in the past. It is definitely compelling as a story, and has deep conversation points about life, growing up, and dealing with death. The serious topic is paired nicely with the comedic viewpoints of three boys, making it enjoyable as well as thought provoking, keeping the reader from wallowing in the sad plot line throughout the book. I don't remember Wednesday Wars all that well, but to me this book is better compared to To Kill a Mockingbird. The whimsical viewpoint of Scout describing serious events matches the approach of Topher and his friends dictating their viewpoints as narrators.

So why not give it more stars? I don't recommend you read this book. I don't wish to get into the reasons why, so the best thing to do is hope this book gets lost in the sea of thousands of equally well written books. I recommend you read To Kill A Mockingbird and Wednesday Wars and call it good.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Clariel by Garth Nix

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

I made a mistake I rarely make with this book. I read a few comments about the plot on Goodreads, and had the ending of the book spoiled. It was an innocent mistake, as I was just trying to figure out when in the Abhorsen series I should read it, but there it was. A sentence or two spoiled it for me, and once read, they couldn't be unread. With that background I finally got around to reading it, and I spent most of the book dreading the ending that was coming. You see, this was supposed to be a dark tragedy of sorts, and even worse, it was set in a world I already knew and loved. So I wasn't looking forward to the ending.

I don't want to spoil it for you, so I won't go into much more detail, but I will say that I appreciated this book in the end. First, the ending was not as awful and soul-crushing as it could have been. Second, the background and explanation this book gives about free magic and free magic sorcerers was very enlightening to the rest of the series, and answered questions I had always had. I also chose to read Goldenhand and then go back and read this prequel, but I think that reading the prequel first would have worked as well. As with many other prequels, I don't think this is the same quality of story that you get in the original introduction to the world, so if you aren't committing to the whole series, maybe you better start with Sabriel. All in all, a good story.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else by Daniel Coyle

The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything ElseThe Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else by Daniel Coyle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was an interesting study of the source of human talent. I happen to be reading another book I received from a friend on creativity which I will hopefully write about here when I finish it. It was interesting that both books shared some of same examples.

The Talent Code focuses on neurosciences and discoveries related to myelin. Myelin does seem to be very important, but I can't help but think they gave too much credit to that biological factor in an attempt to prove that there is no such thing as natural talent. And yet, with as much proof as they offered don't we all know somebody who is naturally talented at something? That is hard to reconcile. One last criticism is that several of their data points seem to exhibit confirmation bias. For example, they point out how many great contributors to society lost at least one parent in their youth and say that is a motivator to their success. Yet, they don't talk about the millions that lose parents and struggle to achieve even mediocre success in life.

With all of that said, I liked this book. I do have the feeling that when I finish the book on creativity I would probably recommend reading one or the other but not both.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride by William Goldman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book. I guess that I expected to experience a bigger and better version of the movie that we all know and love. It is one of my favorite movies of all time, and last year I read Cary Elwes book, As You Wish, about the making of the movie, and I loved it. Since most books are better than the movie, I expected an engaging, deeper plot that I would really love.

I didn't get what I expected. What I got was a near word-for-word retelling of the movie. The only material difference was the Pit of Despair, which was replaced by the Zoo of Death in the book. In some ways, this is what I always want from a movie based on a book. I want to hear and see the book I envision in my head on the screen. That is exactly what this was, so in that regard it was perfect. The downside is that it was in reverse, with the movie coming first, so when I opened the book I expected more, and it wasn't there.

If you love the movie like I do, this is a must-read. But don't expect something new. Expect the same dialogue, often word-for-word.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest & Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest & Surest Way to Understand Basic EconomicsEconomics in One Lesson: The Shortest & Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Before I say anything else, let me just state that I agree with just about all of the principles in this book. No arguments here.

Having said that, this book was boring. Like claw my eyes out boring. But I'm the one who picked up the book on economics, so that's on me. As for the book itself, it does give a brief treatise on the basics of economics, embracing classic conservative philosophies. What it didn't do was convince the reader of the correctness of this view point. It spoke down to dissenting opinions, and didn't step to the opponents side at all to address rebuttals. It wasn't great, although it was a fair refresher on economic principles that I slept through during my undergrad degree.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Quest (Farseer Trilogy, #3)Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a journey that, while glad I undertook, I was not prepared for. This final volume of the trilogy was massive, and plodded along for most of it. In the end, you invest so much time in the characters, especially the main character, that you care about them, and their heartaches are your heartaches. And that is how this story ended for me. In heartache.

I can't say I liked the ending, even though I can say I "liked" the book. I just expected... more. More happiness. More resolution. More winning. Less compromise. Less sorrow. Less awkwardness.

I often like to include specific examples of things I did or didn't like in a book, but the scope of this one is just too big, so I'm not even going to try. I will comment on one positive thing I have gained from this book. This is a true fantasy, and is a great example of fantasy that is not just about elves or dwarves, or about a certain setting. It is about distinct people, battling the challenges in their lives. The time spent on the details of the main character's life is the main point of this narrative, not what we would call the plot. It is walking with Fitz through life that gives the reader a strong emotional connection to him when the plot kicks him around and abuses him. Without that, the whole thing would fall flat.

So that's all I have to say about that. Would I recommend this book? Maybe. If you have a lot of time, and are ready to immerse yourself in the mind and experiences of a character that does not get everything he wants in the end, then go for it. This book is for you. For anyone else I would suggest putting this on hold until the above qualifiers are true. If that never happens, then there are better books for you out there.

The more I have thought about it, the more I have disliked this book.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy, #2)Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was more of the same from Assassin's Apprentice, the first book in this series. Fairly slow going and detailed, it is hard to see how this book became so popular. Then as you near the end, the action begins to happen, and you find that you are very involved. You care about the characters, and you can picture the society you invested so much time to get to know. It is hard to see where that switch flips, but it does, and then this tired, slow story becomes a page turner.

A small criticism: Fitz has this power to repel people, yet he is in many situations where he is threatened but doesn't use it. I don't understand that. Near the end of the book you see him try to use that power, and then learn about the strength it takes, etc., probably because the author realized that the readers would ask that same question. But earlier, it just isn't a part of his repertoire. That seems like an oversight.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1)Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a classic fantasy. Slow, plodding, with just enough action to keep you reading, with most of the plot progression around politics and characters rather than action scenes. I'll be honest, it was a little hard to get into, but once I was involved it was enjoyable. For me it was analogous to a classical piano concert. Deep, slow, meaningful.  I enjoy those, but that wouldn't be my first choice for entertainment. I'm interested to see how the next books go, and if Hobb picks up the pace at all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

To Hold the BridgeTo Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In revisiting the works of Garth Nix, my appreciation for his talent has grown. This collection of short stories was surprising, impressive, and an overall great experience. Very few of these stories left me without a desire to hear more. The few that built on worlds he created in other books (that I have read) did not disappoint on the expectations built in the original work. The stories built on worlds from books I haven't read yet were the best advertising possible, and the stand alone ideas were largely intriguing. I recommend this to anyone who has enjoyed any of Nix's other works, although I do recommend getting to know a few of his completed books before taking this on, just so you are ready for his style, but either way, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a StoreThe Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There were a lot of things that I didn't like about this book, and somehow that gives me more to say about it. I wrote a long review, and then decided to re-write it. Why? Because it sounded trollish because I made a lot of comments about Flander's personal story she lays out in this book. While I am opinionated, and I like to share my opinions in appropriate venues, I am not, and have never been, and Internet troll.

So why did I write the first version? As a blogger, and following her own style, Flanders wrote a book about her personal life, making it fair game for comment. Instead of responding at that level, I'll just share what I learned from this book. You can read what you want between the lines.

What I Learned:

Don't write a book about your mistakes in life unless you can handle uncensored comments/reactions to it on the Internet.

Good parenting is very important to having successful, well adjusted adult children. This includes conservative values, close family relationships, work ethic, self sufficiency, open communication, and regular religious observance. Yes, parenting is hard.

Self improvement is more than short term personal projects, but those projects can insight real change.

Personal objectivity is hard. You can claim to learn something, say to not buy stuff just to soothe emotional pain. But when you encounter another painful situation you may go on a shopping binge anyway, and buy stuff you'll never use, such as gardening or canning paraphernalia. You may never even admit that you did the thing you said not to do.

Emotional stability is hard, but without it, there are things you are unlikely to have. Emotional self sufficiency. A committed, loving marriage. Signs you have achieved that stability may include the ability to weather a joke about your wardrobe without it becoming a life event.

The millennial generation is learning that there is a benefit to unplugging and living in the real world. I think their children will learn the value of privacy and minding their own business. I hope that the economy of earning a living by selling your dirty laundry comes to an end. Interesting and useful content is fine, but I hope that our children stop the useless consumption of other people's personal drama that started with Jerry Springer and reality TV, and perpetuated with personal bloggers and YouTubers.

There was some value and good tips in this book here and there, but most of it fell in the category just mentioned, and did not spark joy in me:) So I can't keep it.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Goldenhand by Garth Nix

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

So when I restarted the Abhorsen series I wasn't even aware of this book. When I learned about it, I was concerned that it would mess with the mostly clean wrap up in the previous book. Thankfully, this continuation worked well. The carryover of a known antagonist helped the story work as well.

I have two [minor] complaints. One, Sabriel and Touchstone have gone flat. They are too perfect. What are their weaknesses? How are they going to grow now? I'm not saying that they have to fall, or that their relationship should deteriorate, but they need some oppression or room to grow of their own.

My second beef is with Sabriel as well. When a nearly insurmountable foe shows up, her resistance to sending her inexperienced apprentice out to deal with the danger is cursory at best. Sabriel had faced Chlorr and knew the danger. I just don't see her backing down so easily, Clayr or no Clayr. Did the plot need her to back down? Yes. But that makes it feel gimmicky, and when Nix addresses the issue directly in dialogue, it actually gets worse. Do I have an alternate solution to suggest? No.

Criticisms aside, this was a good continuation to the series.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen (Abhorsen, #3)Abhorsen by Garth Nix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Second reading, but first review.

This was a great wrap up to the story arc started in Lirael, although Lirael and Abhorsen should have just been released as one book. You could argue that is started with Sabriel, but I disagree. Yet, if you want to meet and try to convince me, I accept. Back to Abhorsen: I feel that the antagonist was better described early in this book, which made the danger more threatening, and fixed one of my criticisms of Lirael. That description also included an explanation of how Kerrigor, was related, or should we say not related. Just like I wanted. As far as criticism, I don't have much to say. Enjoyable story, and if anything I'm scared that the next book, Goldenhand, might ruin a perfectly good ending, although Nick's quick exit at the end of Abhorsen left something to be desired. But I assume that is another book for another day.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael (Abhorsen, #2)Lirael by Garth Nix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a re-read from 2009, but sadly, I didn't say anything about it at the time.

Why do I like the work of the Garth Nixes and Brandon Sandersons of the world? It is how they are able to spin a tale--plot, characters, setting, all of it-- in a way that keeps you guessing and still comes together as one story in the end. The few Agatha Christie books I'm aware of display this as well. Perhaps it is fair to say that all books are mysteries at some level.

Lirael fits that description. As I read and tried to see what was coming, I would finally figure it out and feel smart only to have the whole thing unfolded for me anyway in the next instant. To me that is maximum engagement for a reader. To drop clues until they figure it out on their own... just as you tell them anyway.

The one small weakness I noticed was that the nature of the enemy isn't really revealed or a part of the story until the epilogue. We do get an idea with the backstory about the Charter from Mogget and the Dog, but it kind of feels like it's thrown in. "And now that everyone knows who they are in this story, here is some unspeakable evil to fight. Let us sally forth in the next book!" One small thing that would have helped for me is to link Kerrigor to this new guy (forgot his name). That would have made a nice consistent good vs. evil struggle in my mind, but that may have presented another problem. Things that wrap up or connect too nicely feel contrived. Overall this is a small issue.

Why only 4 stars? Lack of satisfactory resolution. Even if the conflict had to continue to the next book, I don't feel like our protagonists accomplished enough to call this an ending. Easily fixed in the next book, but still, I'm holding a star hostage.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind (Unwind, #1)Unwind by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Several people on goodreads suggested that this book is a horror. I don't know what makes something a horror, but I don't think this is it. There are some disturbing parts, and it is kind of dark overall, but I don't know that I was constantly in fear, which is how I would expect a horror to be.

Did I like this book? Hard to say. It was both really good and really bad.

The Really Bad:
Setting. The setting is underdeveloped. The future seems a lot like today. Sure, iPods are antiques, but he still gets tracked by his cell phone? Other than morbid surgery techniques, there is no new technology. Also, American culture seems to be about the same despite the passage of time, except the teenage pregnancy problem and the legality of storking. The constant reference to solid family structures already feels outdated, which is sad. Most homes they encounter in the story have two parents.

Plot. This is my biggest issue, and the reason I can't call this a good book. Why would parents ever sign an unwind order? The way this is structured, parents are forced to keep the child through the most taxing, most expensive years, which happen to be the years that true emotional attachment is formed. Once you're past that, I don't see the motivation for anyone to unwind their kids. Shusterman tries to make it sound logical, but he fails. No divorce agreement would unwind a kid. A kids misbehavior wouldn't do it either. Think of all of the criminals in jail that still have mothers that love them. In the occasional cases where someone would sign an unwind order they usually would have to have a pretty unstable past themselves, and if that is as prevalent as it is made out to be, their society would be showing all kinds of other negative affects, which it wasn't. Everyone seemed to be functioning "normally". It has the potential to be an interesting book, but with such a shaky foundation as the basis for the concept of unwinding it is a non starter. All I can think of is that Shusterman doesn't have kids of his own, so doesn't understand how it feels to be a parent. That or the world is full of really crappy parents and I'm just out of touch (I don't think so.) (EDIT: Wikipedia says he lives with his four kids. I don't understand how he thinks this is a plausible plot.)

The characters were the one thing that was done well in this book. The author shows you the good and bad in everybody. By the end you care about Roland. You question the Admiral. Connor is starting to get over some of his weaknesses, but now has transplants himself. Risa has strong principles, but is now partly paralyzed. You get involved in all the characters. He walked the line, and successfully managed to save all of the main protagonists, yet none of them made it through unscathed, and none of them have an easy path in front of them. That was a job well done, and might alone be enough to get me reading the next book. Let this be a lesson to young authors ( and me.) Great characters can overcome just about every other sin a writer may commit.

A final thought. Yes, this book is tackling a social issue that has been politicized and is a core debate about our values as a country and society. A few times that discussion is addressed so directly that it distracts from the story, in my opinion. In the end though, it is not an effective platform for the discussion for two reasons. First, the plot weaknesses already mentioned don't give readers a good basis for debate. It is difficult to extend a fictional setting and use it to think about real life when it has deep flaws-- not perceived flaws in its morality, but logical flaws in its structure. No one is going to sign an unwind order.

Second, the abortion issue has become what is called a Sucker's Choice. It has been polarized into two opposing camps that have become so far apart that they resort to violence rather than dialogue. (I'm borrowing this from Crucial Conversations and Leadership and Self Deception. ) Until there are more than two options on the table, no discussion is likely to see progress towards a solution. To me an obvious option to the discussion that no one talks about (and there is more than one) is to focus on stopping the conception of unwanted babies. Contemporary combatants in this discussion don't give that concept real attention, and this book doesn't either. So is this a great read for high school English classes to sharpen their critical thinking skills on? Probably not. You'd be presenting them with a dilemma that has already been backed into the Sucker's Choice corner of useless political debate. And that teaches them nothing but how to be divisive, not how to find solutions to tough problems.