The One with Norse Mythology

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
391. Title & Author: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (293 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Mythology
Completed: 21 March 2017

Summary & Review:
Author Neil Gaiman presents his re-telling of some of the famous stories from Norse mythology, tracing the world from the very beginnings to the final battle of Ragnarok.

I pre-ordered this book not really knowing what to expect. Would it be a historical commentary on the myths? Would it be an analysis of them from a modern perspective? Would it be a novel based on the legends? What it turned out to be was pretty much a simple retelling of many Norse tales. To be honest, it was a little disappointing. Gaiman somehow made these grand tales seem very mundane and small, almost ordinary. At times, he would let some of his personality show through and these were the best moments of the book. But, the majority of it was just a straight-forward rehashing of Norse legends without any style or flair to speak of.

On the plus side, this was still a very informative book and the myths were presented clearly and in a logical sequence. In college I was able to study Greek and Roman mythology, as well as much of Mesoamerican mythology, but the Norse legends were all but unknown to me (aside from the Marvel Cinematic Universe :). So, I will give Gaiman credit for writing an accessible layman’s introduction to myths that form part of the historical foundations of Western Civilization.

Rating: 5.5

The One with The Lions of Lucerne

Wednesday, March 15, 2017
390. Title & Author: The Lions of Lucerne by Brad Thor (504 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Thriller
Completed: 15 March 2017

Summary & Review:
Secret Service agent Scot Harvath is on the presidential detail in Utah as the president takes his daughter on a birthday ski trip. When the unthinkable happens and the president is kidnapped and smuggled to an unknown location, Harvath must track down the elusive band of mercenaries who took him and figure out who is behind the conspiracy.

Considering this was Thor’s debut novel, it wasn’t terrible. Yes, it was very by the numbers as a thriller and certain things about the Harvath character were ridiculous. He’s a former Olympic caliber freestyle skier/Navy SEAL/Secret Service agent who is incredibly handsome and also happens to know Serbian curse words and randomly has a false identity all lined up when he needs it. I know you often have to suspend your disbelief occasionally when reading a modern action thriller, but at times in this book it was asking a lot of the reader to get on board with some aspects of the character and/or story.

The whole book felt very amateur, almost like fan fiction from someone who loved Vince Flynn or Tom Clancy books. But like I said, this was Thor’s first novel and he has since written others I’ve read that were much better. You can read my previous reviews of Thor's books here:

The First Commandment (#67)
The Last Patriot (#111)
The Apostle (#165)
Code of Conduct (#334)

Rating: 5.0

The One with Normandiefront

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
389. Title & Author: Normandiefront: D-Day to Saint-L├┤ Through German Eyes by Vince Milano and Bruce Conner (288 pages)
Genre: Fiction—History & Military History
Completed: 7 March 2017

Summary & Review:
While history is written by the victors, those on the losing side also have compelling stories of their own and authors Vince Milano and Bruce Conner dig into the history of D-Day from the perspective of the regular German soldier stationed in northern France. Along with tracing the battles that occurred during the first two months of the Allied campaign to free Europe from Nazi tyranny, the authors present first-hand accounts and memories from many of the men who made up the Wehrmacht.

I learned a lot about the battles in Normandy during WWII while reading this book. I’ve read and watched a lot about D-Day and the European campaign, but these were always from the perspective of the Allies so I found it to be very interesting to read about what the regular German soldier went through. The authors chose not to focus on the true believers, the SS and high command of the Third Reich and the like, but looked at the average Grenadier of the 352nd Infantry Division. This emphasis on the lowly German soldier who fought and died for his family and home really allowed the reader to have sympathy for the poor everyday Deutschvolk who got caught up in the terrible storm of Nazism.

Rating: 7.0

The One with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Wednesday, March 1, 2017
388. Title & Author: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (382 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Completed: 1 March 2017

Summary & Review:
On Earth’s lunar colony, the Authority controls every aspect of life for the colonists: the price of grain, their wages, power, air. After a peaceful political meeting is violently broken up by Authority guards, Manny is spurred into action with the help of the beautiful Wyoming Knott and the wizened Professor de la Paz. As they plot a revolution to free the Moon from Authority rule, Manny reveals the secret weapon that just may let them succeed: the main Authority computer has become self-aware and is on their side.

This whole book was really just a framework upon which Heinlein could hang his libertarian ideals.  The character of Prof in particular really made the case for a government system that is about as close to anarchy as you can get without everything devolving into the Lord of the Flies. It was fun to read one man’s idea of an ideal government especially when it was presented in an entertaining and interesting science fiction adventure.

This is the fourth of Heinlein’s books I’ve read. You can read my other reviews of his novels here:

Starship Troopers (#326)
Pupper Masters (#338)
Red Planet (#366)

Rating: 7.5

The One with The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
387. Title & Author: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (216 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Literature
Completed: 5 February 2017

Summary & Review:
After seeing his portrait painted by his friend Basil, young Dorian Gray is struck by his beauty and how quickly his youth and looks will fade. He makes a wish within his heart that he might remain forever young and that the picture might age in his place. Dorian soon realizes that his wish has been granted and that not only does the portrait gain the wrinkles of time that should line his face, it also takes on the blemishes that mar his soul. The portrait becomes a window into Dorian's soul as he sinks further and further into depravity.

This was a pretty interesting book and I can understand why it is considered a classic of literature. If you haven’t read it, it is probably worth the time to do so.

Rating: 6.5

The One with Dune Messiah

Wednesday, February 15, 2017
386. Title & Author: Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert (340 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Completed: 27 January 2017

Summary & Review:
After becoming the conqueror and messiah for the Freman of Dune, Paul Atrides rules as the most powerful emperor in human history. As the jihad he has unleashed across the universe continues and commits mass bloodshed in his name, Paul must find the path forward that results in the least loss of human life and secures a future for his descendants. But, as Paul struggles to understand his visions, others including his own queen conspire to kill or dethrone him.

This book was a pretty big drop off from its predecessor, Dune (#353). Where Dune was a sweeping, grand novel this was a small, stagnant story. Not much really happened during the book until the last fifty pages or so. The vast bulk of the story was composed of Paul having crazy visions and fretting about the future or other characters having convoluted conversations. But, despite all these short comings, I still enjoyed the book as I read it. I can’t really explain why…but I did. There are a total of six books in the Dune series, and I’ll probably at least give the third one a try.

Rating: 6.0

The One with Conclave

Wednesday, February 8, 2017
385. Title & Author: Conclave by Robert Harris (286 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Novel
Completed: 22 January 2017

Summary & Review:
At the death of the pope, Cardinal Lomeli as Dean of the College of Cardinals must lead the conclave that will select the next leader of the Roman Catholic church. As Cardinals from around the world descend on the Vatican to elect the next pope, many secrets will become known, potential favorites' dreams will be dashed, and, hopefully, a united Church will emerge.

This book ticked me off. If it had ended ten pages earlier than it did I would have given it an 8.0 rating. The setting was interesting, the characters were well rounded and full, and getting to learn some of the ins and outs of the Vatican was fascinating. Harris had crafted a great novel that was far from boring even though it largely involved old men sitting in the Sistine Chapel voting. BUT, HE HAD TO GO AND SCREW IT ALL UP BY UNNECESSARILY INVOLVING CONTROVERSIAL POLITICS! So stupid.

Rating: 2.0

The One with Paved with Good Intentions

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
384. Title & Author: Paved with Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America by Jared Taylor (358 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Politics
Completed: 17 January 2017

Summary & Review:
Thirty years after the Civil Rights movement, race relations had not improved in the United States. In fact, by almost any measure black Americans were even worse off in the early 1990s than they were before the end of segregation and Jim Crow. But why have our attempts at racial reconciliation been so ineffective? Jared Taylor presents his findings and conclusions backed up by over thirteen hundred footnotes and citations.

It’s amazing how much has changed in the twenty years since this book was first published. On the cover of the edition I have there is a glowing review from National Review. These days, NR and basically all of “polite society” won’t touch Taylor with a ten-foot pole. People often label Taylor as a “white supremacist,” but this is a nonsensical charge. He consistently points out in his own writings how Asians outperform whites in many metrics, including IQ and average household income in the US. Taylor is also called a "racist", but as he writes in this book (published 25 years ago!), this insult is a weapon the left wields to shut down debate when they do not want to discuss hard-to-deal-with facts.

A fair-minded reader would be hard pressed to find anything “racist” in this book. In fact, most of the arguments are there to try and improve the situation for Americans of all races. Taylor laments the plight of the underclass, both white (see my review of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart (#232)) and black and he offers very sounds solutions to prevalent problems. Essentially it came down to, that if you do not want to be poor in modern America simply finish high school, get and stay married, and hold down a job, any job.

Rating: 9.0

The One with 1066

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
383. Title & Author: 1066: The Year of the Conquest by David Howarth (202 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—History
Completed: 7 January 2017

Summary & Review:
At the death of King Edward, the witan of England chose Harold as the new King of England following what they interpreted as Edward’s deathbed request. However, across the Channel in Normandy, Duke William, a.k.a. William the Bastard, was under the impression that when Edward died the kingship would pass to him. When he received the news that Edward had died and his “friend” Harold had been chosen as king, he felt his pride and honor had been assaulted and there was only one solution: cross the channel and take England by force.

During our trip to Normandy in October we had the opportunity to see the incredible Bayeux Tapestry that depicts the events of 1066. It was interesting to compare how the tapestry depicted the invasion and how the scholar Howarth presented it based on the best available evidence. Rather than a conniving villain, Harold was actually an honorable man and a good leader that was placed in incredibly difficult circumstances.

This was a great book. Well written, well researched, and Howarth’s conclusions were well argued. I had the basic knowledge of the events of 1066 before reading this, but now I feel like I really understand it all. Plus, Howarth did a great job explaining what life was like for an English villager in the middle ages.

If you have any interest in English history, or just history in general, then I recommend this book.

Rating: 9.5

The One with The Raven

Wednesday, January 18, 2017
382. Title & Author: The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe (54 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Poetry
Completed: 2 January 2017

Summary & Review:
As a man sits and ponders his lost love, Lenore, a raven visits him in his chambers. As the man descends deeper and deeper into despair the raven’s constant refrain of “nevermore” mocks and heightens his grief.

It was fine. Nothing really that special to me. Granted this is a different genre, but it doesn’t stand up as deserving of its fame as classics by Dickens or Dostoyevsky. How much will I read Poe after this? Nevermore. #poetryburn

Rating: 4.0

The One with Holidays On Ice

Wednesday, January 11, 2017
381. Title & Author: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (177 pages)
Completed: 22 December 2016
Genre: Nonfiction--Humor

Summary & Review:
Humorist David Sedaris writes about some of the varied experiences he has had during the holidays. Focusing on Christmas, but with a couple stories from Halloween and Thanksgiving, Sedaris shows some of the stranger, and funnier, sides of the holidays.

This was my favorite of the three books by Sedaris that I've read. The opening chapter, in particular, was hilarious as Sedaris wrote about his time working as an Elf in Macy's famous Santaland. Another favorite chapter of mine was his mock theater reviews of elementary school Christmas plays.

Rating: 7.0

The One with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Wednesday, January 4, 2017
380. Title & Author: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne (327 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Completed: 20 December 2016

Summary & Review:
Nineteen years after the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#10), Harry and Ginny are married with three children. As their middle child, a son name Albus, begins school at Hogwarts he struggles to get out from beneath his famous father’s shadow. With the help of his new friend Scorpius Malfoy, Albus figures out a way to make his own mark on the world: steal a Time-Turner from the Ministry of Magic and go back to save Cedric Diggory during the Triwizard Tournament.

Sometimes I worry that Rowling is trying to milk a little too much out of the Harry Potter world. Since the publication of the original series, there have been tons of spin-offs including short books written for charity, books full of articles and stories from her Pottermore website, a new movie, and now this play. I understand people’s desire for more, more, more….but I’m afraid it will start to steal some of the magic from the original seven books. Leave well enough alone, maybe? Now, that’s not to say that this wasn’t an entertaining story and I bet watching the theatrical production of it would be fun.

Rating: 5.5

The One with Catch-22

Wednesday, December 28, 2016
379. Title & Author: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (514 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Novel
Completed: 16 December 2016

Summary & Review: 
Captain John Yossarian of the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII is in action over Italy conducting bombing runs with his squadron. Through a series of non-chronological chapters presented from the points of view of numerous characters, the insanity, farce, comedy, horror, and despair of war are examined.

This book has been on my “To Read” list for a long time and I’ve repeatedly seen it cited as one of the best novels of the Twentieth Century. Do I agree with that assessment? Hard to say. The book initially was very entertaining as Heller deftly skewered the incompetent insanity of many people in leadership roles in the Army. However, this satire just went on and on and on. It became a little tedious and repetitive, to be honest.  Heller could have easily shortened this book from its over 500 pages to around 250 and we wouldn’t have lost much. However, the last chapters of the book were incredibly powerful in their depiction of the darker side of war. It was a jarring change of tone, one which I think was more affecting due to the comedic chapters that preceded it. All of the sudden you are presented with terror, gore, and mental and physical trauma. Without this ending portion, the novel would have scored much, much lower on my rating scale. I know, who am I to tell Heller how to write when his novel has been so widely celebrated? But, if he had kept the beginning 4/5ths of the novel to around 200 pages and then kept the ending exactly the same this book would have been even better.

Rating: 7.5

The One with Muscle Meals

Wednesday, December 21, 2016
378. Title & Author: Muscle Meals: 20 Recipes for Building Muscle, Getting Lean, and Staying Healthy by Michael Matthews (75 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Health & Fitness, Cooking, Nutrition
Completed: 12 December 2016

Summary & Review:
Offered as a bonus e-book to his longer Bigger Leaner Stronger (#368), Michael Matthews explains more about proper nutrition and presents 20 recipes of healthy, tasty meals that can be incorporated into his fitness plan.

Some of these recipes looked pretty good so we’ll definitely be trying them out. If they’re good, maybe I’ll buy his full cookbook, The Shredded Chef.

Rating: 5.0

The One with Mistborn

Wednesday, December 14, 2016
377. Title & Author: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (657 pages)
Genre: Fiction--Fantasy
Completed: 11 December 2016

Summary & Review:
Oppressed by the god-like Lord Ruler for over a thousand years, the skaa people have no chance of deliverance until a mysterious man appears to give them hope. The legend of this Survivor, a man who returned alive from the dreaded Pits of Hathsin, spreads throughout the capital city of Luthadel as he gathers a crew of talented skaa around him to try and overthrow the Final Empire. Included in this crew is a young girl who is in fact a powerful Mistborn Allomancer but wasn't fully aware of her latent abilities until Kelsier, the Survivor, shows her the way.

This is the first book in a trilogy and I can't wait to continue reading more in this world. Sanderson did a great job of creating a consistent universe where while there were fantastic powers they followed consistent rules. This gave the book a sturdy structure on which a fast-paced, action filled story could be hung. Ever since my father-in-law criticized the Harry Potter series since he felt like Rowling just made stuff up as she went along, I can't help but look for clues that the author of a fantasy I'm reading did the same as he wrote the story. This clearly wasn't the case with Sanderson and Mistborn. The magical abilities of Allomancy were logical and rigid so that the characters who possessed those abilities followed the rules Sanderson had outlined. This prevented anything dumb popping up just to resolve some storyline, or even worse, the whole plot. E.g.: "Oh look at this magical thing that we never mentioned before that just so happens to be the exact solution to all of our problems!"

***SPOILER ALERT***

I can't believe Sanderson killed off Kelsier! He was my favorite character in the book and while Vin, the protagonist of the story, is a decent character, she's no Kelsier. Also, the ending sentence was incredibly cheesy. lol.

Rating: 8.5

The One with Maximum Muscle

Wednesday, November 30, 2016
376. Title & Author: Maximum Muscle: The No-BS Truth About Building Muscle, Getting Lean, and Staying Healthy by Michael Matthews (102 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Health & Fitness
Completed: 29 November 2016

Summary & Review:
Offered as a bonus e-book to his longer Bigger Leaner Stronger (#368), Michael Matthews explains more about proper training, nutrition, and techniques for achieving your fitness goals.

While a lot of what was in this book was a re-tread of the information in BLS, I enjoyed it because it was almost like a Cliff Notes version of that longer book. I was able to review some of the finer points of Matthews' program without reading the almost 300 pages of Bigger Leaner Stronger all over again.

Rating: 7.0

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