The One with Ludwig II

Wednesday, September 13, 2017
410. Title & Author: Ludwig II, King of Bavaria: Myth and Truth by Wolfgang Till (108 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Biography & History
Completed: 13 September 2017

Summary & Review:
Bavaria’s beloved “Mad King Ludwig” bestowed the German kingdom with some of its most treasured landmarks: the fairytale castles and palaces of Neuschwanstein, Herrencheimsee, and Linderhof. Despite having reached an incredible level of posthumous popularity, during his life he was a mysterious and reclusive figure who was eventually deposed and died under still mysterious circumstances. Historian Wolfgang Till examines many aspects of Ludwig’s life in this short, well-illustrated biography.

Living in Germany we had the opportunity to visit all of Ludwig’s incredible schlosser. Linderhof is an immaculate masterpiece nestled in the mountains near a secluded monastery, Neuschwanstein is dream-like landmark at the base of the incredible Bavarian alps, and Herrencheimsee is a German Versailles, which far fewer tourists. I picked up this little biography in one of the gifts shops at one of these palaces (I think at Neuschwanstein during our second visit with my parents and little brother) because I was intrigued to learn more about the man behind these showstoppers. Unfortunately, I don’t think I chose very wisely. Till’s book was interesting and had a lot of fascinating images and period photographs, but it seems to have been written for someone already familiar with much of Ludwig’s life.

Rating: 4.0

The One with The Magnolia Story

Wednesday, September 6, 2017
409. Title & Author: The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino (184 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir
Completed: 3 September 2017

Summary & Review:
Stars of the hit HGTV show Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines share their family and business story. From their childhoods through their courtship and up until the present television and business success, this book covers the whole story of this dynamic duo.

Throughout the book, Chip and Joanna each had their own font to identify who was speaking. Easily three-fourths of it was in Joanna’s font, but the twenty-five percent or so from Chip was the much more entertaining portion. Paige and I started watching the show our last year in Germany and enjoy it. But, reading this book wasn’t as fun as watching the show. Then again, I’m probably not the intended audience for this book and I can recognize the harmless fun and entertainment it could provide for others.

Rating: 4.5

The One with The Strange Death of Europe

Wednesday, August 30, 2017
408. Title & Author: The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray (320 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Current Events & Politics
Completed: 27 August 2017

Summary & Review:

Beginning in the immediate post-WWII era, the governments of Europe began a period of mass immigration into their countries. At first, the push for immigrants was attributed to a need for workers to shore up gaps after the millions of dead lost in the war. Later, the reasons for allowing millions of newcomers in became murkier…and wildly unpopular.  Once the door was opened, however, the governments of Europe found it either impossible or undesirable to close, despite the unpopularity of mass immigration among their citizens. Author Douglas Murray explores how the decades of mass immigration, particularly that from the Muslim world, has irrevocably changed Europe and ponders the reasons behind this demographic suicide.

Immigration is a subject I have read a lot about so most of what Murray had to say wasn’t new to me. I’ve paid attention the last 10 years to the arguments for and against immigration, how those arguments are rebutted and challenged, and tried my best to understand the consequences of it all. Like Murray, I am deeply skeptical of mass immigration and concerned about the changes it can bring to a country. Yes, exotic restaurants are great, but are they worth the loss of social cohesion? Or, the changes in culture? The loss of community?

Regardless of my familiarity with a lot of what Murray presented, I thought the book was well written, clearly organized, and persuasively argued. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone interested in immigration, Western Civilization, Europe, history, or demographics, etc. I am glad Murray was able to write and publish this book so that a broader audience could understand what has happened—and still is happening—in Europe and everything that is at stake.

I’ll write and post an “Arguments Summed Up” post on this book in a few weeks.

Rating: 8.0


The One with Mozart

Wednesday, August 9, 2017
407. Title & Author: Mozart: A Life by Paul Johnson (158 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Biography
Completed: 4 August 2017

Summary & Review:
From his first chords on the clavier to his grandest symphonies and operas, Mozart’s life was full of music, composition, dancing, humor, and joy. Far from the clownish debtor he is occasionally made out to be, Mozart was a devoted Catholic in full control of his finances who always found the silver lining in a situation. Historian Paul Johnson presents this short summary of the life of one of the most important and prolific composers in history.

Before reading this, I think most of what I “knew” about Mozart came from the 1984 film Amadeus. While that is an entertaining movie, it seems to have exaggerated many things about Mozart’s life and character so it was nice to read a more sober account of the great composer. I liked the compact nature of this biography, but a little more narrative, rather than just factual statements lined up as "sentences" (e.g. a long list of pieces composed during a certain year), would have made the read a bit more enjoyable.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to easily pull up on YouTube world class recordings and performances of any of the pieces Johnson referenced in the book.

Rating: 6.5

The One with How to Buy a Dental Practice

Wednesday, August 2, 2017
406. Title & Author: How to Buy a Dental Practice: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding, Analyzing, and Purchasing the Right Practice for You by Brian Hanks (126 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Business
Completed: 24 July 2017

Summary & Review:
Dental accountant and dental practice acquisition specialist Brian Hanks presents the five key steps to buying a dental practice that need to be followed in order to ensure a successful and prosperous transition. For each of the steps, he breaks it down into tasks, questions, research, etc that should be done to adequately complete the step. Included in the book is his advice on how to assess the fair market value of a practice, tips for managing employees during the transition, and clarity on what legal documents need to be completed when.

Brian was kind enough to send me a courtesy copy of this new book to read and review. While short, it covered a lot of material and gave me a good baseline for the things I need to do and prepare for as I start looking for my own practice. It was clearly written, logically organized, and offered valuable advice.

Rating: 7.0

The One with Rhapsody

Wednesday, July 26, 2017
405. Title & Author: Rhapsody: Child of Blood by Elizabeth Haydon (657 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Completed: 21 July 2017

Summary & Review:
On the run from a spurned former lover, Rhapsody falls in with two Bolg outlaws named Grunthor and Achmed. She soon learns that rather than being her saviors, the two men are using her in their own escape. But, as the trio runs from their pasts, they become dear friends united in their isolation. Their journeys take them through the center of the earth to a whole new world and time, thousands of years from their home.

I’m sure that summary made zero sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book. Sorry. Being nearly 700 pages long, Haydon covered a lot of stuff in this book. In fact, that is one of my major complaints of the novel: there was just too much included in it. The book opens with some crazy romance/time-travel scene then goes to the main action with Rhapsody on this island nation and then continues on to this mega-hundred-pages-long journey through a huge tree root through the center of the world. Once they’re out of the root, they’re in a completely different land and time, a millennia and half after their home has been destroyed. Now that the three are in this new time period, a whole new saga starts as they are fighting demons, then hanging out with some forest priest and then exploring some cities and then finding and uniting the Bolg in the mountain caverns and on and on. Finally, the story ends with Rhapsody going off to find a dragon?!? Sheesh.

Stylistically, Haydon is a talented writer and Rhapsody was a fairly intriguing character, but she definitely suffered in comparison to Vin from Well of Ascension and Mistborn that I’ve read recently. I doubt I’ll ever get around to reading any more in this series, but I enjoyed this book.

Rating: 6.0

The One with One Second After

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
404. Title & Author: One Second After by William R. Forstchen (511 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Thriller
Completed: 3 July 2017

Summary & Review:
As John gets ready for his daughter’s birthday party at their home in the hills of North Carolina the world changes forever: unbeknownst to him America is hit by three EMP attacks that wipe out all electronics in the country. As the reality of the situation dawns on John, he knows that their town must band together to survive as civilization collapses around them.

Man, this was one downer of a book. It was relentless in its attempt at realistically portraying the catastrophic results of this type of attack. Rather than softening some of the blows for the sake of the reader, Forstchen holds no punches. I see the point of this, of course, since this is a topic that the author is very worried about and what’s America to prepare for, but as the reader I didn’t like him killing everybody off. It was like how J.K. Rowling went wizardcidal in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#10). Did she really have to kill off Hedwig to get the point across? Really?!?

That being said, I have to agree with Forstchen's portrayal. I do think that this is how things would play out in the States if something like this were to occur. While diversity is often touted as one of our greatest strengths, in times of disaster and war, it is a huge liability. When neighbors don’t trust eachother, they will not cooperate or look out for one another and history has shown time and time again that diverse communities have lower levels of social cohesion and trust thus they are much less likely to band together when disaster strikes. It is what it is.

Rating: 7.0

The One with 2001

Wednesday, July 5, 2017
403. Title & Author: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (226 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Completed: 26 June 2017

Summary & Review:
A strange sentinel is found buried deep beneath the surface of the moon. Having stood silent for 3 million years entombed in the lunar landscape, the structure emits a huge blast of energy after being unearthed (unmooned?). Scientists trace the destination of the signal blast to one of the moons of Saturn and send a manned space mission out to investigate. What they find, and their voyage to find it, is beyond anything they could imagine.

I haven’t read anything by Arthur C. Clarke, one of the “Big Three” of Science Fiction authors, before and this book did not let me down. For being only about 225 pages long, this novel spanned an incredible amount of material—from pre-historic times to forward beyond space and time. For most of the plot lines I felt Clarke was able to adequately explore and flesh them out, despite the short length. But, with the Hal 9000 plot, I thought it was a little rushed. He could have written a whole novel just based on that premise and it would have a been a great SciFi thriller.

Clarke has an engaging prose and his attention to scientific detail, even if was just conjecture, was outstanding.

Now I guess I should go watch the movie…

Rating: 8.0

The One with Ready Player One

Wednesday, June 28, 2017
402. Title & Author: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (374 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Completed: 17 June 2017

Summary & Review:
In a dystopian future, nearly everyone spends all their time immersed in a virtual universe-simulation to escape the horrors of the real world. For many, like Wade, better known by his online avatar name of Perzival, OASIS is a treasured place where they have found the acceptance and friendship they’ve always wanted. After the creator of OASIS dies and leaves his vast fortune and control of the entire simulation as the prize of a virtual treasure hunt, Perzival and the others who want to protect their precious world must band together to defeat the corporate interests set on destroying it.

Now, why does the big, bad, very, very mean corporation want to destroy this OASIS? Because that’s what corporations do! Duh! Nothing is more evil than a big business, definitely not another big business that just so happened to create an online simulation that prevents anyone from doing anything out in the real world to fix the mass of problems that supposedly exist. Just hang out online and watch 80’s TV! Honestly, Cline’s story is so clichéd and predictable that even with the fun that nostalgia can bring, the book was a chore to read. He constantly defaults to tired tropes like “fascist corporations are out to destroy the cool things we love, man” and “we used up all the fossil fuels now we don’t have power!” (What about nuclear?). Anyone that uses the word “fascist” without irony to describe something in the modern world just cannot be taken seriously.

A lot of people seem to really like this book because I guess they identify with Wade, the protagonist. “I was a nerd, too! I always wanted a geeky cute girl who liked all the stupid crap I did to like me, too!” Sure. Additionally, Cline elevates rather average 80’s pop culture to a level where I think he wants us to fall down and worship it like it was all some divine creation. Don’t get me wrong, I love Back to the Future, Rush, and Pac-Man as much as the next guy, but let’s take it down a notch.

If you want to read an Ender’s Game-like adventure, but one that is not nearly as good, this is the book for you.

Rating: 5.5

The One with 12 Health & Fitness Mistakes You Don't Know You're Making

Wednesday, June 21, 2017
401. Title & Author: 12 Health & Fitness Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making by Michael Matthews (51 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Health & Fitness
Completed: 16 June 2017

Summary & Review:
Fitness author Michael Mathews presents his answers to 12 common myths that surround getting strong and health. These myths include lifting lights weights gets you toned, women should train differently than men, eating carbs makes you fat, and being overweight is a result of a slow metabolism. Matthews disproves these myths and several more this this short, fact-filled book.

Pretty good. A lot like Matthews' other stuff. Basically, if you want to know everything from this book, his Cardio Sucks (#392), and all his other shorter books I've read, just read the excellent Bigger Leaner Stronger (#368).

Rating: 5.0

The One with The Well of Ascension

Wednesday, June 14, 2017
400. Title & Author: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson (781 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Completed: 9 June 2017

Summary & Review:
Once the dust settled from their successful rebellion to overthrow the Lord Ruler, Vin and Elend found themselves in charge of a fragile new kingdom with their old crew around them to help. But, after only one year of fledgling freedom, the city is besieged by three different enemies attempting to claim the kingdom for themselves and once again enslave the people. As Elend attempts to figure out a way to save the city, Vin and her scholar friend Sazed dive deep into the ancient lore surrounding the terrible and dangerous Deepness and the prophesied Hero of Ages who will save them.

***SPOILER ALERT***

The Well of Ascension is the second book in the (so far) excellent Mistborn Trilogy. I really enjoyed Book 1 and was a little nervous about Book 2 since my single favorite character was killed off in the first book (#bringbackkelsier). While I did miss Kelsier, other enjoyable characters helped fill the void, especially Sazed. The plot was very interesting and Sanderson is a skilled writer who was able to fill an almost 800-page book with consistent action and intrigue. As I mentioned in my review of Mistborn (#377), I really like the world that Sanderson has created. The laws that govern the magic (for lack of a better word) and other powers are very consistent and logical, despite being fanciful.

Bring on book 3!

Rating: 8.0

The One with Starting Strength

Wednesday, May 31, 2017
399. Title & Author: Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd Edition by Mark Rippetoe (325 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Health & Fitness
Completed: 30 May 2017

Summary & Review:
Former competitive powerlifter and longtime strength coach Mark Rippetoe presents his method of basic barbell training and explains the importance of such training for all types of people. After covering how critical barbell training is to strength development, Rippetoe spends an entire chapter each on the five foundational lifts of the program: the squat, press, deadlift, bench press, and power clean. Other chapters also cover the basics of programming, necessary equipment, and nutrition.

Great book. Bigger, Leaner, Stronger (#368) owes a lot to Rippetoe, as author Michael Matthews would readily admit. Rippetoe is a strength coach and is not interested in “esthetics” or “physique” training, so Starting Strength does not spend much time on ab workouts or bicep curls and the like. In fact, the only real work the biceps get in the program is from chin-ups/pull-ups and a little from deadlifting. But, gaining overall full-body strength can’t help but improve physical appearance. Even if a reader is more interested in a program like Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, this book is an incredibly helpful resource since it teaches proper technique for the core compound lifts and offers great advice on lifting and strength training in general.

Rating: 8.5

The One with A Sailor of Austria

Wednesday, May 17, 2017
398. Title & Author: A Sailor of Austria: In Which, Without Really Intending to, Otto Prohaska Becomes Official War Hero No. 27 of the Habsburg Empire by John Biggins (378 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Historical Fiction
Completed: 14 May 2017

Summary & Review:
Otto Prohaska, a naval officer in the K.U.K. Kriegsmarine, takes command of one of the cutting edge inventions of the First World War, a U-Boat. As he and his crew patrol the coastlines of the Adriatic during the war they face all manner of challenges: from attempting to return a gift racing camel to the emperor to nearly suffocating in a submarine stuck on the bottom of the ocean to making their way in the world after the fall of the empire they had risked their lives defending.

First, this was a great book. It was well written, the protagonist Otto was a great character whom the reader couldn’t help but root for, and Higgins deftly presented a look into a largely forgotten time and culture. Second, this book really impresses upon the reader what a complete idiotic folly the First World War was. Millions of Europe’s best and brightest young men were slaughtered for absolutely no reason. That war single handedly brought down virtually every remaining empire and monarchy on the continent and set the stage for even more bloodshed from World War II to the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. These imbeciles who started and continued the war should be brought back from the dead and punched in the face. Thanks to that war, Western Civilization itself is still in peril.

So, aside from the anger that mounts as you read about the war, it is a very enjoyable read. There are a total of four books in this Otto Prohaska series and I look forward to reading the rest.

Rating: 8.0

The One with Fatal Error

Wednesday, May 3, 2017
397. Title & Author: Fatal Error (A Repairman Jack Novel Book 14) by F. Paul Wilson (332)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction & Thriller
Completed: 26 April 2017

Summary & Review:
Repairman Jack receives a frantic call from a man whose wife and child have been abducted by a mad man. As Jack investigates the kidnapping, he learns that the suspect was after a piece of computer code that would help an ancient and secret organization known as The Order complete a computer virus capable of crashing the entire internet. Knowing how this could affect the secret cosmic battle raging behind the scenes, Jack must stop this from happening.

I don’t know what else I can say in these reviews of Wilson’s Repairman Jack series that I haven’t said before. I’ve read 14 books in this series and I have enjoyed every single one of them. Wilson has a great prose style and Jack is one of the best characters in contemporary fiction. These definitely aren’t your average thrillers, like Brad Thor writes (see Code of Conduct (#334)), so if that’s what you’re expecting you are in for a strange, science-fiction-y awakening. Then again, this isn’t science fiction like Heinlein (see Starship Troopers (#326)), so if that’s what you’re expecting…. I guess this is much closer to I am Legend that I just read, a horror kind of sci-fi. Whatever you want to call it or classify it as, it’s a great series regardless.

Rating: 7.5

The One with I am Legend

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
396. Title & Author: I am Legend by Richard Matheson (162 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Horror
Completed: 20 April 2017

Summary & Review:
William Neville finds himself alone in a world besieged by vampires after a plague sweeps the globe. Between nights of fending off waves of the undead creatures who swarm his house in hopes of drinking his blood, Neville works to figure out what causes it and how to cure it, if he can. Months and years pass until one day he sees a woman walking in the sunlight. Is this at last a companion, another survivor? Or, does this woman portend something worse?

This was a great little book. Matheson was really ahead of his time in the genre considering the book was written in the fifties. He created a fascinating, coherent world so I only wish the book was little a longer so he really could have explored more aspects of it. In Max Brooks’ World War Z (#290), a more contemporary horror novel, he left almost no stone unturned in the world he created. That’s one of the best parts of the book, i.e. seeing how thoroughly Brooks had thought out his zombie-apocalyptic world. If Matheson had given us a few more chapters, he could have done the same, especially between the time when the girl Ruth shows up and the end. The climax was too abrupt for me.

***Spoilers***

The ending was good, but not the one I hoped for as a reader. Throughout the novel I was pulling for Neville, so to see him lose out to the new vampire-led society was sad. I mean, the poor guy already lost the dog! What I wanted was for him to go full-out vampire hunter, like Neo in the first Matrix after he walks through the metal detectors.

Rating: 7.0

The One with The Revenant

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
395. Title & Author: The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke (262 pages)
Genre: Fiction--Historical Fiction
Completed: 16 April 2016

Summary & Review:
While out scouting with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, mountain man Hugh Glass is brutally attacked by a grizzly. Near death, the leader of the company leaves two men behind to wait for Glass to die and then give him a proper burial. Rather than doing as their leader asked, the two men abandon Glass and steal everything from him leaving him without any means of survival. As Glass slowly mends his wounds and crawls hundreds of miles to safety, only one thing is on his mind: revenge.

***Spoilers***

So, there I am reading along, looking forward to the final climactic showdown between Glass and Fitzgerald, probably as much as Glass himself was. I've just read 250 pages of struggle and pain and brushes with death and wild Indians and starvation, but all that didn't matter because I knew, in the end, Glass would get his justly deserved revenge. It's right there in the title, after all: The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. But what do I get in the end? Nothing! Glass finds Fitzgerald and rather than taking justice into his own hands, which would have completely fit the character that Punke had written, he allows Fitzgerald to stand trial in a court martial and then lie his way out of it all. Are you kidding me?! That's how it ends? That's no novel of revenge, that's a novel of nothing!

Up until that completely disappointing climax, I loved the book. The more I read about the frontier of the western United States during the nineteenth century, in books like Crow Killer (#210) or The Son (#367), the more fascinating I find it. Schools really do a crap job explaining it beyond just saying the white man stole the land from the Indians. In reality, it was a much more complex time with shifting alliances, intertribal warfare, battles, sieges, raids, massacres, and the creeping intrusion of the modern world.

Rating: 6.5

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