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

The One with The Stone of Mercy

Wednesday, November 23, 2016
375. Title & Author: The Centaur Chronicles Book 1: The Stone of Mercy by M.J. Evans (252 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy & Young Adult
Completed: 13 November 2016

Summary & Review:
Young Carling has just celebrated her sixteenth birthday when tragedy strikes. Her mother and father are killed by a band of centaurs after Carling prevented them from kidnapping some young centaur fillies. As her mother is dying, her last words direct Carling to find a silver breastplate hidden under the floor of their kitchen. When she finds it, she receives direction from the wise wizard of Crystonia to go and collect the four Stones of Light to complete the breastplate and take her rightful place as queen of the land.

This was a great adventure! It was firmly in the tradition of fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia but with a unique and original approach to the genre. Like many of her other novels, M.J. Evans includes in this book important moral lessons for young readers. In this case, Carling was a powerful example of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion as she was able to overcome great personal tragedy without being robbed of those important qualities.

With Christmas time approaching, this book would make a great Christmas present for any young bookworm you know. You can buy this and any of the author’s other award-winning novels at her publisher’s website: dancinghorsepress.com

Rating: 10.0

Also, check out my other reviews of M.J. Evans' books here:
Behind the Mist (#175)
Mists of Darkness (#247)
The Rising Mist (#309)
North Mystic (#261)
In the Heart of a Mustang (#343)

The One with How to Pee in Public

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
374. Title & Author: How to Piss in Public: From Teenage Rebellion to the Hangover of Adulthood by Gavin McInnes (271 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir
Completed: 11 November 2016

Summary & Review:
Writer and entrepreneur Gavin McInnes presents stories from his youth up through adulthood in this raucous memoir.

Meh.

Rating: 3.0

The One with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Wednesday, November 9, 2016
373. Title & Author: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (637 pages)
Genre: Fiction--Novel
Completed: 31 October 2016

Summary & Review:
When his cousin Josef Kavalier arrives at his house in Brooklyn after escaping Nazi-occupied Prague, Sammy Clayman realizes he has finally found the perfect partner to make his dream a reality. Together they convince their boss to begin publishing comic books starring their creation, The Escapist. Over the next few years as comic books experience their golden age in the late 1930s, Sam and Joe attain success and wealth, but that never distracts Joe from his true mission of saving his family back in Czechoslovakia.

Portions of this novel were really interesting and entertaining. I liked learning about the early days of the comic book and learning about the artists and writers who pioneered it. I thought the portion of the novel where Joe joined the Navy and was stationed in Antarctica was fascinating. Other parts of the book, however, weren't really my style. I know authors like to write stuff that will guarantee them a favorable write up in the New York Times and other such publications and they like to feel like they are taking a brave stand on social issues. The problem is, by the time they actually write these books, its not brave anymore. The culture has already shifted so there is no danger of the author being ostracized for his views. A perfect example of this is The Help (#206), where Stockett "took on" segregation and racism in the South.....fifty years after the end of Jim Crow. In this book, Chabon "bravely" exposes how gays were mistreated and forced to live a lie. It's easy to write a book in defense of that lifestyle now since gays are celebrated in the culture writ large so Chabon doesn't deserve any kudos for doing so. He knew he would get universal praise for his inclusion of this topic so really he was just scoring easy points with the in-crowd.

Despite my cranky griping about all that, the book was by and large a good, well written one with an interesting story.

Rating: 6.5

The One with In Trump We Trust

Wednesday, November 2, 2016
372. Title & Author: In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome! by Ann Coulter (197 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction--Politics
Completed: 27 October 2016

Summary & Review:
Conservative Ann Coulter lays out her case for electing Trump president this fall. At the top of her list is the fact that Trump is the only politician in recent history to actually talk about issues voters care about: immigration, crappy trade deals, and making the government put the needs of its citizens first. Throughout the book she brutally takes apart other Republicans who have sold out to the left on all of these issues.

Coulter is on to something with her insistence that Trump's popularity and his winning of the Republican nomination was not based on his personality or simply the fact that yokel voters were "fed up." Let's face it, I don't think anyone likes Trump's personality. But, Trump has been the only person to say what a large portion of American voters have been wanting to hear for decades. We are tired of being sold out and watching our country, jobs, and freedoms be given away to serve the needs of the political and business elite. Trump train, baby!

Rating: 7.5

The One with Eligible

Wednesday, October 26, 2016
371. Title & Author: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (492 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Humor & Romance
Completed: 17 October 2016

Summary & Review:
This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice finds “Liz” Bennet in a relationship with a married man before having “hate sex” with Darcy until she finally falls in love with him. Romantic. Sprinkled throughout are plenty of examples of nausea-inducing PCisms as Sittenfeld shows off her social justice bonafides by making the older white characters racist, homophobic, and of course, transphobic.

Here’s a list of things I want from a novel: entertainment. Here’s a list of things I don’t want from a novel: paragraphs long lectures about transsexualism. Who wants to be talked down to, lectured to, and patronized while reading a novel? Not me. Sittenfeld is a talented writer and there were aspects to this book that were funny and readable, which makes the finished product so frustrating. It could have been a fun book, but instead Sittenfeld felt compelled to stuff it full of all the latest leftist fads from feminism (she literally whined about how the father “giving away” the daughter at a wedding was, paraphrasing here, “creepily patriarchal”), to racism (of course Mrs. Bennet, the WASP matriarch of the family can’t stand having a black realtor), to the afore mentioned transsexualism (or as Sittenfeld insists on teaching the reader, what is now called “transgenderism”).

Rating: 1.0

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