The One with Saving the Sun Dragon

Wednesday, November 22, 2017
417. Title & Author: Dragon Masters: Saving the Sun Dragon by Tracey West (90 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Children’s Literature
Completed: 19 November 2017

Summary & Review:
Shortly after narrowly escaping trouble in the tunnel under the castle, Ana’s dragon Kepri falls ill. As the Dragon Masters rush to find a cure for the ailing dragon, they must travel to Ana’s homeland to find Kepri’s twin, a Moon Dragon.

These are pretty fun books and the kids, both Fox and Jane, enjoying our reading time at night so there are not too many bad things I can say about it.

Fox’s Rating: 10.0

The One with Hosts

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
416. Title & Author: Hosts (A Repairman Jack Novel Book 5) by F. Paul Wilson (383 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Thriller & Science Fiction
Completed: 13 November 2017

Summary & Review:
A woman in desperate need calls Jack for his help and when Jack meets the woman face-to-face he realizes it is his own sister who he hasn’t talked to in fifteen years. His estranged sister explains that her partner has seemingly been brainwashed and become a completely different person and Jack agrees to help her. As Jack looks into his sister’s problem, he realizes that the woman has been infected by a virus that takes over one’s personality and makes the host a member of a “hive mind” with the others who are infected. Once the virus takes control it only has one goal: survival at all costs.

I had to backtrack to read this book since I had skipped it before. The used copy I had purchased from Amazon reeked of cigarette smoke so I just skipped it and moved on to the next book. Eventually, I threw that copy away and bought a new one and decided I had to read it before I got to Book 15, which is the last in the series. It was kind of fun to go back in time and see Jack just starting to learn about the massive cosmic battle going on behind the scenes that will eventually come to dominate his life. Also, this was an important book because not only did Jack reunite with his sister, but she was killed during this story. Later books often reference the loss of his sister and I finally read how it all happened.

I can’t wait to read the last book in this series! Thankfully, Wilson has also written a prequel Repairman Jack trilogy, so Book 15 won’t be the last chance I get to read about Jack.

Rating: 7.5

The One with Song of the Poison Dragon

Wednesday, November 8, 2017
415. Title & Author: Dragon Masters: Song of the Poison Dragon by Tracey West (90 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Children’s Literature
Completed: 16 October 2017

Summary & Review:
As the new dragon master Petra is showing off her hydra dragon, the beast panics and accidentally poisons the king. With the help of the other dragon masters, especially Drake, Petra must learn to connect with her hydra and learn how to save the king before it’s too late.

This is the fifth book in the series—we had to skip 2,3, and 4 because Fox says they were already checked out from his school’s library—but the story was able to stand alone on its own pretty well. Both Fox and Jane really got into this one so we’ll call the experience a success.

As far as ratings go, I don’t really know how to rate these kids’ books. If Fox were rating it he’d probably give this one a 9.0, but if I gave it a 9.0, that would be on par with classics like Animal Farm (#220) on this list. Anyway, I liked this one a little better than book 1, so I’ll bump up the rating a half point.

Rating: 5.5

Arguments Summed Up: The Strange Death of Europe

Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Title & Author: The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray
Genre: Nonfiction--Current Events & Politics
My Rating: 8.0

Summed Up:
Douglas Murray is straight forward when it comes to his opinion regarding Europe’s future: it doesn’t have one. “By the end of the lifespans of most people currently alive Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place in the world we had to call home.” (1) How is this suicide being committed? Unchecked, uncontrolled mass third-world immigration. Murray explains that “In all Western European countries, this process began after the Second World War due to labour shortages. Soon Europe got hooked on the migration and could not stop the flow even it wanted to. The result was that what had been Europe—the home of European peoples—gradually became a home for the entire world. The places that had been European gradually became somewhere else. So place dominated by Pakistani immigrants resembled Pakistan in everything but their location, with the recent arrivals and their children eating the food of their place of origin, speaking the language of their place of origin and worshipping the religion of their place of origin.” (2)

But why is this movement of people destroying Europe? Because the host cultures are sick and unable to assimilate the newcomers. Murray states, “And while the movement of millions of people from other cultures into a strong and assertive culture might have worked, the movement of millions of people into a guilty, jaded and dying culture cannot.” (7) But, the ruling class continues to pretend this could work. Murray states, “It’s like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.” (16) The cultures of Europe have lost faith in their beliefs and traditions.

During this entire transformation, the peoples of Europe have been wholly against mass migration and the loss of their cultures. How have politicians responded? With a dismissive, “get over it,” or simply stating that the changes were “inevitable.” Murray comments, “But there is something cold about the tone of such remarks. Not least the absence of any sense that there may be other people out there not willing to simply ‘get over it,’ who dislike the alteration of their society and never asked for it.” (26) Politicians either don’t know or care that the vast majority of their peoples do not want this change to happen.

For those who do disagree with mass migration, it has become dangerous to express this disagreement. As Murray notices, “The upsides of migration have become easy to talk about: to simply nod to them is to express values of openness, tolerance and broad-mindedness. Yet to nod to, let alone express, the downsides of immigration is to invite accusations of closed-mindedness and intolerance, xenophobia and barely disguised racism.” (27-8) Thus, if you embrace the loss of your country you are good, and if you oppose it, you are an evil, racist, bigot. Murray continues later in the book, “in each case the price that local people were made to pay, for taking anything but the most positive attitude towards the arrival in their towns and cities of hundreds of thousands of people from another culture, was just too high. Whole careers not only in politics, but in any walk of life, could be ruined by any recognition of the new facts, never mind any proposed alteration to them. And so the only thing left for people to do—whether locals, officials or politicians—was to ignore the problem and lie about it.” (113)

These attacks against those who oppose immigration have prevented any sane discussions of the issue. Murray states, “It soon became clear that nothing could be learned because nothing could be said.” (224)

One of the most common ways that European leaders dismiss critiques of contemporary immigration policies is by claiming that this is nothing new, that is has all happened before and has been happening forever.  “The movement of people in recent years—even before the European migration crisis—was of an entirely different quantity, quality and consistency from anything that had gone before,” Murray says. “Yet despite this fact, it remains one of the most popular ways to cover over the vast changes of recent years to pretend that history was similar to what is happening now. Not the least advantages of this suggestion is that any current problems arising from migration and nothing we haven’t dealt with—and triumphed over—before. It falsely presents any current challenges as normal.” (27)

But, are those benefits of migration really worth it? Murray doesn’t think so. He says, “The reality is that whatever its other benefits, the economic benefits of immigration accrue almost solely to the migrant. It is migrants who are able to access public facilities they have not previously paid for. It is migrants who benefit from a wage higher than they could earn in their home country. And very often the money that they earn—or much of it—is sent to family outside the United Kingdom rather than even being put back into the local economy.” (43) As to the costs of immigration, Murray points out that “A continent which imports the world’s people will also import the world’s problems.” (302)

Deeper down, mass immigration seems to be a result of cultures that have given up on themselves. Proponents have the impending demographic replacement claim that “either that the country of arrival does not have a culture, or that its culture and identity are so especially weak, worn out or bad that if it did disappear then it could hardly be mourned.” (31) Additionally, in the new multicultural Europe, “the only culture that couldn’t be celebrated was the culture that had allowed all these other cultures to be celebrated in the first place.” Thus, newcomers should constantly be encouraged to be proud of their cultures, but the indigenous, native Europeans either have no culture at all, or have one that they should be ashamed of.

A pervasive guilt has seeped into modern Western societies for real or perceived wrongs from the past. Murray claims that “The desire to continue to feel yourself guilty arguable finds its end point in modern European liberal societies: the first societies in human history who, when they are hit, ask what they did to deserve it.” Thus, a culture that is so overwhelmed by its own guilt has no energy to defend itself against invading cultures and peoples. Murray observes that “it is not possible for a society to survive if it routinely suppresses and otherwise fights against its own origins. Just as a nation could not thrive if it forbade any criticism of its past, so no nation can survive if it suppresses everything that is positive about its past.” (305)

In sum, “Europeans are blamed for what is happening to them, are denied any legitimate way to object, and the views of the majority are made to appear not just dangerous but marginal.” (246)

You can read my review of The Strange Death of Europe here. 

The One with Truly Madly Guilty

Wednesday, October 25, 2017
414. Title & Author: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty (418 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Novel
Completed: 15 October 2017

Summary & Review:
Six friends gather together to enjoy a backyard barbecue on a beautiful early spring day. One couples’ two little girls run around enjoying the twinkly lights as food and wine is served and the conversation sparkles. Then, disaster shatters the peaceful evening leaving marriages and friendships tattered and strained in its wake.

Well, this definitely wasn’t my favorite novel by Moriarty that I’ve read. There was a solid nugget of a story here that I wish Moriarty had focused on rather than trying to include so many issues and topics into the story. The idea of exploring how friendships and marriages would be tested by the accident that happened could have been an interesting, intriguing novel on its own. However, Moriarty then threw in a ton of other stuff. The whole hoarding storyline was particularly superfluous. Moriarty is still a talented writer, but she could have benefited from an editor encouraging her to tighten up what she really wanted to explore in this book.

Rating: 5.5

The One with Rise of the Earth Dragon

Wednesday, October 18, 2017
413. Title & Author: Dragon Masters: Rise of the Earth Dragon by Tracey West (90 pages)
Genre: Fiction--Children's Literature
Completed: 9 October 2017

Summary & Review:
Drake lives on a simple onion farm with his family and expects nothing more from life but to continue digging onions out of the dirt. One day, however, he is summoned to the castle to meet with the wizard Griffith and he learns that he has been selected to be the next royal Dragon Master. Can he and his new dragon learn to work together?

I taught Fox how to read last year during kindergarten, and now that he is in first grade he is started to read real chapter books, like this one. He seemed to enjoy it and checked out another from this series this week.

Rating: 5.0

The One with The Stone of Courage

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
412. Title & Author: The Centaur Chronicles Book 2: The Stone of Courage by M.J. Evans (240 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy & Young Adult
Completed: 5 October 2017

Summary & Review:
After successfully retrieving the Stone of Mercy, young Carling is tasked by the Wizard of Crystonia to continue on her ascension to throne as the rightful heir of the land by finding the second stone, the Stone of Courage. Joined by her friends Higson, Tandum, and Tibbals, she journeys deep into the Northern Reaches to find the stone and learns that courage is just what she’ll need to face the challenges that she’ll soon encounter.

Wow! I’m know I’m a little biased since my mom is the author, but I thought this was a fantastic young adult fantasy. I’ve been able to read my mom’s books since the very early drafts of Behind the Mist (#175), and it has been so fun watching her grow as a writer. Here she has created a fun, layered world that fits squarely in with other Fantasy novel worlds and is true to the genre. While many of the creatures that populate the land of Crystonia will be familiar to fans of mythology or fantasy, e.g. centaurs and cyclops, Evans has given them new, interesting qualities and civilizations that brings a fresh feel to them. I can’t wait to continue on with Carling and her friends in Book 3!

You can read my review of The Centaur Chronicles Book 1: The Stone of Mercy (#375) here. Also, visit Dancing Horse Press to buy your own copies of these wonderful young adult fantasy adventures. Christmas is coming!

Rating: 10.0

The One with Seveneves

Wednesday, October 4, 2017
411. Title & Author: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (868 pages)
Genre: Fiction--Science Fiction
Completed: 28 September 2017

Summary & Review:
When the moon is stuck by a mysterious "agent" and explodes, renowned physicist Doc Dubois calculates that humanity only has two years before debris from the moon rains unrelentingly down on the earth killing everyone and everything. Over the course of the next 24 months, the world bands together to expand the ISS and send as many people, supplies, and irreplaceable artifacts into orbit as the last chance for humanity's survival.

This was a very interesting book. Parts 1 and 2 were fascinating as Stephenson presents a convincing picture of how the human race might survive in orbit for thousands of years. Then, Part 3 jumps 5,000 years into the future very abruptly. At first, this completely killed the enthusiasm I had for the book from Parts 1 and 2. But, as I read more of the final third and got to know the new characters and new world, I enjoyed it as well. However, I think Stephenson really missed an opportunity to expand on this story. Parts 1 and 2 should have been their own novel, with Part 3 as part of a sequel or even a trilogy. At well over 800 pages, he easily could have split this into at least two books and this would have fixed the incredibly unexpected and unpleasant story break two-thirds of the way through.

Aside from that less-than-desirable editing choice, the book was great. It was such a fascinating concept and I loved reading about how humans could conceivably survive in orbit, trapped in tiny habits for thousands of years. Then, Part 3 was a really cool look into that future and the way that we could potentially make earth fit for life once again. Though, the "Mer-people" almost derailed it at the end.

Rating: 7.0

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 schlößer. 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

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