My brother Timothy is an avid reader. Always has been and always will be. He’s always been my hero in that regard. He’d start and end his day reading. I remember when we were tree climbers and he would take a book up with him and perch on a couple of branches and read. And in our forts that we would build across the street from our house he’d bring a couple of blankets for his comfort while he read. Books were very important to him. “Always have an adventure with a good book,” he’d say. So when Rusty and I bought Otter Creek Used Books he was very excited for us and I think a tad jealous. Or at least wishing he lived a little closer. He lives in Maryland and takes the train daily into DC where he works. Of course, he brings a ‘good book’ with him for the ride. One day we were talking and we came up with the idea that he would write a book review for the blog. How exciting! I like family adventures and with five kids we were always ready for a good one. The reference to #3 in the title is that we go by our birth order and Timothy is #3. I’m #2. Here is Timothy’s – #3 – blog of his book reviews. And thanks, Tim!
As way of introduction (and non-disclosure) my sister, Barbara Harding is the owner of the Otter Creek Book Store. Since I typically read in the range of 50 books a year I suggested to her I provide a book review for this webpage. My selections vary quite a bit: from history; science fiction; business; biographies as well as the classics.
Review 2017/18 – Brigands of the Mood by Ray Cummings
SCIENCE FICTION – (1931): According to the dust jacket “…this is a thrilling novel of the clash of two planets in the fight for super-power ore, an adventure of interplanetary piracy, and a prediction of the mining and colonization of the moon that is still as timely as the day it was written.” The story follows a human from Earth named Gregg Haljan on his space trips involving Venus, Mars, Earth and the Moon. He is kidnapped and marooned, rescued, marooned and fights battles with an angry Martian. The fight is over a precious metal ore with the final battle occurring on the Moon. Of course there is a love triangle involved between Gregg, an Earth girl named Anita and a Martian woman named Moa.
This book is really a good example of the science fiction books of the time. The sentences are short, dialogue is, shall we say, punchy with lots of exclamation points used. The men are manly and the women are womanly. In other words, the story is black and while, past paced and kind of like cotton candy – it is sticky sweet and does not last long. The science aspect is underwhelming at best. By that I mean how the technology is used isn’t very logical. At one point Gregg is locked out of a spaceship so what does he do? He uses his weapon to bang on the door until it breaks and then throws it to the ground. There were many things in the book that caused me to roll my eyes.
Review 2017/17 – Enigma by Wolf Black
FICTION – (2013): A detective book to the nth degree. A New York City police detective is on loan to an elite unit of the London police. He is teamed up with a partner who are typically assigned the toughest of cases to crack. Two women have been targeted and murdered. Problem is there appears to be no connection. Yet, there are gristly similarities to the murders. Both women have mutilations that link them but no other obvious clues. It seems like there is a serial killer on the loose. The two detectives work all the angles and finally get on a promising trail.
For the most part the book is fine for what it is – a rather straight-forward murder mystery. The fun part is trying to figure out who is the real killer. There are a few false leads but in the end I thought it wasn’t too hard to guess. What bothered me about the book was the undue attention to the clothing worn. Most every article of clothing has the details provided such as: color, designer brand, price, and a fashion tip. To me it was simply too much. The title I thought was also poorly thought out. The word ‘enigma’ made me think of something entirely different (i.e., WWII code breaking). What was interesting to me was a relatively open look into London life. Overall, the book was not bad at all.
Review 2017/16 – The Sea Voyage by John Fletcher
FICTION – (1622): The book is actually a play about a handsome French pirate named Albert. The ship he is on is wrecked during a severe storm on a barren and rocky island. During the storm, everything is thrown overboard including much treasure leaving the sailors nothing. When the get to shore they meet two stranded men who explain how barren the island is. Ultimately, the two castaways steal away with the Frenchman’s ship stranding them. There is little food and while Albert is searching the island the men decided to kill and eat Albert’s mistress. Just in time he returns and saves her. There are other people shipwrecked on the island, an Amazonian-like tribe of women. The men try to court the women and try to give them some of the treasure. Turns out the treasure belonged to the women and was stolen from them. Another ship approaches with the mistress’s brother and the two castaways. There is much give and take between the various castaways but ultimately there is harmony.
The story is a takeoff from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest which was first performed in 1610. While there are some differences there are more similarities than not. The play is actually kind of short and moves quickly. There are the typical deceptions such as Albert refers to his mistress as his sister so as not to antagonize the Amazons creating a problem later on when the truth is disclosed.
Review 2017/15 – A Double Barrelled Detective Story by Mark Twain
FICTION – (1902): No surprise here, a detective story which centers on revenge. A rich young woman falls in love with a man. They marry against the wishes of the woman’s father. Turns out he was right about the man. He married the girl only to spite the father. The couple has a child and the man abandons his wife. Over time the boy grows up to have a ‘special talent’ he can smell scents like a bloodhound. When he is a young man the mother tells him about his father and sets him a task – track down the father and torment him. The son tracks his father to the American West and follows leads to mining camps. He becomes a miner to blend in and another plot twist develops. Another miner murders a man oppressing him. Who should be there but Sherlock Holmes, an uncle to another miner. Holmes uses his scientific method to absurd degrees and is found to be wrong. The son though figures out the facts due to his keen sense of smell. Turns out that the murdered man is his father!
Obviously, the story is a satire or farce presented by Mark Twain. It was published as a serial in which he responded in the book to people’s comments that were mailed in as portions were published. All in all, an entertaining book and is a quick read. This was simply a fun book with the highlight being the fun poked at Sherlock Holmes.
Review 2017/14 – Titanic: The Most Complete Story Ever Told by Matthew Vollbrecht
NON-FICTION – (2012): There has been much written and movies made about the Titanic for very good reason. The ship was considered an amazing accomplishment at the time. Legends have been created and displayed around the world. Surely a tragedy of epic proportions. Because of this notoriety, there are many misconceptions as to what happened. The author has tried and likely succeeded in presenting the facts in a very interesting manner. There is no attempt at embellishment yet the author does not present these facts in a dry or detached way either. The events and facts are given humanely, and by that, I mean he focused on the people and their interaction with the vessel itself.
Anyone can believe what they want and if that means believing the romantic presentations well, fine by me. What captured my interest was how the smaller mistakes crept up into a major catastrophe. Many things went wrong that night as presented in the book but some were made possibly years before – such as design flaws (lack of life boats). Others, such as subcontracting out the wireless message service were more recent. If there had been emergency drills and life boat assignments many more would have been saved. The book is well balanced and flows nicely. I also found it very educational – an easy read. I recommend the book for anyone interested in the topic.
Review 2017/13 – Edison: His Life and Inventions by Frank Lewis Dyer
BIOGRAPHY – (1910): Thomas Alva Edison was a proliferate inventor from the mid 1800’s to early 1900’s. His list of inventions and patents is astounding. Much of his life is covered from boyhood to senior citizen. It is important to note that he was not only alive before publication but approved the book. He included his signature with a statement of his approval. Throughout the book his inventions are described in a somewhat technical way but should be mostly understandable to the layman. The appendix provides even more detail but sometimes is a bit redundant from the body of the text. There is an extensive list of his patents at the end.
There is no question in my mind this book was more about publicity for Edison than anything else. The bias towards Edison is palpable to the nth degree. According to the book he was an unparalleled genius, a kind, generous man, noble, humble, indefatigable and many other superlatives. While all this may have been true there was little counterpoint. For example, he invented a process to construct a house with cement in one pour ostensibly to build inexpensive homes – while he was able to build these houses they were not financially viable. No mention of that in the book or his other questionable financial dealings. He was clearly a great inventor but I wondered how good a businessman. The book is long (530 pages) but the insight into life around the turn of the century was fascinating.
Review 2017/12 – Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
SCIENCE FICTION – (2006): The story begins following an abandoned young girl who struggles to survive. She is tied to a group of thieves who treat her badly but give her a sense of belonging. The setting is in the Final Empire a feudal society lead by the Lord Ruler, a person known as an immortal god. It turns out that the girl, Vin, has surprising powers that she can tap into based on ingesting metal. A ‘high-end’ criminal crew brings her in and teaches her how to use these powers. Their intent is to destroy the Lord Ruler and return the land to a more compassionate time. An intricate sting operation is planned and carried out. Throughout there are several puzzles which are unraveled which are essential to the overall plot.
The book is a very well written piece that is fun to read. The created universe is rather well defined and the continuity is strong. The author has written several books and he certainly knows what he is doing. I found several events in the book which I thought were handled quite well and somewhat unexpected – in an entertaining way. The book reads quickly and quite engaging. I am looking forward to the next volume.
Review 2017/11 – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
NON-FICTION – (1989): Dr. Covey provides a framework in the form of 7 habits to help guide the reader into leading a more effective life. While the book may be found in the business section of a book store it was intended for more than that. In fact the subtitle on the cover is not the same as on the title page of the book. Inside the cover the subtitle is: “Restoring the Character Ethic” which in my opinion is more accurate than that on the cover. The book is laid out in four parts with the 7 habits dispersed as appropriate.
My read of the book went quickly over five days. With appendices there are 352 pages and several graphics and tables. It is a book that is well written and stays on point throughout. To give the book more body, the author provides personal situations he experienced to illustrate points which I found to be effective. He does not claim to be the sole creator of the 7 habits and I believe he is correct. Nothing truly new is presented but what is valuable is how it is presented. I recommend this book for people looking for inspiration on how to make their life (at home and work) better.
Review 2017/10 – Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century by Sean Patrick
NON-FICTION – (2013): A rather brief biography of one of the most famous inventors of the 20th century. The first section of the book has nothing directly to do with Nikola Tesla. It covers the issue of IQ and genius, the need for imagination and inspiration. The second section provides a sketch of Tesla’s life and his demeanor.
The subject of the biography is fascinating to me. Nikola Tesla came across to me as a tortured soul, a person who got all the breaks but that last final one for true success. Clearly, he was an absolutely brilliant man and the real shame is we will never know how great. His feud with Thomas Edison appears to be based on the greed of Edison. Tesla’s inventions were harder to monetize and therefore the needed money to build his inventions was mostly withheld. My only criticism of this book is that it is way, way too short. There is so much more to delve into with Nikola Tesla. The best part of the book is that it whets the appetite to get a more detailed biography on him!
Review 2017/9 – George Frederick Handel by Herbert F. Peyser
NON-FICTION – (1951): The book follows the life (and times) of one of the greatest composers of classical music. He was born in 1685 and died in 1759 after leading a remarkable life. His greatest achievement was writing the Messiah, a choral masterpiece, but he wrote so many other pieces which remain popular such as the Water Music. Within the book the events and stories surrounding his life are discussed in some detail.
The book is a rather short one and was written for the ‘Radio Members of the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York. It moves along quickly and doesn’t bog down in too much detail. I believe it provides more than a summary of the great composer and does justice to introducing him to the reader. I was unfamiliar or had forgotten this German lived most of his adult life in London. He also was broke as often as he was well off. I enjoyed the book and was eager to learn more.
Review 2017/8 – Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions by Michael D. Watkins
NON-FICTION – (2009): Another leadership book that identifies how to leverage a new high level corporate job. It is almost a guide book with few overly dictated specifics on how to maneuver a new position. The methodology used is to establish a scenario and then fill in some narrative on what might be the best approach. There are a few models or guiding principles thrown in. The most prevalent is the STARS model: Startup; Turnaround; Accelerated Growth; Realignment; and Sustaining Success. These are the stages of business categories which a new executive might have to address.
I found the book to be somewhat refreshing and a bit unusual in the approach. All these books do something similar but this one was able to pull it off well. There is no cookie cutter approach which makes sense as every situation is unique. I believe the principles are rather sound and therefore, the book is worth a read. At only 205 pages it goes by quickly.
Review 2017/7 – Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography by John Van Maanen
NON-FICTION – (1988): What is ethnography? It is essentially an investigation of people and cultures (I did have to look it up). The intended purpose of the book is to enlighten a very specific audience on the various styles (not the how) of writing about culture. There are six chapters which cover a general and more specific introduction to the topic followed by chapters on three of the main styles and then the conclusion. In each of the three main chapters the author provides examples of the styles from some of his writings.
I found the book to be odd, quite odd. Not the author who writes very well but the odd part was the topic itself. What this all boiled down to for me is one of writers searching for a topic to write about. There was so much prosy embellishment I found it hard to (or want to) follow. Please keep in mind, I am an engineer, not a writer. I do recognize this book was written for a very specific niche audience – I am not in that niche! In fact, the book has been required reading for some programs and was considered groundbreaking at the time.
Here is something I thought was strange: I actually took a few classes of his at the MIT Sloane School of Management. I am convinced he knows what he is talking about. The book, at times, was entertaining and yes, the author writes well. If you want to be a writer or cultural observer you might want to consider reading the book, otherwise, probably not.
Review 2017/6 – Ancient Guardians Book One: The Legacy of the Key by S. L. Morgan
FANTASY – (2012): The main character of the story is Reece Bryant, a young woman studying to be a doctor. A few strange things happen to her in the first few chapters including a visit from the apparent ghost of her father. She goes for a run the next morning to clear her head and is attacked. Two men save her and then take her away to another dimension known as Pemdas. They are here to save her because she is the ‘Key”. Her ancestor created a stone which keeps the Earth on its proper axis and deep in her mind is a map to the stone, long hidden. The two men are part of the corps of ancient guardians of the stone. One of the two men is Levi, the Emperor’s son and a handsome much sought-after bachelor. It turns out there are many dimensions that are linked to Earth in some fashion. One of these dimension is populated by the Ciatron who are trying to find the stone to subjugate all the other dimensions. Now protected in Pemdas Reece settles in at the Emperor’s palace. She starts to fall in love with Levi and there are several rivals most notably Simone. In a jealous rage she strikes a deal with the Ciatron setting up the major confrontation of the book.
The story is really a romance novel, not what I expected. Everything is perfect in Pemdas and even the colors are brighter and more vivid. The men are handsome and tall and strong and gorgeous and perfect, and, and, and. Yes, I read the book, the whole book and it simply wasn’t what I want to read. Not my kind of book at all. I expect it is fine if you like that genre (romance novel) and it is pretty well written so I have nothing much to say about it. Can’t say I recommend it but eh.
Review 2017/5 – The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien
FANTASY – (1937): I will keep this short as I have written about this book many times. This is a book I read about once a year but I still find interesting items in how the information is presented or worded and how the story flows. This is a child’s tale but written in a non-condescending way which makes the book reasonable for any age reader.
One item I found interesting is correlating some items with the recent movie. For example, in the ‘Battle of the Five Armies’ the goblins conduct a sneak attack using wereworms. I scoffed at the thought since I knew that wasn’t how it went in the book and wereworms! That is just silly. Guess what, there is a mention of wereworms in the book which took me by surprise. That just reinforced my belief there is always more to learn and to keep an open mind.
Review 2017/4 – Uncivil Servant: Holding Government Employees Accountable for Performance and Conduct by William B. Wiley
NON-FICTION – (2010): The whole foundation of the book is to help government supervisor’s fire bad government employees. The target audience is very limited so the appeal of the book is also affected. However, for the right audience this is an outstanding book. Fundamentally, the message is clear and universal – supervisors should know the rules and not be afraid to follow them.
As written, the book follows an open narrative style which can surprisingly draw the reader in and invite thought. There are many specific examples given which really illustrate the intent of the rule and how to make the topic clear. There is only one nit that I have to pick and that is one issue which is not addressed. The actions and options available to a supervisor are well illuminated but the lack is an understanding of the role of the next level of supervisor which is absolutely crucial. If a supervisor is willing to take the needed action but the next level won’t provide the needed support the actions taken are moot. Beyond that there are likely direct repercussions against the supervisor. It would be prudent to have the author address the issue in any future editions.
Review 2017/3 – Primal Leadership – Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee
NON-FICTION – (2002): The overall premise of the book is that the emotional guide of an organization is its leader and that is the most important act of leadership. The concept presented boils down to one thing – business success directly hinges on managing the emotion of the leadership team and employees. There are three sections to the book: The power of emotional intelligence; making leaders; and building emotionally intelligent organizations. The first part leans heavily on explaining how the brain works. The second part defines and explains leadership types while the third part gives many examples of how to inject change into an organization to increase the emotional intelligence.
No disrespect to the authors but L found the book to be of the cheerleader variety. Everything was ‘hearts and flowers’ backed up with ‘scientific evidence’. There was so much touchy-feely in the book I almost felt violated while reading it. The saccharine content was rather too much for me. I almost got the impression the authors came up with a great catch phrase ‘Primal Leadership’ and then wrote the book to back up the phrase. I had to work at figuring out that the primal part was emotion. My main issue though is the book is presented that all a person has to do is laugh a lot to improve the mood and therefore the productivity of an organization.
On the positive side, the book really isn’t that bad. While I did not find any groundbreaking or new concepts the ideas are good and I believe sound. Treat people with empathy, really listen to staff, and vary your leadership styles to the situation at hand. Ok, I get it but that was all in 256 pages – including two appendices. Sure, if you are looking for a leadership book this one isn’t bad but I have read better.
Review 2017/2 – Sons of Odin by L.A. Hammer
SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY – (2016): If a reader was to open this book and begin to read at any random point it would make just about as much sense if it was started on page 1. The whole book is a complete hodge-podge of fantasy-related plot drivers from so many sources it would be difficult to tease them all out. Star Wars, the Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and anything from Michael Moorcock, H.P. Lovecraft or Stephen Donaldson all seem to be more than an inspiration to the author. A reoccurring them is the biting of skulls and overly dramatic hyperbole. Thing is, there is only one ultimate action or driver in any created universe – except seemingly, in this one. Really, this book seems to be based not on the books I identified but by the computer games created because of the books. I read the entire book hoping for some sort of redemption but no, I never got any redemption. At the end I found out the book is simply the kick off of a series of books – which I will never read.
The plot follows four young people who are transported to another dimension or planet or somewhere else. They are the chosen Sons of Odin and Daughter of Thor who are expected to fulfill a loosely explained prophesy. As the plot develops the main characters a reader would expect to be led through the typical and necessary introductory stage, learning phase, on through the return phase back to their beginning state – except they never really do return or for that matter, end. Unfortunately, the writing was not compelling and the plot simply did not hold together very well at all. Concepts were brought up with no development and then lost forever, something is the ultimate (e.g., a weapon of massive destructive power), which is then trumped by the next, and the next, and the next. Oh, and most of the male characters had long hair in ponytails and the clothing is almost always described in detail – down to the color of the piping on the pants. While these are very small items it is indicative of a lack of sophistication in the writing. Why waste the time of the reader on such a small detail when there are so many other loose strands in the plot? I wondered, ‘where do these characters get their massive wardrobe?’ Do I recommend the book? No, I do not. I only read through to the end to give the author opportunity to sway my initial determination. While I can’t write as well as the author and I don’t have his vivid imagination I know good writing when I see it and this isn’t it. I do recommend the author keep writing because practice makes perfect.
Review 2017/1 – Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
FICTION – (1961) Iconic – this book is absolutely amazing and deserves to be known as one of the greatest literary achievements of the 20th Century. The plot really isn’t important compared to the messages of the book. Yes, there are several layers from my perspective. The first one is the crazy aspect of war and what it brings out of individuals. The second one is of the contrast of hope and hopelessness which are interwoven. A third is that of choice: we have choices to make and that is what makes all the difference. I am sure there are many more messages that can be teased out of the book but I am an engineer not a literary critic.
The plot or setting of the book is a squadron of U.S. bombers located on an island off the shore of Italy during World War II. The character conflict is established by the observations of the protagonist named Yossarian. Chapters are generally focused on his interactions with the various members of the squadron. A running theme is the requirement for being sent home from the war is to complete a particular number of bombing missions – which keeps being extended. No matter how many missions are completed the required number is set higher, an example of Catch 22. The book is sad in many ways mostly based on the futility of war. In the end, there is hope.
A very enjoyable and introspective book which should be a must read for everyone. Some parts of the book are crass and display the dark side of the human spirit. Many of the characters are clearly short sighted and only out for themselves. These characters are willing to lie and bend the truth to a dangerous degree. But, in the end, there is hope!
Review 2016/5 – The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton
FICTION – (1972): The book is a thriller and a detective novel with a focus on technology. The premise is based on a cutting edge medical technology to control epileptic seizures by inserting electrodes directly to the brain. In 1971 that was a concept that was just being really considered as possible. The patient selected for the experimental surgery has a criminal record of aggravated assault and a strong phobia about machines taking over the world. After the successful surgery, he escapes the hospital and the electrodes are creating a dangerous feedback loop resulting in murder!
I remember when I first read the book and thought it was amazing. Today, after reading it decades later the most striking thing is that the doctors are smoking in the hospital! The medical aspects were relatively ho hum – compared to today that is. The writing is well done but I had one thing to nitpick – the ending. There is a chase scene near the end of the book. The good guys are catching up with the bad guy. Of course, they catch him and then the book basically ends right there. Most books wrap up the loose ends a little better than this one in my opinion.
Review 2016/4 – EGO vs. EQ, How Top Leaders Best 8 Ego Traps with Emotional Intelligence by Jen Shirkani
BUSINESS – (2014): The book is what I would categorize as a self-help book targeted for senior executives. The fundamental premise is defined by eight traps an executive might fall in because of their ego. The author believes these traps can be avoided through the use of enhancing she calls emotional intelligence. It all boils down to an executive becoming more self-aware.
The book is written well and does flow well. I have read many of this type of book and this is a good, not great one. I personally agree with what the author submits to the reader. The one minor negative thing that did strike me was the theme that an executive should have an executive coach. This just happens to be the occupation of the author. The book is much more than a commercial for her but every now and again that concept did pop up to me.
Review 2016/3 – Mysteries of London Part 2 by Reynolds, George W. M. Reynolds
FICTION – (1844): I was not expecting the type of content when I first picked up this book. My thought was it would cover ‘agony column’ entries as alluded to in the Sherlock Holmes books. That is what piqued my interest. Turns out it is basically a soap opera and is considered a ‘penny dreadful’. All in all, the book kind of grew on me. The plot loosely, very loosely, follows the hero and the exploits of people around him. The most interesting character is the resurrection man, a body snatcher and he is truly evil.
Review 2016/2 – STAR WARS: X-Wing Rogue Squadron
SCIENCE FICTION: Since the most recent Star Wars movie installment came out I decided to re-immerse myself into that universe. There are a huge number of books written by several authors which build upon the Star Wars universe. Depending on how you count them there are 10 novels by two authors: Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston. I have read most of them by Michael Stackpole and none by Aaron Allston.
I decided against writing separate reviews of each book I read in this series since the reviews would be so similar. Repetition is not a good thing for reviews after all. Suffice it to say I have read this series several times and I find them quite enjoyable. They remind me of the first time I saw the movie Star Wars in 1979 when I was in San Antonio along with Logan’s Run (I saw each three times in a row – long story). The novels are action packed, fairly well written, particularly when the reader keeps in mind the subject and context of the novel. None of these books are intended to be works of art but to retain and slightly expand on the original movie. I like them and will probably read them again sometime in the future.
Review 2016/1 – smallworld by Dominic Green
SCIENCE FICTION – I came across this book and it was the cover that I found intriguing. It was a little teacup of a world with reddish horns behind. The book is fairly small so not a huge investment of time so I started in. Needless to say, it was … odd. Characters were named for biblical related things and that seemed to make the reading clunky – one strike against the book. Then the plot seemed to twist all out of proportion leading to who knows where – strike two. I kept reading and here is the thing – I think the author was trying to make me work at the plot myself, in a good way. It is written pretty well and even with the rough start I thought it was kind of good. What is the plot? A very small word is inhabited by a very few people and the devil. Turns out the devil is a very powerful robot. Other people drop in for various reasons and there is a good deal of killing. To me, this is a fringe book – not a book for everyone but entertaining – I did mention it was rather short.
Review 2014/01 – The Royal Observatory, Greenwich; a glance at its history and work (1900) by Maunder, E. Walter
NON-FICTION – I wanted to start the new year with a really good book. I found that in this history of the British Royal Observatory at Greenwich which was published in the year 1900. The book was fascinating since it chronicles how one area of science was developed almost from the beginning. The story is told through the individual developments introduced by the first eight Astronomers Royal. Some of the names are quite familiar such as Hubble who was the second person to hold the title. This is followed by a description of the buildings and grounds at Greenwich. The last set of chapters explain the different departments such as the Double-Star Department. There are quite a few very interesting illustrations included as well. I encourage you to read this book. It was a great way to start the year!
Review 2013/52 – The Girl in the Golden Atom by Cummings, Ray
SCIENCE FICTION – Some books I am drawn to based on the titles. This was one of them. The book turns out to be a Gulliver’s Travels kind of tale. A chemist discovers two chemicals which will make the user bigger or smaller. He came across the chemicals based on a study he did using a microscope on a wedding ring. In his little home laboratory he was able to construct a microscope so powerful he saw a girl at the side of a lake in the ring – hence the title. Keeping track of the size differences was a challenge for the reader. I did not do the math but there were some rather significant inconsistencies. All in all the book is rather standard sci-fi. Read it or not, your choice.
Review 2013/51 – Mystery of the Hidden Room by Harvey, Marion
MYSTERY – The book is only fairly well written with a plot which is simply strung out too long. The plot twists are not that interesting nor does the logic hold together very well. Characters in the book did not stay with me after finishing. In fact, I was plodding along with the book anxiously waiting to get to the end. Guess you could say that I don’t recommend the book very highly.
Review 2013/50 – The Longest Day by Ryan, Cornelius
HISTORY – This book should be on everyone’s must read list. The book tells the story of World War II’s D-Day and is broken into three main pieces: The Wait; The Night; and The Day. The story itself is awesome and the writing is excellent. Research to prepare the book appears to be outstanding as well. Every combatant segment is represented in a human way rather than good versus evil. War is depicted fairly and honestly as well. Not a dry or factual list of what events came first even though these are presented of course. Knowing a good number of the details or the outcome did not diminish the book at all. Very impressive.
Review 2013/49 – Scarhaven Keep by Fletcher, J. S.
MYSTERY – A rather standard English mystery. The plot revolves around a noted actor who disappears in the area of Scarhaven. It is a small township in northern England. The plot does twist and turn in an enjoyable way. As long as the reader allows the plot to develop rather than poke holes in the action taken by the players it is enjoyable. As with most mysteries it is best not to give too much away or the enjoyment of reading the book is diminished.
Review 2013/48 – The Cobweb by Stephenson, Neil
FICTION – A book about intrigue and disaster (mostly averted). The book has two intertwined plots – one in DC and the other out west. I really enjoyed the book and found it well work reading. The western plot follows a sheriff who uncovers the plot to develop a Weapon of Mass Destruction by the Iraq government. The DC plot does the same from the perspective of an intelligence analyst. The book is involved and goes by fast. My kind of book. The characters were more realistically portrayed in this book than some others. They have foibles and are not perfect but believable. The book was refreshing and fun.
Review 2013/47 – Rocket’s Red Glare by Darrin, John and Gresalfi, Michael
FICTION – A story about radioactive dirty bombs. I found the book fun and interesting. It certainly helps that I have been involved in some of the security activities and know the author. The book is rather intricate and quite involved. It is easy to get lost in who is who and what is what. Plausible? That is another question and difficult to answer. Some is plausible and other parts are not (at least I hope so)! I was a bit surprised at some of the (bad) language used. Some was a bit more offensive than I prefer although I believe the author was trying to clearly show how bad the bad guys are.
Review 2013/46 – Passage to Walden by Cook, Reginald
NON-FICTION – The book is an introspective evaluation of Henry David Thoreau. I found the writing fabulous. A very interesting book and I learned a tremendous amount about Thoreau. It seemed to me that he was one of the foremost environmentalist before there were any – way before Rachel Carson of Silent Spring fame. I strongly urge everyone to read this book. Excellent message and written for an educated audience.
Review 2013/45 – Tourmalins Time Cheques by Guthrie, Thomas Anstey
SCIENCE FICTION – A man is ready to be engaged and is prospective wife sends him on a sailing voyage to give him time to reflect. If he still feels the same towards her they will marry. However, the cruise is long and tedious. Along the way a fellow traveler gives him time cheques which can be cashed in at 15 minute intervals at a later date. After the voyage is over and he is married he decides to ‘revisit’ the voyage. Each cheque brings him back for 15 minutes into surprising adventures – the cheques are not for sequential time! An interesting concept and a nice device for the writer to use to inject conflict. Not a great book by any means but worthy of the diversion.
Review 2013/44 – Phantom of the Opera by Leroux, Gaston
FICTION/HORROR – The book barely resembles the story that most people would attribute to the plot. There are some points that are recognizable but not really that many. There is a ‘phantom’ who has a mask and plays the organ underneath the Paris Opera, The heroine obtains lessons from the Phantom and the chandelier does fall (albeit in the middle of the plot). Again, the most interesting part of reading the book is to see the differences and how much of the story is changed (quite a bit). I can see why the book was so well received and the changes made were necessary for a more contemporary audience. At one point the hero and an accomplice are trapped in a torture chamber for possibly a day. By their ‘account’ they practically die from thirst and starvation. They also hallucinate and think they are in a jungle. My question is ‘how could they think that’! One must forgive some of these plot devices and enjoy the book for what it is or go watch television or something.
Review 2013/43 – The Land of Frozen Suns by Sinclair, Bertrand W.
FICTION – The book follows a young boy (?) who comes into his inheritance which is a cattle ranch in Texas. On the way he is abducted and pressed into service on a river boat. He is bullied and in a bar fight he kills his tormentor with a billiard ball to the head. While it is clearly self defense he runs away. He then gets connected to a smuggler and they both go to Canada (Land of Frozen Suns). There are a number of adventures but none of them made much sense to me. Why the boy doesn’t tell the authorities he was kidnapped is beyond me. The book flowed fairly well even with these massive flaws. While I don’t truly recommend it I found the book interesting in its own way.
Review 2013/42 – World Treasury of Science Fiction by Hartwell, David G. (Editor)
SCIENCE FICTION: As the title alludes this is a ‘treasury’ of science fiction short stories. The ‘world’ part is that many countries are represented. Each story begins with a brief explanation of the author and their position within that countries stable of writers. There are some truly interesting stories and a wide variety of the genre. I thought this was an excellent smorgasbord of stories. Keep an open mind and you will enjoy!
Review 2013/41 – The Lone Ranger Rides by Striker, Fran
FICTION -This is the story of how the Lone Ranger came into being. Portions of the plot are well known but the story is one that I didn’t know. Indeed, there is a group of Texas Rangers who are bushwhacked – one survives and is healed by Tonto. The remainder of the story deals with his first adventure. The book was rather entertaining but not tremendously so. The most interesting part for me was to see where the legend came from. I also found interesting the visiting of the old west and how they lived and interacted.
Review 2013/40 – Cleek of Scotland Yard by Hanshew, Thomas W.
MYSTERY – I read a previous book by the author and thought it was fine. This was similar in that it had the same main characters and consists of a series of crime solver type mysteries. Nothing in the book was real exciting or in some cases, even plausible. However, not bad overall. If you like the familiar and read the previous book then this one is fine. Otherwise, I would not bother reading this one.
Review 2013/39 – On the Heavens by Aristotle
NON-FICTION – The book is a translation of his astronomical theory and his ideas on how the world works – his concept of physics in a way. He wrote the book sometime around 350 B.C. So, I found the read very interesting to see what people thought of the heavens back then. Some of the thoughts were spot on, most were not. However, this is the foundation of science as we know it.
Review 2013/38 – Diary of a U Boat Commander by King-Hall, Stephen
FICTION – The book is purported to be an actual diary of a U Boat commander from the first world war. While reading it I believe it is clearly a book of fiction. There was almost a plot and love story woven in but by my standards, not. The story simply worked too well to be real. After reading the book I did a google search which agreed the story was made up. Regardless, I found the story interesting and, in a way, captivating. The story follows a German sailor as he rises up the ranks and becomes a captain of a U Boat. He falls in love with a woman to turns out to be a Polish spy. Ultimately, she is captured and put to death.
Review 2013/37 – Red Battle Flyer by von Richthofen, Captain Manfred Freiher
BIOGRAPHY – Yes, this is a book written by the Red Baron of ‘Snoopy’ fame. The book is based on the diary and notes of the person we may know as the Red Baron – a German pilot from World War I. I found the book absolutely fascinating. It is not a long book but full of insights as to the war and the people in it. The air war has certainly changed since the time of the book. For those that have an interest in history this is an excellent book to read.
Review 2013/36 -Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christi
MYSTERY – a wonderful story which showcases the character Hercule Periot. I found it incredible this was the authors first novel. A complete joy to read! I am not going to give anything away on this one as the best part of the read what trying to decipher the clues myself.
Review 2013/35 – Smoky God, The or Voyage to the Inner World by Emerson, Willis George
SCIENCE FICTION – The story published in 1908 is similar to Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. No one will mistake the two as Verne is the master of the genre. In this version, there is a Norwegian fisherman who sails into the center of a hollow earth. The crust is about 300 miles thick. A utopian and somewhat advanced culture lives there – with electricity. It was a fine read, I guess. Not at the top of anyone’s list for good reason as there is nothing truly interesting.
Review 2013/34 – I was a Teenage Secret Weapon by Sabia, Richard
FICTION – A book that isn’t science fiction but almost should have had more of these elements to be more interesting. The hero is a young man who is so nice that he has no enemies coupled with a tremendous amount of good luck. Accidents happen to others in proportion to their anger at him. When things go wrong the others get angry and the destruction escalates. A scientist notices this and recommends the army use him as a secret weapon and ‘unleashes’ him on the enemy – successfully. An amusing tale that reminded me of Gomer Pyle or ‘No Time for Sergeants” movie with Andy Griffith.
Review 2013/33 – Abraham Lincoln by Curtis, William Eleroy
BIOGRAPHY – A biography of Lincoln. Captivating and fascinating. There were several new items that I didn’t know about Lincoln. Reading this book reminded me that just because a book is old doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer. On the contrary, this book was absolutely worth reading. The concept behind the book showed me a different side of Lincoln than I had before. It was much more personal showing his human side to include his humor and wit. I don’t believe this really comes thorugh in new biographies in any way the same as this book. Keep in mind, the author lived in the time of Lincoln and has the ability to put his life in the context of the age. The book was published in 1902 so there was time for reflection as well. I recommend this book.
Review 2013/32 – Jewels of Aptor by Delaney, Samuel R.
SCIENCE FICTION – I don’t know what to make of this book. I couldn’t follow every plot twist or understand what was happening all the time. The book was not well written and it was kind of silly. Do not recommend for others. There is a four armed man who is telepathic. The ‘science’ of this universe was uneven and completely mixed. The plot simply didn’t work. You should thank me for reading the book so I would have the opportunity to warn you away!
Review 2013/31 – What Men Live By by Tolstoy, Leo
FICTION – A series of stories about how men see the world in a parable-like way. The last story is about a man who makes a pact with the devil (kind of) for more land. Of course he gets his wish. He continually trades up to better quality and more quantity of land. In the end he is told by some land owners he can have as much land as he can walk around in a day. The stipulation is that he must return to the starting point by the time the sun sinks below the horizon. He starts out and is too greedy. He rushes so much and the end that he dies from the effort. Didn’t see that one coming! Well written as you would expect.
Review 2013/30 – Armageddon 2419 by Nowlan, Philip Francis
SCIENCE FICTION – a time travel story of a person in our time who moves forward after the Mongols take over the United States. Not much of a story. I wouldn’t rate it very high. After moving on to other books I reflected on this story – nothing of interest came up. I remember reading the book of course but neither the story nor the writing were exceptional, rather both were mediocre.
Review 2013/29 – Irish Idylls by Barlow, Jane
FICTION – A narration of life in Ireland in the 1800’s near Dublin. The book was published in 1893 and really quite interesting. The story revolves around a small village and the local residences. It provides a little peek into how they lived in a loose narrative. There is nothing too deep here – you might even think of it as a time-travel type of travelogue. It was interessting to me and I enjoyed reading the book.
Review 2013/28 – Shift Omnibus Edition by Howey, Hugh
SCIENCE FICTION – A sequel series to the Wool story. This is actually a precursor story of how and why the silos come to be. Not as good a story but still fun to read. For me, how could anyone believe that 50 silos in the ground near Atlanta that are over 100 stories deep could be ‘a secret’. Never could happen, not even likely. The cost to construct the silos would be absolutely astronomical and would break the U.S. budget. To enjoy the book let that pass and keep reading.
Review 2013/27 – Wool Omnibus Edition by Howey, Hugh
SCIENCE FICTION – Awesome story – science fiction and this one has a twist. Society is living in a silo and the atmosphere outside is deadly. The culture is an interesting one and it turns out the people in charge aren’t who you think they are. A bit depressing but overall an uplifting story by the end. I thought the book was one that hit on an area of science fiction which hadn’t been tapped. It also was written in a way that made it even more unique. I devoured the book. There are also authors who have taken on the world of the silos and prepared their own stories. Flattery is the best type of praise.
Review 2013/26 – Hour of the Dragon by Howard, Robert E.
FANTASY – Another Conan book. These are all about the same and therefore it is hard to really provide a review of note. Suffice it to say the typical plot is there with the ususal cast of characters. Is there anything special about this Conan installment? Not really but if you like this kind of book you will find nothing to dissuade you for your enjoyment. I read this type of book as a kind of cotton candy. Quickly consumed and a sort of vague feeling of satisfaction which doesn’t last long.
Review 2013/11 – The Red Dust by Leinster, Murray
SCIENCE FICTION – The story is the same as The Forgotten Planet and the Mad Planet. Same characters and same events in somewhat different order and perspective. It appears the author was trying plot events to see what would work best. It was surprising to read them all and see where he was going with his story. Interesting but at times boring because I had several clues on what to expect.
Review 2013/10 – Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership, Cleary, Thomas (translator)
NON FICTION – A pocket size book with very brief lessons in leadership and insight. Primarily from Chinese Buddhist monks and sayings that were handed down over time. It was interesting and I would usually read one or two a day when I went to work to start the day. An excellent habit to get into.
Review 2013/09 – The Two Towers, Tolkien, J.R.R.
FANTASY – See the review below for the Fellowship of the Ring. Enough said.
Review 2013/08 – As You Like It, Shakespeare, William
FICTION – This is the Shakespeare book with the quote “All the world is a stage….”. A pleasure to read. I will keep this short as if anyone is unfamiliar with Shakespeare I recommend reading up on him from Wikipedia.
Review 2013/07 – Ashton Kirk – Secret Agent by McIntyre, John Thomas
MYSTERY – A silly book about a ‘secret agent’ who is not so secret. The plot was somewhat hard to follow and difficult to figure out why was everyone was calling him a secret agent (couldn’t have been much of a secret). The book did finally settle down into a real story but it wasn’t really very good after all. I would provide additional details on the plot but I would like to spare me the need to remind myself that I read the book. recommend not reading this book.
Review 2013/06 – The Marne by Wharton, Edith
FICTION – A story about a boy who’s family vacations in France in the early part of the 20th Century (1901). He falls in love with the country and then the German’s attack as part of the Great War. He wants desperately to help his beloved France but is not yet of age. He does volunteer to be an ambulance driver when he becomes 18 years of age. He does so and then attaches himself to a troop unit and is involved in the battle of The Marne becoming a hero. Good book – interesting story and well done.
Review 2013/05 – Forgotten Planet by Leinster, Murray
SCIENCE FICTION – A science fiction story about a planet which has only insects. Because there is no predators the insects are huge – really huge. The planet was seeded with life from Earth in phases but a punch card was lost after the insects were delivered. A space ship is stranded and centuries later the offspring of the spacemen start to fight back. At the end of the book a space ship arrives and educates the natives bringing them back into society (no, really)!
Review 2013/04 – Mad Planet by Leinster, Murray
SCIENCE FICTION – The most interesting part of the book was the comparison to the Forgotten Planet (same author). Mad Planet was the original short story followed by the Forgotten Planet. Interesting to see the differences and changes to make the short story into a novel. Otherwise, not very good simply because the story was known and the changes weren’t significant at all. There was no real development of the characters or the author’s universe.
Review 2013/03 – Max Carrodos by Bramah, Ernest
MYSTERY – A blind detective is faced with a challenge. The story wasn’t bad and it was somewhat enjoyable but it just wasn’t great or even memorable. The puzzles weren’t great which is one of the main reasons why a person would want to read a mystery. I simply can’t recommend the book. However, if you want to read a book and not worry about missing any action this might be for you!
Review 2013/02 – Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien, J.R.R.
FANTASY – As I have mentioned in previous reviews I have read most everything written by the author – most several times and this series in particular. I tried to read the book this time in a very deliberate fashion with a focus on the writing style. Very enjoyable!
Review 2013/01 – Brood of the Dark Moon by Diffen, Charles
SCIENCE FICTION – What a way to start the year. This book was next up as I finished the first ‘Dark Moon’ book at the end of 2012. This one was the same as the first – our hero is captured and marooned on the Dark Moon with a few friends. Ultimately they escape back to Earth but that would give the implausibility away if I mentioned it!
Review 2011/10 – The Frozen Flame by Mary E. Hanshew and Thomas W. Hanshew
MYSTERY – The mystery novel is really a challenge between the author and the reader. Can the author come up with an intricate plot which holds up through the entire book? Is the mystery plausible and interesting? Above all, is the writing of high quality?
In this case, one and a half out of three isn’t too bad. I liked the book and all but mostly it was the writing and characters that did it for me. The plot, or mystery to be solved, just did not carry the day. The story is set in England and involves a new residence for one of the main characters, Nigel Merriton. Upon arrival he is introduced to a local legend known as the frozen flames. Apparently, anyone who ventures out into the fens at night never returns also resulting in a new flame. Compounding the plot is a rash of bank robberies. This development brings into the story the detective Hamilton Cleek. The mystery is under way at this point which takes several interesting turns and centers on a murder trial with Nigel as the murderer. Cleek does his best to clear up the mystery in time to save his friend.
Overall, the story was engaging and well written. Where it falls down is in the mystery part. Nigel wins the hand of a girl who is also being wooed by a rival. There is a bachelor party where the rival gets drunk and goes into the fens to discover the mystery of the frozen flames. After many hours he does not return. Nigel see a new flame erupt and fires his pistol in the general direction. After quite a few chapters, the body of the rival is found – shot in the head. This is where the book really fails. A pistol is simply not very accurate at any distance. However, Nigel is held accountable for the murder but justice ‘prevails’. Cleek is left to prove otherwise. If the reader is willing to overlook this flaw the book is still entertaining.
Review 2011/09 – Othello by William Shakespeare
FICTION – What to say? Words escape me on writing about a book written by Shakespeare since there has been so much praise and criticism already by far better reviewers.
Reading Shakespeare can be a daunting challenge The important thing to remember is that Othello is a play. It reads differently than when it is acted as it was intended. That means it is incumbent on the reader to remember this. The language is another challenge. However, it is so worth the challenge of language, syntax and the ‘translation’ from a play to a book.
Othello, has four central characters: Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army; his wife Desdemona; his lieutenant, Cassio; and his trusted ensign Iago. The play has its roots in racism, love, jealousy, and betrayal. The true main character is Iago who manipulates the other characters into doing terrible things.
Review 2011/08 – Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith (5 Volumes) by John Jackson Miller
SCIENCE FICTION – Typically, I really enjoy the escape of reading a Star Wars or other science fiction book. In this particular case after reading the first volume I did feel compelled to finish the set but only for one reason. The reason is that I can recall only one book that I have not finished and this one doesn’t deserve to be singular in any way. Some of the story was fine but just barely. I don’t even want to get into the plot but here is a quick synopsis.
A spaceship full of Sith and some others crash lands on a plant with practically no advanced civilization. More importantly, the plant has no metals worth mining – that means no ability to build anything but with rocks. So, the Sith are stuck for generations. There are flying reptiles and a sentient race of natives which provides some diversion.
The book was read on my new Kindle and was a free publication. I believe that may have been a clue as to the quality of the writing. Don’t read this book.
Review 2011/07 – A Popular History of Ireland by Thomas D’Arcy McGee
Beware the commitment to reading this book. It is actually 12 separate volumes and it requires or demands a significant commitment of time. This is no small thing as the book goes into significant detail on the history of Ireland from about as far back as you can imagine (read that as recorded history) from the earliest period to the emancipation of the Catholics. While there are some ‘stories’ told this is more of a true history of the green isle. By reading this (set of) books you will get a greater appreciation for Ireland.
The author, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, was born in 1825 and assassinated in 1868. He was a well known Irish Nationalist, Catholic spokesman, journalist, and a Father of Canadian confederation. He published this book in 1863 based primarily on the work of other scholars although he did conduct some of his own research.
I began this book almost 10 months ago and found it was best digested book by book with some time between to reflect. I am certainly glad that I read it and did learn a great deal about Ireland.
Review 2011/06 – Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
I believe this is the first book I have read by Agatha Christie. What a mistake I have made in not reading her before! The story was fun, completely enjoyable and so well written. The plot itself revolves around a young couple who have fallen on hard times. Instead of grousing about their misfortune they make do the best they can. Along the way they stumble upon a mystery which they throw themselves into the middle.
The story begins in 1919 and involves secret papers related to World War I. The main characters are Tommy and Tuppence who are featured in several works by the author. The villain is a ‘Mr. Brown’ who is unknown and a complete mystery to the police. The final plot twist involves the discovery of who ‘Mr. Brown’ really is.
Some may say the book is too predictable or too full of cliché’s but I disagree. One must decide whether to allow a book to unfold by itself or not. I did so with this one and felt completely satisfied with the result. I look forward to reading more book by Agatha Christie.
Review 2011/05 – Youth by Isaac Asimov
Really this shouldn’t count as a book because it is a short story but I couldn’t resist. The mind and imagination of Isaac Asimov are not to be overlooked. This story revolves around aliens who have contacted some residents of a planet. The residents lost contact with the aliens and go looking for them. Turns out the children have found little animals and are caring for them. The animals are the aliens who are ‘rescued’ from the children, their spaceship is repaired and ultimately sent on their way. There are a number of plot twists involved so I don’t want to get too specific. None of the characters are given names nor are they described in detail until the end. This is not Asimov’s best work but still intriguing.
Review 2011/04 – Man from Archangel and Other Tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Another one of my favorite authors is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This book is also a number of short stories. The stories were somewhat uneven but still well written and entertaining. We are provided with two sets of stories: there are six ‘adventure’ stories and eight concerning medical practice.
Not surprisingly, most all the stories have some sort of mystery about them requiring a bit of detective work. None of the stories really stood out as exceptional or memorable. However, I wouldn’t pass over the book due to that observation. I did enjoy the book but more of a pass time. Mostly I read the book during my daily commute and found the stories to help pass the time quite nicely.
Review 2011/03 – Stories of Ships and the Sea by Jack London
Jack London is one of my favorite authors. He not only spins a yarn but in such a descriptive way. By the title of the book it is clear this is a collection of five short stories. For those familiar with Jack London they are typical – and to me that means very well written and entertaining.
One story, The Banks of the Sacramento, is rather intriguing. A young boy of 15 or so is left alone by his father who has gone hunting. The father is the caretaker of an all but abandoned gold mine with all its rusting equipment. A neighbor couple is desperate to cross the canyon although the weather is horrible. The son decides to help them cross on a cable car formerly used to transport ore. Of course the cable jams with the couple mid way across with the wind and rain threatening to toss them into the 200 foot chasm below. The son goes through a tremendous effort to successfully un stick the cable at great risk to his own life. Afterwards, the son is left with a feeling of satisfaction and wistful that his father couldn’t see how well he did on his own.
While reading the story I felt right there will the boy as Jack London must have felt as well. Like I said, Jack London does a great job with any story he tackles. This story is right up there with “To Build a Fire”. I loved it!
Review 2011/02 – Shakespeare As He Lived by Henry Curling
Fictionalized history is a great concept. The author has taken a fascinating topic in the form of how Shakespeare lived along across the arc of his life up to his successful establishment in London. It is full of purported incidents in his life apparently to illustrate how wonderful he was but give him the depth of character – flaws and all.
The reader has to decide how far to go along with the author. Clearly, this book is not covering much but the most basic of facts about Shakespeare. That said, I didn’t have a problem with how the material was presented. Based upon scholarly biographies of Shakespeare there is absolutely no way the material in the book actually occurred. The story presented is intriguing enough even if you take out the fact the primary character is Shakespeare. The one real complaint I had with the book is at times the book is so overflowing, even gushing with praise for Shakespeare in what I thought were odd little ways. He was so manly, so strong, so intelligent, so…everything. Other than that, I enjoyed this little window into what it might have been like to live in England at the time of Shakespeare.
Review 2011/01 – Battle of Marathon by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
To start the year I selected an epic narrative rhymed poem. The poem, written in 1820 describes the Persian attack on the Greek City-State of Athens. What is most intriguing is that the author was born in 1806 making her 14 years old when she wrote this poem. With that in mind it is hard to argue the level of effort and the innate ability of Ms. Browning.
The poem describes the Persian attempt to subjugate Greece. To make matters worse, Athens was massively outnumbered by the army of Darius the Great. While the battle is the centerpiece of the poem Ms. Browning does bring in the Greek Gods, particularly Aphrodite for a ‘guest appearance’. I did think it was a bit difficult to digest the poem it is interesting and informative in its own way. In other words, I like poetry but only in small to medium doses.
Review 2010/48 – Tom Swift and the Caves of Ice by Victor Appleton
I decided to close out the year with a ‘piece of fluff’. For those that have read my reviews there isn’t much to tell about Tom Swift. This particular book is volume eight from the first series and was published in 1911.
Tom races against his rival Andy Foger to find a valley of gold in the frigid arctic of Alaska. The race is made using air ships which each has constructed in order to avoid the problems of traveling on the ice and snow. Along the way, serious weather concerns are faced and diabolical plots to steal the map which identifies the location of the valley.
Review 2010/47 – The Corporate Culture Survival Guide by Edgar H. Schein
Culture is a critical aspect of managing an organization. For the senior leader to ignore the resident culture is to invite disaster. Edgar Schein has written this book with the intent of presenting his model for managing corporate culture. He covers the role of culture in the various stages of an organization from its beginning to an established organization.
I thought the book was a bit slow in developing since it covered the fundamentals and how the values of the culture interact with the corporation at large. The text did come to light for me in Part Two which covered the dynamics of culture formation, evolution and change. There were some concepts that I believe will be quite useful to me in my current organization. One example is that he contends that conducting surveys will not successfully assess culture but will provide misleading information.
Ultimately, I felt the book was very good as a toolbox for managing corporate culture. It does covers a very broad topic and therefore, there is ‘dead space’ for a senior executive. This is a book that deserves space on the shelf and is potentially useful.
Review 2010/46 – Tom Swift and His Electric Hydrolung by Victor Appleton II
Tom Swift – there is little more that I can say about this second series. I enjoy them for what they are. For me they are a glimpse back to my childhood and I find the comparison from current to past entertaining. The plots barely make sense but that was not the purpose of the books at the time. They were for young boys of 8 or so back in the 1960′s. I think they did what was intended.
In this case, Tom is working with the Navy to help retrieve a returning probe from Jupiter. Upon reentry, it is knocked into the ocean by a mystery rocket. The reminder of the story revolves around efforts to find and recover the probe before the enemy. In the process Tom invents a series of things such as an invisible submarine and the aforementioned electric hydrolung. The invisible submarine isn’t actually invisible it is simply very hard to detect – stealth technology! Read them or not – I will continue to do so as I find them fun and entertaining.
Review 2010/45 – The Planet Savers by Marion Zimmer Bradley
A rather intriguing bit of science fiction is what we have here. It is part of the Darkover series by the author and originally published in 1962. The plot is based upon a split personality, Dr. Jay/Jason Allison. He is called upon to attempt to save the planet from a terrible disease affecting most of the population. His split personalities are virtually unknown to himself and quite separate from each other. The experiences and knowledge of the one are not known to the other. They co-exist in the one body but not the mind.
To save the planet, both personalities are needed as Jason was brought up by the Trailman. They are a reclusive society that are native to the planet. Since Jason grew up in the culture his knowledge is essential to convincing them to participate in medical trials to isolate a cure. Jay is needed due to his medical knowledge.
While some of the science facts are not entirely plausible they fall into my acceptable range as some are necessary for the plot. The writing is quite good and I found the book entertaining.
Review 2010/44 – The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I believe Dostoyevsky is a fabulous writer and have read a number of his works. This time I was not disappointed even though I would not have been surprised had this not lived up to expectations. He wrote this book under a hard deadline – to pay off his gambling debts.
The book has very interesting twists to it that were excellent. The plot unfolds as the hero, Alexei Ivanovich, begins to narrate the tale. He is a tutor to a rich Russian family living at a German hotel which has a casino nearby. The plot revolves around the family’s efforts to get out of debt though either gambling and sending telegrams back to Russia inquiring on the health of their rich Grandmother.
At first I felt that certainly Alexei is the ‘gambler’ of the title. After awhile I determined to my surprise he wasn’t. The rich and invalid grandmother decides to come to the hotel to prove she isn’t dying and take back control of the family. Unfortunately, she becomes obsessed with roulette and loses a small fortune. The family moves back to Russia leaving Alexei on his own. He is staked a small amount of money which is quickly turned into a fortune! He quickly becomes the darling of the ‘in crowd’ and moves to Paris where the fortune is just as quickly lost – leaving him destitute.
You might say this is a cautionary tale particularly with the author’s real life incidents in mind. An excellent book by an outstanding author.
Review 2010/43 – The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
I really enjoyed the first book by the Baroness, The Scarlet Pimpernel. It was very entertaining and enjoyable. Therefore, I was looking forward to another opportunity to visit with the characters and situations. Unfortunately, the magic of the first book was simply not duplicated in this book. Now, don’t get me wrong – I did like the book it just didn’t measure up to the original. It was not surprising to find a number of short stories this time around. Also, it was no surprise to have a few of the stories narrated by another character. It is a device I believe writers use to switch up the task of writing to please an audience to avoid being bored. All in all, it was an ok diversion but not much else. I would suggest readers pick up the original story and not bother with the follow on book unless you have time on your hands.
Review 2010/42 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A rather short book on an interesting premise. Benjamin Button is the central character who was born old and grew younger over time. The story was published in 1922 and has been made into a recent movie. Of course, this notoriety is why I read the book. While I didn’t see the movie the premise caught my attention. I was curious as to how F. Scott Fitzgerald would handle the difficulty of the birth to death in reverse.
I fully expect as in all cases the movie does not adhere closely to the book. This is (mostly) acceptable to me as the question becomes one of how far is the divide. I cannot provide any comment in this case, nor does it concern me. Books and movies are two vastly different media with success in one unrelated to the other in many instances.
The book though was intriguing. It was written in a different age and, while the concept is timeless, the book is not. I felt it was well worth reading although it seems not the best by the author. Of course, that said, it is still very very good!
Review 2010/41 – Lord of the Isles by Sir Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott wrote this piece as narrative poetry about the Scottish Lord, Robert the Bruce. This is truly an epic poem that is quite impressive and very entertaining as well as educational. The story covers the history of Robert the Bruce and his efforts to lead Scotland into independence from the Kingdom of England in the 14th century.
I expect that epic or narrative poetry is not so popular as a modern novel. However, the themes in a newly printed novel actually follow those in this piece. In other words, if ‘Lord of the Isles’ was updated into today’s language it would captivate the reader. What I am suggesting is that you read this poem with an open mind and ‘translate’ the storyline into a more modern setting. What you will find is a riveting story.
Review 2010/40 – Ballads of a Cheechako by Robert W. Service
The poetry of Robert W. Service is truly worth reading. It is poetry which many that don’t read this type of literature would likely be surprised at what they would find. These ‘ballads’ are actually stories of the Alaskan wilderness – set to verse. I found them quite entertaining and very enjoyable. Many years ago I lived in Alaska so it is to be expected that I would enjoy the works of Mr. Service since I was a Cheechako after all. Regardless, those readers who like the work of Jack London would also enjoy reading this selection.
There are 21 separate poems or ballads in this collection. What separates this work from others is the clean and well-worn verse. What I mean is it not only reaches the common language but also raises thoughts up and beyond the actual words. I am no poet but I know what I like and this is it. For those that have been there my selection for a favorite would be L’Envoi. There is no explanation necessary – read the poem and the book to find out.
Review 2010/39 – Second Variety by Philip K. Dick
It may seem like I am stuck on science fiction but that, in my opinion, is actually not the case. While this is a science fiction book I am also in the process of reading other books – they just take longer to read and digest. This will become apparent in the near term. Science fiction to me is a ‘cleansing of the palate’ for my literary tastes which is why I read them.
In this book, there is an epic world war between the U.S. and Russia where most everyone and everything has been destroyed. What remains is ash, ruins and underground bunkers. Russia began the battle and was winning until the U.S. has unleashed killing robots. The story begins with the Russians asking for a truce with the U.S. sending an envoy to negotiate. Along the way the American comes across what appears to be a boy who is discovered to be a killing robot – variety one.
Since the story has a plot twist I don’t want to give it up. Keep in mind when reading that the book was published in 1953. Looking into Wikipedia I felt even better that I selected a book well worth reading. Some have linked this story into the Terminator series concept.
Review 2010/38 – The Life and Adventures of Santa Clause by L. Frank Baum
It is November and time to get ready for the winter holidays. I thought it a good time to read this little book about the vision Mr. Baum had about Santa Clause. Of course, it is different than the version told by Clement Clarke Moore and others. There is not really much for me to say because I always found S. Clause to be a personal choice. I read the book in great part due to the author. It is well done for what it is, a child’s book. With that in mind, it is probably best read to one – at bedtime!
Review 2010/37 – The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt
The Moon Pool is a science fiction/alternative world type of book. It fundamentally is about an ancient race of people who inhabit the interior of the Earth. The Shining One occasionally leaves their part of the world and captures a surface dweller to feed upon – but only when the moon is full. A small group of men find the entrance and go in to hopefully rescue those that were captured.
The story line of this book goes all over the place. I am not sure what the author was intending. There are several plot lines that somewhat intertwine but to untangle them is simply not worth the time. It is almost like a dream where the concepts of one dream fade into another, not quite seamlessly but somewhat plausibly. Unfortunately, trying to make sense out of what is being described didn’t work for me. I lost interest in the story and the characters mid way through the book. The only reason I finished the book is to see how it possibly could pull the threads of the plot together.
I simply cannot recommend this book. Were there some good parts? Sure, but so limited it isn’t worth it. There are so many other books that don’t make the reader work to figure out what the heck the story is about. Space Hounds from IPC was a ‘bad’ book but the entertainment value was there simply because of the phrases the author used. I bet even the characters in the book would have complained. This book just didn’t ‘do it’ for me.
Review 2010/36 – Ireland Step by Step by CIE Tours International Insight Guides
This is a tourist guide all the way. On my recent trip to Ireland I found it quite invaluable and had it by my side every day of the trip. While this is not a literature book I still ‘claim credit’ for reading it.
The book (guide) provides a brief synopsis of the island history, food and drink, entertainment and a few other general items that the traveler should be aware of. Then, the guide goes into a detailed breakout of the various sections of the country with a focus, of course, on the larger attractions. I really liked the maps which were quite useful. Particularly helpful were the recommended walking tours. We did not follow the suggestions closely but I still found them quite useful.
Since this is a guide it is not typical of the other entries. However, if you are planning on a trip to Ireland I can without any reservation recommend CIE Tours (which provided the book). It would also be useful to actually read the book BEFORE you leave instead of reading the pertinent sections the day before you get to the destination (like I did in part). It was kind of fun though to read the book after to see all the details I missed.
Review 2010/35 – Spacehounds of IPC by E.E. “Doc” Smith
Oh boy, strap on your spacesuits and get ready for a ride! This book was absolutely amazing. All I can do is shake my head while wondering what was in the authors head when he wrote this. Did he invent the word hackneyed? Was he trying to create a new language or establish catch phrases into the culture? At first, I simply couldn’t put the book down because I just had to find out what odd statement would be made. I almost kept a list but there were sooooo many that I couldn’t pick out just one or two. The closest thing I can get to this is to compare the book to “Plan 9 From Outer Space”. For those that don’t know the movie “Plan 9…” is an absolute classic “B” movie. It is so bad it is a slow motion train wreck – that is this book.
So, of course, I completely recommend this book. Oh, you want to know what it is about? Well, so do I and I read it already. It is a space based adventure involving multiple planets, alien cultures, and all sorts of stuff. Leave any knowledge of science behind because every principle is shattered in this book. It is deliciously bad!
Review 2010/34 – Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
This is one book that there is little for me to add to what you know. I believe everyone should read or see some Shakespeare now and again. Guess where ‘a pound of flesh’ came from? Read this and enjoy! Brevity is my savior!
Review 2010/33 – Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott
Now this book is a mind bender. It involves a narrator from Flatland which only has two dimensions. Most of the book is taken up explaining the viewpoint of how things work in Flatland. For example. men are polygons and women are straight lines. Here is the problem: Depending on how the ‘man’ approaches he will first appear as a straight line (due to the limitation of two dimensions).
I could go on and explain more about the book but I believe the author does a much better job than I could do. Suffice it to say that I feel this book is well worth reading. It is different, it is mentally challenging, and it is rather short. The last part is important because the plot is rather limited and a typical reader would get tired of too much explanation. I will end the review with one observation – any author with the same middle and last name has to have a unique way of looking at the world and Mr. Abbott certainly does!
Review 2010/32 – Blockade Runners by Jules Verne
I read this book strictly because of the author. He did some fantastic work that was clearly ahead of his time. This, however, dealt with issues closer to his time. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t that bad. Unfortunately, I found it rather middling overall.
The plot involves a Scottish merchant to takes a chance on running the United States Union blockade during the US Civil War to make a huge profit. His idea is to take a very fast ship and sell guns and ammunition to the confederates and buy as much cheap cotton as possible. Of course, he needs a crew and in the process takes on a hand that looks the part but requires his nephew come along as well. Turns out the ‘nephew’ is a woman trying to get her father out of captivity in the States. The captain of the ship falls in love with her and takes on the mission of selling the guns, buying the cotton and saving her father. Guess what happens, he does all three and everyone lives happily ever after.
The book is a rather quick read. It is fairly entertaining and I have certainly read worse. While not recommending the book it isn’t too bad. Not much of an endorsement but it is the best I can do to help out Mr. Verne.
Review 2010/31 – Leadership That Matters : The Critical Factors for Making a Difference in People’s Lives and Organizations’ Success by Marshall Sashkin and Molly G. Sashkin
I have read many books on leadership and this is not one of my favorites. It comes across as a research paper richly using references and numbers based on studies. Of course, research has its place and is critically important. However, what I look for is how to apply leadership. An author is expected to be able to back up their claims but I found this rather overmuch in the research department.
Specifically, the authors used their own research tool – something similar to a 360 degree evaluation and the results of their tool are used liberally throughout the book. There were times I wondered if the whole book is a sell job on how I need to buy the use of their tool rather than learn from the results of its use.
Overall, the book was dry and hard to keep enough interest to actually read and get the nuggets of information out. Yes, there are excellent leadership points made but they are buried within. If you can get over the first chapters (like the first six to eight) the reading can be worthwhile. Unfortunately, I recommend skipping over this book and pick out another.
Review 2010/30 – Cleek: The Man of the Forty Faces by Thomas W. Hanshew
Another British mystery book which fits the bill. It is a bit different than similar books in that it is a series of stories – all interrelated. In a way they build on each other but not too closely. The story begins with a very extended prologue, in three parts no less. The prologue tells some of the background of Cleek. He is a master thief, or cracksman (British burglar or safecracker) able to expertly disguise himself. At the end of the prologue he makes a decision to give up the life of crime and become a detective. His decision is based on a chance meeting with a woman. To win her he believes he needs to be worthy of her so he works diligently to become respectable.
The book begins quite well I thought. The storyline is smart, good and entertaining. I wanted to read more which is an excellent sign of a good book. After the first few stories I thought it became less compelling. At the end of the book, the last story was quite interesting and had a few good moments. Then, at the very end, instead of wrapping up the story the book discloses Cleek is the lost heir of the country of Mauravania. All through the book there is the issue of his unrequited love for Ms. Ailsa Lorne. However, the last we know, they ‘agree’ to wait until he has been made worthy.
All in all, I did enjoy the book but it wasn’t my favorite British detective book by far. It is eminently passable and enjoyable enough. Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have just set the bar so high it is hard to reach.
Review 2010/29 – Voyage Round the World in His Majesty’s Frigate Pandora
by George Hamilton
After reading a novel about British sailing vessels I thought this book would be a natural follow-on. This book is considered to be a relatively factual narration of the attempted capture of the mutineers from the H.M.S. Bounty.
The book is written by the ships surgeon and tells the tale of their voyage. Their stated mission is to bring to justice the mutineers from the H.M.S. Bounty who are thought to be living in Tahiti. The ship and crew endure many difficult situations including the sinking of the Pandora. They are forced to take the flotsam and what little they could save and fashion the best sailing vessels they can to survive. Along the way they are confronted with bad weather, cannibals, and wild creatures. Ultimately, they do survive and make it back to England.
Not the most entertaining of books but for what it is still interesting. Mostly it is a window into how things were done back in 1790. I did think it rather amazing that a ship and crew would be dispatched around the world primarily to capture mutineers. That was a significant investment of resources back then.
Review 2010/28 – Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian
A seafaring book is what you might expect from the title and that is about right. There are however, many pages which focus on the activities on land. I enjoyed the sea portions of the book and endured the land portions. I recognized that any book can’t be just about action – that it has to be properly set up but there was too much that I though was superfluous. In short, I thought much of the plot device got in the way of a good story.
The plot follows the exploits of two men, Captain Jack Aubrey and a ships surgeon/spy Stephen Maturin about the year 1805. In the beginning of the book Captain Aubrey has returned from a successful cruise and is living off the prize money from a ship he captured. Unfortunately for him the money is taken away from him by the Admiralty leaving him in great debt. Throughout the book he is forced to stay in hiding or afloat to keep from being captured himself and thrown into debtors prison. There are several naval battles which are quite well done.
Notwithstanding the portions of the book involving the time ashore I did enjoy the book. For me, I wish the author had shown some restraint and pared away some of the extra material as it would have helped the plot immensely.
Review 2010/27 – Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
Alfred Hitchcock made this mystery into an excellent movie. I had decided to read the book because on a recent trip to Scotland I saw the Forth Railway Bridge that figures prominently in the movie. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in that the bridge is only in the movie, not the book. Turns out the movie barely follows the plot of the book.
Regardless, the book was quite entertaining as an ‘innocent man on the run’ type of novel. The book is based in England and Scotland during the period leading up to World War One. There are many spies about and that is the engine for the plot. A bored man, Richard Hannay, inadvertently is caught up in a nest of spy and intrigue. In the process he is a murder suspect and goes on the run from the law. Of course, he tries to prove his innocence by capturing the real spies as he believes he is better equipped to bring them to justice than the police or the government. There are many improbable escapes but the individual situations were well handled.
The book is good, not great. After reading up on the author I realized he intended to make the book ‘a shocker’ which meant to him improbable events that could be somewhat believed. Since he didn’t take the plot seriously I felt better about reading it.
Review 2010/26 – Those Extraordinary Twins by Mark Twain
Oh how interesting! I didn’t really know what to expect from this book but it wasn’t what was waiting for me between the covers. I was expecting something along the lines of Tom Sawyer. The twins are actually Siamese twins who have two heads, four arms, one body and two legs. Since this is Mark Twain you would be right if this book is a farce but also wrong. He wrote on many different levels as the book can teach the reader about morals, scruples and society in general.
What is most interesting is how the twins are almost totally accepted without reservation in society. In fact, both the twins are taken at ‘face value’ as a set of two individuals. The level of tolerance for the obvious difference the twins display in the society is impressive. I also was amused by the legal battle fought by Pudd’nhead Wilson on behalf of one of the twins. The legal conundrum presented is worth the read by itself.
Once the fundamental concept of the book is accepted by the reader the true lesson can be received. The lesson I learned is that people in society view others from their own frame of reference and yet can be quite resilient and flexible. The story is odd but then again, so is society! The book is not for everyone but again, there is much to be learned from reading this story.
Review 2010/25 – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick lencioni
Any leadership or management book has a targeted audience. I believe this book is reaching out to senior/high level managers. It is focused on how to lead from the top. Those working on a team would also benefit from reading it but I believe less so than management.
The entire book is built upon a case study of a fictitious high-technology Silicon Valley company. A new CEO is brought in by the Board to take over from the companies founder. What the new CEO discovers is that her inherited management team is not acting together which creates friction resulting in non-performance. Over a period of time the new CEO identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the team members and attempts to forge a new culture. In the end the CEO is successful (of course).
I found the book not only entertaining, a fast and easy read, but also useful. As you might expect I read the book at the request of my company. I was able to cross-reference the characters in the book with those in real life. Through introspection I believe the book was helpful to me and I encourage others to read it as well.
Review 2010/24 – A Short History of Scotland by Andrew Lang
The history covered within the 312 pages of this book is from the Roman occupation to its publication in 1911. Unsurprisingly, it was published by a company with offices in Edinburgh and London (apparently, in that order). The reason why I read the book was to prepare for a trip to England, Scotland and Ireland. Given with all the preparations for the trip I didn’t finish the book and in hindsight I believe that was for the best. After actually seeing Stirling and Edinburgh Castle along with some of the other sites I had a much greater appreciation for the book and the history it covers.
One thing which struck me was the tremendous impact religion had in shaping the history of Scotland. Chapter after chapter was filled with the give and take from the clergy. It got me thinking about how different history would have been without the impact of religion. Another observation I had was the vast stretch of time involved with the history of this country. The century’s seemed to roll by with little time for an in depth look at the historical events.
On a more whimsical note I recall the book Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (a Scot – I saw his house!) There were certain events in Kidnapped that were covered in this history. I always enjoy the times when I can tie one book to another which helped make book very interesting to me. However, that is primarily because of my recent travels to Scotland. I expect I would have liked the book but my impression would likely have been ‘eeehh’ rather than ‘wow, interesting!’. Do I recommend the book? Well, yes but only if you have a true love for either history or Scotland.
Review 2010/23 – The History of London by Walter Besant
Another book I read ostensibly to prepare for my recent trip to England, Scotland and Ireland. Another book I didn’t have time to read before the trip. The history of Scotland I read after the fact and believed it worked out for the best. In this case, just the opposite. The history of London is absolutely fascinating and incredibly diverse. The most striking thought is how the citizens of London have shaped their country as a whole. I was quite impressed in how the citizens influenced the governance of the city and therefore their nation.
I was aware that London had a catastrophic fire but unaware of the fact there were several fires which practically destroyed the city completely. At one point the government tried to take the opportunity to plan for the future by restructuring the roads and controlling zoning. What they didn’t count on was the populace simply wanted to live where they had lived and built where ‘they belonged’. How resolute and how British.
The book itself was surprisingly entertaining but that may have been simply because of my recent personal interest. A history book of this type is not something that I can really recommend for ‘just reading’. I liked it and found it worthwhile. However, I am not certain that it is the best history of London but it certainly will do.
Review 2010/22 – Heart of the Comet by Gregory Benford and David Brin
Another science fiction book of course. The title actually tells the tale quite well if you have some imagination. The premise is that mankind lands a rather large colony of people on Halley’s comet with the intent to mine resources. The colonists realize there is something wrong and discover there are life forms on the comet. Unfortunately, the life forms are deadly to humans, some of which cause mutations, essentially infecting them. Earth of course finds out and attempts to destroy the comet and it’s human inhabitants to avoid a potential infection on Earth. The colonists discover and foil the plot and send the comet into deep space.
The book is interesting because of a subplot involving cloning and genetic manipulation. These and other social issues are not subtle but are confronted within the story line. The book is not one of my favorites but I have read it several times. Based upon a receipt used as a book mark I purchased the book in November 1987 (this might be a good idea for readers who don’t keep track of their reading habits). All in all, it is an interesting book but not the best.
Review 2010/21 – A Short History of England by G.K. Chesterton
I selected this book because I was preparing for a vacation in England. This was my way of preparing for the trip as I thought it prudent to brush up on my historical knowledge. The book, published in 1917, begins back with a very brief overview of the geography and the history of Roman times. Chesterton covers the legends and myths of England, issues with barbarians, the Norman kings, Crusades, the Plantagenet’s, French wars, Puritans, and the return of the barbarian. Throughout the book he provides his opinion and insights.
You might ask the question – why is Chesterton’s opinion of interest? He is known in literary circles as a brilliant writer and a very deep thinker. Some believe he inspired Michael Collins to lead the movement for Irish Independence and Mohandas Gandhi to lead a movement for an independent India. An example of a typical Chesterton quote is: Chesterton wrote “Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”
Review 2010/20 – The Great Shadow by Arthur Conan Doyle
Since this book was written by the man who wrote Sherlock Holmes I was all for finding out what is was about. The first chapters made me wonder where the plot was going. It seemed to start out one way and then another. After a time I could see the plot lines twisting together ever more tightly. Near the end I could finally see the great shadow was Napoleon. The book is not a masterpiece by any stretch. It is a book to read and enjoy for what it is – a story of a boy growing to manhood in the midst of war and intrigue.
The book follows the life of Jack Calder who was a boy growing up in Scotland near the border with England. He grows up with a best friend, Jim Horsecroft, and a girl cousin, Edie, who he eventually falls in love with. Their adventures are intensified as a man is found nearly dead in a small life boat. He becomes one with the community after a time and woes the girl from both Jack and Jim. The reckoning is when the stranger marries the girl and goes away to the continent. Napoleon is loose from his island prison Elba and there is war. Jack and Jim both go to war eventually and there is a battle scene where Jim sees his rival who he has never forgiven and despite the odds attacks and kills his rival. This was purported to be part of the Battle of Waterloo. Jack finds Edie in Paris grieving over the death of her husband. It turns out she quickly remarries and dies in childbirth a year or two later. Jack returns to Scotland and has a peaceful and quiet life back on the farm.
Review 2010/19 – Morning by Morning by Paula Penn-Nabrit
What a fascinating book! This book was a big deal for me as I know the author and some of her family. I was able to learn so much about so many varied things that it was a lesson in itself. Even more fulfilling was the ability to discuss in some detail my thoughts about the book with the author, her husband, Charles and one the sons, Damon. What an opportunity to be able to stretch my knowledge. If you ever have the opportunity to know someone and then read a book they have written take it!
Stepping back from my personal perspective, I truly believe the book has many lessons for us all. First off, the book is written well. The information flows in such a way that it is an easy read. Secondly, although the book is about a home schooling experience, it is actually much more. It provides insight into a modern contemporary African-American family and their efforts to do the right things for their children in today’s society. The issues they dealt with are worth knowing and contemplating.
The book is not what I would expect as a primer on how to home school although it has plenty of hints and great ideas. That in itself is its strong point – it brings home the lesson there is no single right answer on how to home school and each family must make their own choice. Each chapter does end with a synopsis of what was learned regarding the issues discussed.
Review 2010/18 – Third Class in Indian Railroads by Mohandas K. Gandhi
The book is actually a compilation of six articles Gandhi wrote. These are: Third Class in Indian Railways; Vernaculars as media of instruction; Swadeshi; Ahimsa; The Moral Basis of Co-operation; and National Dress. The ‘book’ is quite short actually but well worth picking up. Too many people think they know about an historical figure based upon what they picked up in grade school or high school. Without an adult perspective there is so much lost in translation. I believe there is so much to be gained by looking back over time as to what I thought of a person over my lifetime. Gandhi’s words are powerful and enlightening. There is much to learn in this small book.
Review 2010/17 – The Sky is Falling by Lester del Rey
Science fiction is an escape for me. When I came across this book the title captivated me, particularly since I am familiar with the author. The book did not disappoint as it met my high expectations. The plot has several intriguing hooks to it that make the story it’s own. I can’t really call them twists but rather features of the story.
The story starts with the death of the hero. Through magic he is brought to another world in a different body. His job, to keep the sky from falling – literally. The story flows through the battle to discover the reason for the sky coming apart and how to put it back together. To help him along the way is one faction of the population but the other is trying to kill him. One spectacular event is when the sun actually falls to earth shattering into pieces. Due to magic I guess that didn’t end the planet immediately but del Rey makes it almost acceptable in his universe. I did like how he ‘solves’ the problem in the end. The story is great, it is a quick read and quite enjoyable.
Review 2010/16 – Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Tales by Bram Stoker
How a writer got to where they became famous is something I find interesting. One of the best ways to discover more about an author is to read something done before they were famous. Hence, I read this book by Bram Stoker. It is a compilation of tales he wrote before Dracula was published yet published two years after his death. Some believe the first short story was to be the first chapter of the book.
Regardless, the nine stories are interesting mostly as an insight into the author and his style. They are ‘horror stories’ and enjoyable in their own right. Some are good such as ‘The Judge’s House” and others are just passable. If you choose to read this book to find out more about Dracula I suggest you pass as you are likely to be disappointed.
Review 2010/15 – The Red Planet by William J. Locke
This book really through me a curve ball. Just by the title I was expecting some sort of science fiction about Mars. What I got was a story about England during the time of World War I. Turns out the title is about Mars but as the God of War. It was originally published in July 1917. The book uses an interesting device in that the narrator is a crippled war veteran. The plot revolves around a countryside in England and various interpersonal relationships. The war is clearly the central theme and how it affects the characters.
I found the book a bit slow in developing but it does pick up after a bit. There are six or so main characters which the book follows. One in particular is Leonard Boyce – he is the ‘hero’ and provides the central theme of the book. His character changes and develops in somewhat unusual ways as the book winds its way to the conclusion. At first, he is the haughty ‘he man’ and is portrayed as a bit evil or mean. Then he begins to mature, joins the military and becomes a war hero – a winner of the Victoria’s Cross (the British version of the Medal of Honor). In the process he has become blind. He receives a hero’s welcome but there is a long-kept secret which becomes known that essentially destroys him in the end. The book is as British as you can get. I do recommend the book but with some reservation.
Review 2010/14 – Atlas of World History Edited by Kate Santon and Liz McKay
The Atlas covers history from the origins of man to the year 2005. As with any atlas the editors have to choose what is important from their perspective and what is not. I will not argue with their choice as it is not my place as the reader to do so. What I will say is what is presented is interesting and it is well illustrated with maps, photos, and diagrams.
There is nothing truly special included but that is besides the point – the events almost seem somewhat randomly selected. Everyone should, in my opinion, read some world history from time to time. I believe that helps keep some perspective in our hectic life. Being able to put certain historical events in their correct time sequence is also something good to revisit. I recommend that you pick up a history book and remind yourself of what made the news in the past. Whether or not this particular book is the one you select is of almost no consequence – as long as it is a balanced presentation!
Review 2010/13 – The Essays Or Counsels, Civil And Moral, Of Francis Ld. Verulam Viscount St. Albans (Sir Francis Bacon)
I try very hard to stretch myself by taking on what is expected to be a challenging book. This book by Sir Francis Bacon was a challenge to read However, the difficulty was in my attempt at identifying some sort of connection between the essays. To me, these are the musings of a random mind rather than anything cohesive. This took me off guard and tainted my thoughts regarding the book. I was expecting something more enlightening and thoughtful.
Sir Francis quotes Machiavelli’s work ‘The Prince’ throughout the book. I believe that a reader would be much better served reading that book rather than this one. The only true benefit I could see to reading these essays is to gain a better understanding of Sir Francis.
Review 2010/12 – The Eye of Osiris by R. Austin Freeman
What we have here is a British detective story. It was pleasant enough of a diversion but overall not really very entertaining. To me, it is a middle-of-the-pack book that is rather plain and innocuous but not overly satisfying. It wasn’t a cliffhanger story but more of a slowly developing plot that tried to draw the audience in. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a great deal to offer. As I finished the book my reaction to the final plot twist was “oh, ok.” The book itself was fine as far as it goes but I can’t really recommend it for anything but a pastime.
The book, published in 1911, begins with a man who apparently disappears with no trace. A private detective is drawn in to help solve the mystery with his friend. Over time, skeletal remains are found in the surrounding area. The remains are very unusual as only sections of the bones are found over a period of several months, the leg bones, the arm bones in different places. Even more unusual is that no knife marks are displayed on these bones. Complicating the matter is the last will left by the man who disappeared. The will has very odd requirements establishing two differing executors and beneficiaries under certain circumstances. I won’t go into the details here but the will is a key clue to the mystery. Tying most of the clues together is the fact the man who disappeared is an expert Egyptian archeologist – mummy’s are involved. Again, should you read the book don’t get your hopes up that you found a hidden gem.
Review 2010/11 – Samson Agonistes by John Milton
Originally published in 1671 this tragic poem is an amazing piece of work. I believe it important to read a variety of literature, poems, modern, classic, novels, mystery’s, business, and children’s books. Like many people I almost have to consciously choose to vary my reading from the ‘easy stuff’ to something more challenging. Each time I make the plunge I am surprised at how interesting and enjoyable a read something like Sampson Agonistes can be.
The story is about Sampson “the agonist” and he is who you think he is. In this story he has already had his hair cut off by Dalila and is a blind and fettered prisoner. The plot follows his suffering to his ultimate suicide (though pulling the building down upon him and others.
The story itself is instructive and interesting but the real draw is the writing style of Milton. It is fantastic and well worth the challenge of reading this versus the latest best selling novel.
Review 2010/10 – The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts by Hugh Lofting
There is no way to get around the fact this is a children’s book. I make no apologies for reading it again as I remember reading these stories as a child – I loved them then and enjoy them now. Of course, as an adult I read this story differently than I did when I was younger. However, I do believe it is very useful to reflect back to a time when all was a world of magic and mystery and all was possible.
The book was published in 1920 and that is reflected in the story in many ways – some good and some not as good. Overall, I believe this is worthy of being read to or read by a contemporary child. The central theme revolves around the good Doctor Doolittle who learns to speak to the animals. He has few human friends and decides to become a veterinarian. There are several adventures including a trip from England to Africa to save the monkeys from a sickness.
When I said there was good that is mostly how animals are treated with the respect they are due. The bad part is the reflection of the times regarding derogatory racial tones of the time. One must make up their own minds but I had good memories of the good parts and don’t believe I was scared for life because of the racial overtones.
Review 2010/09 – The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
I expect most everyone who reads much has heard of Dan Brown. His books are wildly popular and hardly need an introduction let alone another review. The hard part is to give an impression on the book without giving away the plot or worse yet the plot twists. These twists are very important to really enjoying the book so I will refrain from pointing them out. Of course, this makes my job the harder because that is what I would really want to discuss.
Suffice it to say that I found the book to be a real page turner. I just had to finish it quickly to find out certain things. Believe me there are many twists to this book. Some of them are somewhat obvious and can be discovered merely by their improbability. In other words some twists are revealed by recognizing that the author wouldn’t ‘let that happen’ so it must not be the case.
There is one thing that I can’t pass up though. One fundamental premise of the book hinges upon the CIA. There is simply no way the CIA would do what they did in this book – at least that is my opinion. I can’t get into the ‘thing’ without giving up the biggest twist in the book. People who have read the book may think there is a bigger twist but not to me. I would put this book in the summertime read category. It is perfect for reading on a holiday when you have time on your hands. Don’t take it too seriously even though there is a good message Mr. Brown is trying to present to the reader.
Review 2010/08 – King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
The book is a real treasure and I am surprised I hadn’t read it earlier. It was the genesis of at least six movies and considered to start the ‘lost world’ genre of stories. Since this is such a famous book I know I can’t do it justice in this little review. I suggest if you want a real in depth overview of the plot go to the wikipedia entry.
In summary, the story is told in first person by Alan Quatermain who is an English hunter in Africa. He is asked to join an expedition to find the brother of Sir Henry Curtis along with his friend Captain Good. Ultimately their search takes them to the fabled mines of King Solomon after many adventures and battles. It is not a ‘thrill a minute’ with explosions going off but there is real suspense due to how well it is written. I certainly enjoyed the book and recommend it highly.
Review 2010/07 – Batwing by Sax Rohmer
I didn’t know what to expect from this book. The only clue I had was the author. He had written the story entitled “The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu” which I read last year. Actually, I thought it was ok but not great. However, I thought to take a chance on him again and I was pleasantly surprised. The book started a bit slow and I kept wondering where the plot was going. After it became clear it was a somewhat classical detective mystery of the Victorian Era-type I really got into it.
I don’t want to give the ending away so I have to be careful here. The batwing of the title involves a particular batwing affixed to a door. It apparently is the voodoo mark of death. The person so marked in this story is a Spanish/Cuban who has moved to England for some reason (being careful here). He enlists the aid of a detective to protect him from his expected assassination. An American is living in the neighborhood who is clearly an enemy of the Colonel – however, he has never met him. I could go on but suffice it to say the ending is a surprise that makes sense relatively speaking. I enjoyed reading the book.
Review 2010/06 – The Day of Uniting by Edgar Wallace
This is a novel which is part of a detective series written in the 1920′s. I got my copy from my Great Aunt along with several other books in the series. So far, I have not been disappointed by these books. Of course they are written in the style of the day and particularly English. And that is part of their charm. I found this book to be quite enjoyable and a great diversion.
Since this is a mystery I don’t really want to get into the details. What was intriguing was that I didn’t really know what to expect until deep into the book. There was a real curveball that was totally unexpected. It wasn’t in the mystery itself but something of an entirely different nature – which involves the genre itself. The plot does have some inconsistencies and there were several times that I had to simply trust the author. For me those are forgiven as the book delivered what I asked of it – time spent in another place.
Review 2010/05 – Creature from Beyond Infinity by Henry Kuttner
With a title involving ‘beyond infinity’ I couldn’t pass up reading this book. Obviously, it is science fiction and of that delicious type known as pulp. I was not disappointed by any stretch. Originally published in 1940 the book has two intertwined plots – one follows an alien from a destroyed world seeking super-intelligent humans to form a new civilization. The other is a contagious space plague which transforms humans into an entity that destroys life by feeding off of their life energy.
As this is pulp fiction there is no need to delve closely into the science or the plot. Nor should there be a surprise that the conversation includes such bon mot’s as “…he vanished into the next room.” or “The soldier chuckled as he bent to adjust a greave.” It is simply to be enjoyed for what it is. If you don’t like pulp science fiction you will hate this book. However, for a diversion, it was a rather fun read.
One further note: I read reviews of the book stating the title did not have anything to do with the plot which was common in the 1940s. In this case I disagree. In my opinion, the ‘creature from beyond infinity’ relates to Ardath, the alien. While not truly a ‘creature’ he does live for millennia (if you include the time spent in cataleptic sleep) and comes closer to infinity than not.
Review 2010/04 – The Republic by Plato
I found the book to be fascinating. Just think about the time and setting of when it was written – 380 BC, amazing. My expectation was the book would be a treatise on the various forms of government. While this is covered to a certain degree I believe it is more on the philosophy of government – not on how to govern (i.e., which is best). Most surprising was in the style. The message is conveyed through an imagined conversation between Socrates and various Athenians and foreigners. I thought this was so intriguing a vehicle for Plato to use. Obviously, it was rather compelling as the book is still being read.
The dialogue portrayed covers topics involving the types of governance, their rise and fall. Most intriguing is the issue of justice and what it really means. The book is a difficult read as you might expect. This is not a novel and there is no story line. It really is formed as a debate to introduce Plato’s concept of how man governs. I am not going into a detailed breakdown of Plato’s arguments as much better writers than I have already done so. For what it is worth, I am glad that I read the book and suggest you do so as well.
Review 2010/03 – Getting It Done: A Guide for Government Executives by Mark Abramson, et. al.
If you are not a government employee I suggest you don’t read this book. It was written specifically for new high level political appointees. There is some relevance to a small segment of career federal employees. However, even for those the knowledge provided is of limited use.
The book is broken into two sections. The first section covers six chapters of things for the political appointee to do. These six things are: before confirmation, be careful; learn how things work; act quickly on things that can’t wait; develop a vision; assemble your team; and manage your environment. The second section covers various stakeholders (14 of them) such as the White House, Congress and the media. These are actually short essays providing an explanation of the stakeholder, their relevance and suggestions on an approach of how to interact.
As I read the book I tried to put myself in the place of the appointee. Since I am a career government employee I did get something out of the book but just a little. Mostly it served as a reminder of the various stakeholders. Of the most interest was that think tank authors felt the messages in the book were just what new appointees needed. This is what I believe is food for thought.
Review 2010/02 – Condemned to Devil’s Island by Blair Niles
The book is a first-hand account of observations regarding the French penal colony known as Devil’s Island in French Guiana in the 1920′s. I found the book to be a riveting story. The book follows a fictional convict from his incarceration, transport to Guiana, escape attempt, solitary confinement, and eventual (yet partial) release. There was even a movie released in 1929 based on this book which was called Condemned.
What was surprising to me was upon a bit of research I expected to find that the book Papillion would have resulted from this book. Apparently, not the case as Papillion was written by an ex-convict Henri Charrière. In the Wikipedia entry there is no mention of the Blair Niles book. I also checked the entry for the movie Papillion and again, no mention. After reading this book, Papillion, and watching the movie the similarity is astounding. While the details shift about here and there the reality is they are the same story. I do recommend this book as it is well written. I also found it interesting to compare and contrast these similar books.
Review 2010/01 – What is Lean Six Sigma by Mike George, Dave Rowlands and Bill Kastle
This book is to be read for business purposes alone. I found it interesting as an introduction to the Lean Six Sigma approach, Lean Six Sigma is a method of improving a business process. My biggest lesson learned is that the method truly centers on a change of culture – not letting the small defects turn into bigger and more expensive defects.
The method is built around a core cadre of individuals trained in the process. By doing the training there is a built-in series of people at all levels of an organization all speaking the same project language. The method also requires a high-level commitment which helps focus staff and mid-managers that a change in culture is taking place. In other words, when management commits to Lean Six Sigma there is an attempt at setting a tipping point towards a new culture.
The book is a very quick read for those interested enough in picking it up. It is only 92 pages and there are illustrations as well. If you are in a business of any size this might be a good way to start making a change for the better.
Review 2009/56 – Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker
When I saw the name of the author of the book I thought it was a must read. I wanted to compare and contrast this book versus Dracula. There was a difference alright. I really didn’t like it at all. The plot was apparently random and simply did not hang together at all. I could get into the details but it simply isn’t worth it. When I finished reading the ‘Lair of the White Worm’ I had to find out which story came first. Unfortunately, Dracula came first. I say ‘unfortunately’ since I thought that maybe the author was trying out new ideas that hadn’t come together yet. This turned out to not be the case. My thought is he was cashing in or something to keep his name out there or something. The problems I had with this book are too numerous to go into. For one example, the White Worm takes two shapes, a massive worm and a thin sinewy woman. Ok, this isn’t just shape shifting it is mass changing on a large scale – hard to believe even if you want to. On one hand we have an ancient lizard/dragon/snake and the other a noblewoman (possibly a noblewo(r)man. Bottom line for me is to do my civic duty and strongly urge you to not read this book. It is the “Plan 9 from Outer Space” of literature.
Review 2009/55 – The Elusive Pimpernel by Baroness Orzy
Another in the line of the Scarlet Pimpernel story. I enjoyed the book quite a bit really. Fortunately, I was able to read several other books in between so as not to ‘get tired’ of the characters or style of writing. The plot was a little thin in places and the finale was also a bit transparent. However, overall, it was an entertaining book. I did catch myself wondering how the Baroness was going to have the ‘Pimpernel’ elude the bad guy in the end.
The story follows the bad guy ‘Cauvelin’ who tries to restore his place in the French Revolutionary Council by luring the Scarlet Pimpernel back to France. When there he is to be guillotined for his efforts to spirit away French nobleman from the same fate. Cauvelin engineers a confrontation to cause Sir Percy Blakeney (aka, the Scarlet Pimpernel) to challenge him to a duel. That way, Cauvelin can name the time and place (France). Of course, Sir Percy takes him up on the duel. His wife, Marguerite, begins to worry and follows him to France where she falls into a well-laid trap and is used against her husband. A diabolical plot is then made clear, the bread-winner of each family in Boulogne will be killed if she escapes. Thus, Sir Percy must give in or all that blood would be on his hands. Of course, being elusive, he ultimately bests Cauvelin at his own game.
Review 2009/54 – American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
I haven’t made up my mind about this book yet. It was fascinating to learn more details about our seventh President. There were major parts of the book that dealt with his extended family that simply didn’t resonate with me. After reading the book I understand why the author placed such an emphasis on that aspect of Jackson’s life. He was an orphan and to him, his extended family was truly important to knowing him.
The most interesting fact I learned from the book is how Jackson changed the power structure of the US Government. He was a very strong willed man who felt he was a representative of the peoples opinion. Towards that end he was able to successfully increase the power of the presidency forever. In essence, he was the first ‘modern’ president. Those previous to him barely had any power as we would know it now.
Jon Meacham is an excellent author. I can’t believe how quickly I read through this thick book. The pages seemed to turn themselves. It wasn’t the story he was telling, compelling as it is, but his style of writing. Perhaps it was my recent reading of the Constitutional Convention and the Federalist Papers that helped bring the story alive. Regardless, an excellent book on a President who changed the power structure of the US.
Review 2009/53 – Men of Iron by Howard Pyle
The author of this book also wrote Robin Hood and a four volume set on King Arthur. I expected something similar from Men of Iron and that is what I got – with a twist though. It turned out to be written with a focus of the young adolescent readers. Not that I am complaining at all.
What I enjoyed about the book is that it gave an insight into the daily life of a medieval castle. The plot revolves around a young boy who is the son of a disgraced noble. He is sent off to be a squire as a way to break out of the poverty of his fathers house. Being big and strong for his age he quickly rises in the ranks of the household. Ultimately he is used as a pawn in some intrigue with the King against a rival nobleman. The book was interesting and enjoyable – a quick read actually.
Review 2009/52 – The Complete Stories of Isaac Asimov – Volume One by Isaac Asimov
What led me to read this book? My sister challenged me to a contest to see who could read the most stories by Isaac Asimov. Well, there are 49 stories listed in the Table of Contents….
The best and the better stories of Mr. Asimov are in this volume. Some are classics, such as “Green Patches” and others that I had not heard of. I really am very impressed by his breadth of work and I am speaking only of his science fiction work. Reading this volume will provide a good overview of his writing style and concepts of the future. Multivac, the computer, is used in several of the stories which I found kind of fun. Now that computers are so powerful and tiny!
Reading Asimov can take some getting used to though. He doesn’t focus on the action really, just the people and what they are doing. For the most part, they are depictions of what real people would do in various situations. This is a fairly good sized book but since it is filled with short story’s it is perfect for reading one or two whenever you might have the time. I intend on reading more Asimov myself and suggest you give him a try.
Review 2009/51 – The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
I didn’t know what to think about this book before I started. My only thought centered upon film noir and hard boiled detective mystery’s. I was rather close actually. It is part Sherlock Holmes with a good mixture of Charlie Chan to round it out. I did check out of curiosity as to which was published first, Dr. Fu Manchu or Sherlock Holmes. Being a true Holmes fan I was happy to note that Holmes was published first!
The story itself is a mystery/detective adventure so I won’t go into the plot itself. Suffice it to say, it is set in England with a Scotland Yard detective and a doctor. Of course, it is the doctor who is used as the narrator. I found the book to closely follow a pattern of writing of the time period of 1910 or so. Nothing really unusual there. If you read a good deal from this era you will know what I mean.
I enjoyed the book and plot. The mystery was fine but not up to snuff with Sherlock – that is the gold standard to me. If you are looking for something along this line of book than you won’t be disappointed.
Review 2009/50 – The Federalist Papers by Hamilton, Jay and Madison (edited by Clinton Rossiter)
Here is one book that should need no introduction. It is a must read for every citizen, and prospective citizen, of the United States. The book is comprised of 85 essays published in New York City newspapers during the fall of 1787. Their purpose was to defend the Constitution in an attempt to support ratification by the States. New York was considered a ‘swing state’ critical for ratification, hence the articles.
What these essays provide is a clear insight into the intent of the Constitution by some of the pivotal figures intimate in their development. These three individuals spent a great deal of time thinking and considering all the ups and down of the arguments on how to govern the nation. Therefore, it is something to be read – especially by those who serve the government (our political leaders), who have taken a solemn oath to defend the constitution.
You are given fair warning that these are not easy reading essays. Far from it, they can be difficult and convoluted for several reasons. Chief among these is that they were written in 1787. It took me almost a year of reading off and on to get through the whole book, but I believe I am better for the reading. I even find myself thinking about rereading certain passages. Please read this book!
Review 2009/49 – A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution by Carol Berkin
After several science fiction books I turn to history. This was a great book, very easy to read and such an interesting topic. I would be surprised if many US citizens understand that after declaring independence the US was a collection of nations in the form of 13 States. Instead of working together the States were tearing each other apart.
The Articles of Confederation, which predated the Constitution, simply weren’t working. When the convention of 1787 was called it was not clear if the US could survive. It certainly wouldn’t have turned out the way it did. The whole book revolves around that summer and covers riveting history in the making. It details the events as they unfolded and identifies the impact of each of the individuals involved. I learned a great deal through this book. What was even more interesting to me is that I was in the process of reading the Federalist Papers when I picked up this book to read. Soon, I will post my review of the Federalist Papers but the two were an excellent complement to each other. I have found that putting several related books together in a reading sequence can be very helpful.. The context of one can feed into the other.
Review 2009/48 – Warlord of Kor by Terry Carr
We have here a science fiction book. It was pretty good but not great. The story is set at the edge of the civilized universe – a backwater planet if you will. An interesting twist is there exists on the planet the last handful from an ancient and dying race. A human anthropologist is trying to capture their knowledge so it is not lost. It turns out the alien race has a collective memory reaching back over 30,000 years.
The warlord in the title is from the alien past. It was Kor that changed his world from warlike to abstaining from violence. The hero, Rynason, tries to find the secret of this change and why Kor would cause such a drastic change. Turns out it is The Outsiders, an unknown race, interceded in their development and caused the change to save the race from competing with humans.
There is a protagonist, Manning, who is trying to be named Governor of the Planet. He tries to use the peaceful aliens as a foil to gather support for himself. He plays the aliens as a threat. This leads to a battle between the aliens and humans. In the end, Rynason, protects the aliens and defeats Manning.
Review 2009/47 – Anthem by Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand wrote a truly riveting book here. This is a science fiction story set in the future where civilization has turned into a collective – there is no individualism. There is really a fatalism involved and society rules supreme. People are told what their occupations are and there is no choice. Each individual, if you want to call them that, is given a name. The hero is named Equality 7-2521 and other characters are similarly named.
The story is that of the cultural awakening of Equality 7-2521. As a child he is punished for being too intelligent (asking questions). Upon reaching adulthood, he is given the occupation as a street sweeper. After a time, he becomes accustomed to the job and is relatively content. With a compatriot he finds a tunnel which has artifacts from the distant past. Equality 7-2521 secretly escapes to the tunnel, begins conducting experiments and accidently discovers electricity. He is convinced this is a breakthrough and, even though he is a street sweeper, believes he will be heard. Civilization has other plans and tortures him. With a woman he befriends he escapes into the uncharted forest. They come across an abandoned house and take it for their own. He reads the books and realizes civilization does not have to be so backward and dedicates his life to freedom.
Several years ago I read Atlas Shrugged by Ms. Rand. I started this book with a certain degree of trepidation. Atlas Shrugged was one thick book and, while excellent, I thought it would have been much better at half the size. Not because it isn’t good but the author was too redundant and wordy. I was very pleasantly surprised with Anthem. I really liked it and it’s message – people are individuals and have individual rights.
Review 2009/46 – The Time Traders by Andre Norton
I must say I was disappointed in this book. I just didn’t get it at all. It is a science fiction/fantasy book that did not live up to expectations. Basically, it is unreadable. The plot doesn’t even deserve to be summarized as it didn’t make enough sense.
I read the book about a month ago and I would have to look at it again to step through the plot. I refuse to do that as it was painful enough the first time. However, this is what I recall: it involves a criminal who is given the choice to either go to jail or participate in an experiment. He chooses the experiment of course. That involves going back in time to find something before the Russians do. There are also aliens involved near the end of the book. How it ends? I don’t recall other than the good guys win.
Review 2009/45 – Chasing the Rabbit: How Market Leaders Outdistance the Competition and How Great Companies Can Catch Up and Win by Steven Spear
Now for a switch in book types. This book is a business book and certainly not a novel. I was in a reading group focused on how to make an organization more effective. The concepts used in the book are very interesting and useful. The author used the Toyota model of management. His credibility was established quickly as he tells us that he worked at Toyota and has hands-on experience. I was quite impressed with several items discussed in the book. Fundamentally though, it boils down to how a highly effective company manages the little problems. What a highly effective company does is to pay attention to those little things and doesn’t just work around them. It seems that the little things can be indicators of a big future problem.
Imagine this, an organization establishes and implements a policy. The workers are expected to implement it the best they can. When a little problem develops the workers figure out how to make it work – despite the policy. As long as the work gets done everyone is happy. However, in this case ignorance is not bliss. If the policy involves safety then a worker can be either injured or killed by one of these ‘little things’. A highly effective organization that pays attention to these items can take action before an accident.
I believe the concepts in this book are highly translatable to most any business. The book reads well, is interesting and can really make a difference.
Review 2009/44 – El Dorado by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Ok, I was wrong. I picked up El Dorado thinking it would be about the search for a golden treasure in Mexico. It turns out to be the further adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The writing is still excellent and the plot was great.
In this book, the storyline follows the young Dauphine son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and who is now the true King of France. He is held captive by the revolutionaries under tight guard. The Scarlet Pimpernel has committed himself to rescuing the Dauphine. There are more adventures which go almost according to plan. The twist is that one of the band falls in love with a beautiful actress and gives away the rescue attempt. The Scarlet Pimpernel is captured and how can he escape? He is guarded ever more tightly than the Dauphine who is rescued despite the treachery.
Overall, a good book. I wish I had not read it so soon after the Scarlet Pimpernel but very enjoyable. I recommend it to you.
Review 2009/43 – The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Another French Revolution novel – but told from the opposite side! I came across this book and decided to read it because I remember a great Danny Kaye movie entitled “The Court Jester”. That movie uses a purple pimpernel but beyond that there is no real connection. Regardless, I started reading and was captivated. The Baroness wrote a great and entertaining book.
The plot is basically a group of Englishmen who are supporters of the King of France. They also enjoy the sport of throwing a monkey wrench into the French revolutionaries. You might say they were adrenaline junkies. Their leader is known as the Scarlet Pimpernel – which is a small flower. Throughout the book there are adventures in helping French aristocrats out of the country and into safety in England. I enjoyed the cat and mouse game the two groups played.
The Baroness wrote several other related books and I look forward to reading them. After my experience with the Raphael Sabatini books I hope to spread them out a bit more to enjoy them separately. It also will give me something to look forward to.
Review 2009/42 – Brewster’s Millions by George Barr McCutcheon
I chose to read this book because I remember the movie with Richard Pryor. It was a kind of fun movie as I recall and I enjoy comparing how a book is adapted into a movie. I find it interesting to see what a screenwriter thinks is interesting in a book and how to translate the written word into a visual experience.
The plot of this book is rather similar to the movie (or should I say vice versa). The main difference is the book was written in 1902. What I found interesting as well is the book (or play) has been made into a movie nine times! The book plot revolves around Brewster who inherits a million dollars from his grandfather. Soon thereafter, a rich Uncle dies and leaves him seven million dollars. Unfortunately, there is a stipulation that he must spend the million from his grandfather all in one year – without telling a soul of the stipulation. The plot unfolds with Brewster spending money rapidly while becoming a social pariah due to his spendthrift ways.
This was not my favorite book this year but it was still good. While I am aware that a million in 1902 was a tremendous amount of money the plot device didn’t worked well for me. I simply had to ‘suspend belief’ too much and the logic didn’t hold together tight enough. As for the writing, it was good and the text flowed nicely.
Review 2009/41 – The Delta Project by Arnolodo C. Hax and Dean L. Wildell
To start off you need to know this is a business book not some wild military-minded novel. In fact, the rest of the title is: ‘discovering new sources of profitability in a networked economy’. Not that business books are bad but I simply don’t want to mislead you. I read this book as part of a course I took at the MIT Sloan School of Business. I also had the pleasure of being instructed by Professor Hax, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Management Emeritus – I should have asked him to autograph my book!
Being as I am a federal government employee I was faced with a difficulty of attempting to take a purely corporate focused concept and translate it into my ‘business’ world. It was a challenge but I do see direct application in the concepts of the Delta Model. Dr. Hax builds upon the famous Porter Model and the Resource-Based View. What he was attempting, in my words, is the business equivalent of the Grand Universal Theory of physics.
The Delta Model boils down to, surprisingly enough, three points: Best Product, Total Customer Solutions and System Lock-In. These points are actually the basis for developing a corporate strategy. What I liked the most while reading the book was the real life examples used. They were an excellent means of articulating the point to be made. Overall, the book provides the depth and flexibility to understand how to use the Delta Model in many circumstances. The book is not for those looking to pick up an easy summertime read. It is really for those who are serious about affecting change in the work environment.
Review 2009/40 – The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
I found ‘The Meditations’ interesting in one real aspect and that is the concept of what a person actually thought back in the Roman era. The text doesn’t really flow well but then it appears it wasn’t intended to be. These are the musings of a Roman Emperor. Obviously, he was a privileged person but he was a remarkable man nonetheless. He repeats himself over the course of the writing but then that is to be expected from someone writing his thoughts the way he did. I am not critical of the book but take it for what it is. The book will not entertain a prospective reader but it will give some insight into the thoughts of someone from the first century. I can’t say I enjoyed reading the book but I am glad I did.
Review 2009/39 – Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
This is the third book I have read by Raphael Sabatini and I enjoyed it as much as the other two. The story is entertaining and well paced. It is rather similar to the other books by Sabatini in both plot and characters – but still different.
What is really interesting is that the story reflects historical fact. Specifically, the rebellion of the British Duke of Monmouth around 1685 against Charles II. The hero of the story, Dr. Peter Blood, is politically neutral and is retired from military duties. He is accidently swept up in the rebellion and sold as a slave. Instead of the Barbary Pirates of the Sea Hawk novel, Dr. Blood is sold to a Colonel Bishop who is a sugar plantation owner in Barbados. Dr. Blood proves his worth as a thinking man and gains some flexibility to his situation. Ultimately, he escapes and becomes a successful Captain of the pirates. He is so successful the crown offers him the governorship of Barbados.
Overall, I find Sabatini to be an engaging writer and very enjoyable to read. I was somewhat disappointed in the similarities between The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood but then, maybe I should have spaced out the time between reading the two books. I still heartily recommend the book to you.
Review 2009/38 – Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
I will get right into it this time! Prelude is just what you would expect if you had read any of the Foundation Series. Hari Seldon is the main and central character here. We get to follow him around in several adventures in his early quest to define psychohistory. The novel is typical of Asimov at 434 pages in my paperback version and a quick read at that.
The story simply flows rather naturally and is broken up into several very logical sections. Hari starts out meeting Emperor Cleon I after presenting his first paper on psychohistory. The Emperor wants to use psychohistory and Hari to solidify his hold on the empire. In his defense, Hari states how he sees no practical use for psychohistory and refuses. Thus begins his flight from the Emperor and his adventures across the home world of the Empire, Trantor, which is one city spanning the globe. Introduced though his flight are several sub cultures on the planet which are rather ingenious.
Throughout the book there are several surprises which I simply don’t want to give away. What I found interesting was how they all tie up in the end. After reading four Foundation Series books, another separate novel, and numerous short story’s by Asimov, I can say I am surprised his works have kept my attention. Actually, I look forward to reading more Asimov. Why, because his style is captivating and deceptively complex.
Review 2009/37 – Nemesis by Isaac Asimov
Guess what? Another book by Isaac Asimov! There is a difference here but only because this one is not in the fantastic Foundation Series. All new characters and an entirely ‘different’ galaxy. Yes, this is science fiction and there is no dramatic change in style or in a way content – this is a typical Isaac Asimov story and that is good enough for me.
This book is about a little girl growing up on a settlement which has removed itself from Earth. In other words, the settlement is a very large and self contained environment within a spaceship. There are many such settlements from Earth which has become decrepit and run down due to the large population.
The girl, Madeline, is a rather remarkable girl of 15 who is able to read body language and tell the true intent of the person. Her ability is central to the book. The settlement, known as Rotor, develops technology to move at light speed. After identifying a star named Nemesis only 4 light years away, leaves our solar system without warning. The other settlements and the Earth population also want to leave but cannot as the technology was developed in secret. Rotor finds a new near-earthlike planet orbiting Nemesis and establishes a colony there. Madeline is drawn there and maneuvers to get her mother and herself stationed there. Long story short it turns out there is a life form on the planet that speaks only to Madeline.
There are other plot twists involved and I don’t want to give too much away. An interesting and thought provoking book actually. Will humanity seek the stars and populate the galaxy? Is this good? The questions are posed, not answered which makes sense to me.
Review 2009/36 – 2 B R O 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut
There is no one like Kurt Vonnegut and short story’s penned by him are also unique. 2BRO2B is about a world, not unlike our own, with a culture centered around a unique population control measure. For every child born, someone must die. At one point the story introduces a man who’s wife just gave birth to triplets. He is confronted with identifying three people who volunteer to die so they may live. A dilemma most certainly.
Vonnegut deserves to be read as he confronts readers, not directly, but nearly so. Uncomfortably so at times. Each time he does this he gives us the opportunity to not turn aside but face the question and place ourselves in the position of the characters he has created. 2BRO2B is not very long, it is a short story. I suggest you read it.
Review 2009/35 – The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells
This one surprised me. I have been a fan of H.G. Wells for a very long time. Therefore, I had certain expectations for this book. There was also the reputation of the story belonging to the book that preceded my reading. What I found was somewhat disappointing. I can’t really say what I expected other than a tale which would amaze and delight me. Another expectation was it would be, in an odd sort of way, believable from the scientific sense. That didn’t happen for me in this case. However, I am certainly glad that I experienced the book and story firsthand.
If you are not familiar, the central theme of the book revolves around Dr. Moreau. He is kicked out of England for medical experimentation on people and animals. The hero of the story is marooned in a fashion on this island. His narration is the plot device used to tell the story. On this island Dr. Moreau ‘perfects’ the ability to perform surgery on animals and they become more ‘human’. At least they are able to speak and understand the english language and walk on two feet. They are however, still animalistic.
In the end the animals overcome their fear of the Doctor, kill him and his assistant. The hero escapes and is able to ‘narrate the story’ for us. It is entertaining in its own way but not one of Mr. Well’s best stories.
Review 2009/34 – Wanted – 7 Fearless Engineers! by F. Orlin Tremaine
What we have here is a straight up classic 1950′s science fiction story. The author was the second editor of the famous Astounding Science Fiction publication where modern science fiction took hold in the US. The story, originally published in 1956 begins with the hero, Dick Barrow down on his luck. His last good meal with three days ago and he is in desperate shape. His luck begins to turn when he reads an advertisement about a job that he qualifies for. However, he must be willing to leave the country and never return leaving all behind. To him, this is not a problem so he applies and wins the job.
The interview is with a man with a small body but a head twice the normal size. Dick agrees to the consider position and is given a large sum of money for attending the interview. This he takes and provides for some unfortunate men also down on his luck. When he returns with his decision to accept the position the interviewer commends him and accepts Dick to the position. There are some strange caveats though – the man with the big head will select a woman for Dick to marry. This works out well and they are married. After a week, the other six people who accepted the job (and their new wives) get on a boat for an ocean cruise, destination unknown. After a rather uneventful cruise they land on an island and are knocked out with a sleeping gas. The men awaken on a strange vessel which they believe is a submarine. Turns out of course, it is a spaceship and it is on the way to Jupiter! The big-headed man is from Jupiter. He explains their race has degenerated from using technology and need engineers from Earth to run their equipment. There are some harrowing experiences both on board and when they get to Jupiter but all’s well in the end.
Since I am an engineer myself I couldn’t help but pick this book up and anxiously await the fate of the fearless engineers! The book is a fun little thing to read and it is longer than a short story but not really long enough to be a novel. Pick up and give it a read.
Review 2009/33 – Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Scaramouche originally published in 1921 takes place in revolutionary France (about 1787 or so). The story follows the development and events surrounding the hero known as André-Louis Moreau.
André-Louis is a young lawyer who acts as a second to his friend in a duel. The duel is a mismatch since the other party is a master swordsman while his friend is an idealist intellectual. This is the event that begins a terrific adventure for André-Louis. He honors and defends his slain friends convictions by giving a stirring speech inciting revolutionary thoughts. For this he is hunted by the police. He runs away and winds up joining with a troupe of traveling actors and takes on the role of Scaramouche, a ‘scheming rogue’. Several adventures ensue resulting in the need to evade capture again. He takes on employment to a fencing master and becomes adept with the sword. Meanwhile, the revolution is beginning to take form across France. All the while, André-Louis seeks revenge on Marquis de la Tour d’Azyr, the nobleman who killed his friend in the duel.
Near the end of the book the revolution has taken hold and the nobles are forced to escape for their lives. In the process, the Marquis and André-Louis are thrown together. This time the Marquis faces an opponent who is his equal with the sword. A terrific fight is described resulting in a surprise ending.
The book is quite fast-paced and I enjoyed it tremendously. Having read The Sea Hawk and part way through Captain Blood, I have to say this book by Sabatini is my favorite. However, all three are very good. Check out any one of the three books by Rafael Sabatini and you won’t be disappointed.
Review 2009/32 – Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Another book by Asimov, another in the Foundation Series. I have now been convinced there was good reason the Hugo Award for “Best All-Time Series” in 1966 was given to Asimov. When I read the first book I thought, “ok, it’s good but where is all the action?” Then I realized how quickly I read the book and recognized there must be something special about a book I couldn’t put down.
What Asimov did was phenomenal. The more I read of his material the more a fan of his work I become. Going into the plot isn’t necessary to convey why you should read the book/series. There are enough plot twists and new concepts to keep you entertained but that isn’t the reason. The twists and concepts are like special effects in movies – they can be overdone. However, if they are done right they are fantastic. I believe that Asimov was just right in his balance.
Get the book, but first Google the term “Foundation Series”. In the Wikipedia article that will show up is an outline of the various books and a description which will help you decide the order of books to read. I started with Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and the Second Foundation. These are considered the Trilogy but of course there are more. Again, be warned, you may wind up with a bunch of Asimov books to read!
Review 2009/31 – Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
The book is a return to the galaxy of Isaac Asimov’s foundation series. It will come as no surprise the story picks up from the first Foundation novel and builds from that point. There were no surprises but in a way, that is the strength of the book. Asimov’s writing style is deceptive. He doesn’t pull the reader into the story but allows the reader to fit in themselves at their own pace. In other words, the story is addictive so be forewarned!
I am not going to go into a plot summary as that is unnecessary for those that have read the first Foundation book. Suffice it to say that psychohistory continues to be the thread which pulls together the entire series. As a plot device it is rather effective.
One of the several unique aspects of this series is the author. Knowing the background of Asimov as a hard science person is important. I know when he writes about something scientific he means it! I found it in a way relaxing to not think ‘this author is just making this stuff up’. Knowing Asimov is most likely right about the math presented allows me to simply accept and focus on the story. Stay tuned for the next review on a Foundation series book – there are several more on the way.
Review 2009/30 – Master of the World by Jules Verne
I recently discovered this book by Jules Verne and just had to read it. After the classics he wrote like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island my expectations were high. The Master of the World, published in 1904, is a sequel to another of his books entitled ‘Robur the Conqueror’ written in 1886. The publication dates are important because of the inventions discussed in the books. Compared to today’s inventions Mr. Verne almost didn’t go far enough!
The plot of the book involves a mysterious earthquake or a potential eruption of a volcano in North Carolina. A federal police officer is dispatched from Washington, DC to get to the root of the problem. It turns out that an object is sighted in the air which moved at incredible speed. Months later a boat is seen off the coast of New England – moving at incredible speed. A short time later there is an automobile race in Wisconsin. A mystery auto enters the race and it moves at incredible speed, so much so it is nearly invisible (an unbelievable 200 miles per hour – guess he got that wrong after all)!
It turns out the airplane, boat and automobile moving at these incredible speeds are one in the same. The inventor, Robur the Conqueror, has named it The Terror and has renamed himself “Master of the World”. After chasing the Terror around the US our intrepid police inspector finds it hidden in a cove being repaired. He lays a trap and ultimately is captured. Robur keeps him alive for untold reasons. In the end the Terror is struck by lightning and falls into the Caribbean Sea. The inspector escapes with his life to tell the tale. In my opinion, the book was a diversion for me but not really very good as literature. I felt it was a rework of the Captain Nemo concept. Why Jules Verne wrote this is the real mystery to me.
Review 2009/29 – North of Boston by Robert Frost
I believe it is important to read a variety of books. In other words, not read the same author or genre to the point of exclusivity. It is much to easy to think “nah, I just don’t like poetry so why read it?” Try it once and a while and you might be surprised at what you may find. A single poem is interesting to dissect or to simply enjoy. To really have an experience read a book on poetry.
I read this book because of my Vermont roots and the proximity of the author to where I grew up. The content was no surprise to me yet this was the first time I read the book. The memories evoked are a testament of Robert Frosts ability to verbally paint a picture. Of course, each of us must find our ‘own’ poet. For me, there is no one like Robert Frost and a poem like ‘The Mending Wall’.
Put aside your concepts of what you think a poem is and pick up a book of poems. The odds are that you will be surprised. Iambic pentameter or limericks are only two forms of poetry but there are many others. Find the type that speaks to you and enjoy!
Review 2009/28 – The Green Odyssey by Philip José Farmer
Now here is some science fiction for you! The book and story are a nice little romp around another planet. This one involves an earthman who became stranded on an alien planet and made a slave. He is not really oppressed but his freedom is limited. One day he hears about a metal machine that fell from the sky and some aliens are captured. He immediately plans to escape and attempt to free the prisoners with the hope of flying back to Earth.
The planet he is on has limited power and therefore uses wind power to cross the vast plains – in other words, a sailboat on land. He manages to coerce a boat owner to whisk him away and off they go. Along the way there are a few mysterious items that crop up. For example, the grassland is sometimes neatly cropped in large swaths like a lawn. Now, why would that be and how does it occur? There are no large herds of grazing animals?
Suffice it to say, the mystery is solved rather neatly and the lost past is revealed in the end. When I first read the story I thought it kind of silly but thinking back the book was rather clever. I certainly enjoyed the book and recommend it to you.
Review 2009/27 – The Moon Metal by Garrett Serviss
One can never tell what to expect when picking up a used book. Sometimes there are gems, a story that was very popular but forgotten. In this case, The Moon Metal, is not one of those books. It reminds me of a book I read recently by Jules Verne “The Master of the World”. Both stories are a bit fantastic and simply not very believable for today’s audience.
This story begins with the announcement that tremendous gold deposits were discovered at the south pole. Since at the time, gold was used as the basis of the world’s monetary standard. Due to the discovery at the south pole the world is thrown into recession and an alternative for the gold standard is sought desperately. Just in the nick of time a man appears with such an option. His name is Dr. Max Syx and he is described as looking like the devil himself. He introduces the President of the United States to a new metal called artemisium with strange new properties. Only Dr. Syx can produce this metal so he becomes the richest man in the world. I could go on of course, but this book does have a mystery behind it and I believe it is best found out for the individual reader.
While this is not the greatest of books it was a fun summertime read. There were some areas of the plot which just did not make sense but it was still entertaining. Pick it up if you can find it and give it a read!
Review 2009/26 – First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells
There are two reasons why I read this book. First, because the author was H.G. Wells, I knew I couldn’t go wrong reading something he wrote. Second, I really enjoyed the 1964 movie of the same name. Of course, the special effects were by the amazing Ray Harryhausen. I have always found it interesting to see how a book is changed to fit the visual requirements of a movie.
There are differences between the book and movie but I found them to be reasonable enough. It is not like the book was a literary masterpiece demanding accuracy. But, I am not going into the differences scene by scene! Suffice it to say the movie version updated the plot slightly to bring in current events at the time. The movie isn’t really that good and the book is – well, it is what it is.
For those who like science fiction you will probably like the book. It is rather dated in its concept as it was written in 1901. I believe this is important as Mr. Wells really was ahead of his time so allowance should be made. For him to put into a story the technology in his books that hadn’t been invented in his time is really something. It makes me wonder what the future holds – which of course is why science fiction is an important segment of the literary canon. Read the book, watch the movie and then compare and contrast the two!
Review 2009/25 – X-Teams: How to build teams that lead, innovate, and succeed by Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman
I doubt most people will be interested in reading this particular book. It is not for those readers looking for a diversion from work. On the contrary, it is more in line with a textbook. My reason for picking it up was for work purposes and I found it very useful. The focus of the book is in how teams can work more effectively.
The premise of the book, the x factor, is all about the work environment eXternal to the team. When most workgroups are formed they expend time and effort to bond together. An X-Team on the other hand almost immediately expands outward and team membership is rather loose with people coming and going from the team at need. Much of this is somewhat counterintuitive but I believe it works, at least it did when I tried it earlier this year (2009).
Invariably, an X-Team will start with slow progress. The initial effort is to gather information and expand interrelationships with other teams or customers. However, an X-Team will outperform a traditional team rather quickly.
If you are in a work environment using teams to solve problems I would recommend this book. It is actually a rather easy ‘textbook’ to read as it has a number of real life examples. Also in favor of the book is that it is used by MIT in its executive leadership courses. The most important thing though is the concept works.
Review 2009/24 – The Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction the 24th Series edited by Edward L. Ferman
What many people think is science fiction is often something else. Fantasy is a completely different genre. Also within science fiction there are many differing flavors. It gets extremely hard to define these subcategories. For myself, I don’t really try because it is simply not important to most. To see what I mean, I suggest you pick up an anthology or ‘The Best Of…” book and find out for yourself.
What you will likely find are some good and some not so good stories. In this particular book there are some real classics. One of the best known is “The Brave Little Toaster” by Thomas M. Disch. Is it science fiction, is it fantasy? You be the judge. If pressed, I would place this in the fantasy arena but only for the sake of argument.
Also included in the book are short vignettes that tickle the fancy such as a compilation of “Unwieldy Science Fiction Titles” and an essay by Isaac Asimov on “The Word I Invented” which turns out to be ‘robotics’. To summarize, go to your local book store and pick up an anthology of ‘science fiction’ and try it out. You are likely to be surprised at what you may find.
Review 2009/23 – The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini
The Sea Hawk is a book originally published in 1915 and subsequently made into a silent film in 1927 and then a remake in 1940 starring Errol Flynn. Of course, this is a swashbuckling pirate-type of book – why else cast Errol Flynn in the remake? Sabatini is an excellent author who weaves a very good tale.
The hero is Sir Oliver Tressilian who, over the course of the book is shown to be above reproach. He is true to his word and completely loyal to his convictions. Unfortunately, his younger half-brother isn’t the same type of person. There is a feud with a local family and the half-brother gets in a fight, kills his attacker and pins the ‘murder’ on Sir Oliver. To further his alibi he has Sir Oliver abducted to be sold as a slave. When this is accomplished he then steals the heart of Sir Oliver’s girl – what a guy! In brief, Sir Oliver joins the Corsair’s of Algiers, converts to the Muslim faith and known as Sakr-el-Bahr, the Hawk of the Sea. Over time, he rises to second in rank with the corsairs. He sets out to capture his half-brother and his former fiancé, Rosamund. In the end Sir Oliver wins out as his half-brother confesses on his death bed after a fight at sea.
The plot outline above is barely enough to capture the action. Much is left out for the sake of space. Suffice it to say that I believe the book is quite entertaining and enjoyable. Rafael Sabatini wrote quite a few books. On my reading list are Scaramouch and Captain Blood. I can’t wait to read more by this author.
Review 2009/22 – Star Wars: Hard Merchandise: The Bounty Hunter Wars by K. W. Jeter
This book is the third in the series and there is little more to say about the plot. It is what it is. These three books could have been collapsed into one or two and little would have been lost. However, that would have been against the point. I believe books of this type are intended to allow the reader to immerse themselves into the world created by the author. Much better than television because it gives the reader a greater ability to imagine themselves as interacting in that world.
I can see where some might believe my review of the books sends contradictory messages. I agree, they do. While I do enjoy reading them I also recognize the fluff factor is rather high. I for one am more than willing to live with that which allows me to safely say “go ahead and read this series” if you are so inclined with a clear conscience. Keep in mind, this is the second time I have read this series and I am not going to apologize for it!
Review 2009/21 – Tales of Mystery and Horror by Arthur Conan Doyle
This is not really a whole new side of Sir Doyle but an interesting one nonetheless. The book contains twelve mystery’s which are quite well written the only thing they lack is what everyone wants – more Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Apparently, this is the thing that haunted the author. He wanted the freedom to write what he wanted and not be fettered by his most famous creation.
The stories here are entertaining and enjoyable. Some, however, are reminiscent of other stories by different authors. An Edgar Allen Poe story comes to mind when reading “The New Catacomb” versus “The Cask of Amontellado”. Regardless of that, I enjoy the prose and the plot setup for these stories.
Something I have not done before is to read other reviews of the book. It is against my nature to read them as I like to find things out for myself. In this case – I did look. There was a mixed bag of one or two line reviews and the bottom line is a mixed bag. For me, while this is clearly not of the level of a Sherlock Holmes story I still enjoyed them. The pressure was off so to say for the author so he could let the story spin out of him. Well worth the read!
Review 2009/20 – Foundation by Isaac Asimov
I was impressed by this book. It flowed and the plot unfolded in an easy way. A very quick read really and like many others left me wanting more. Fortunately, there is more to this series and I am eager to read them! The most interesting item regarding this book is the lack of action. I would have thought this would make for a dull book but it does not. Dr. Asimov really came up with a great concept here of tying a science fiction book to something like the rise and fall of the roman empire. I disagreed with him sometimes on what would have happened in various situations but that is a very minor point. He made me think and that is always a good thing.
The foundation series is very well known and the plot is well covered by several web pages. So, giving way to much better writers, I suggest you use your favorite search engine and read up on the series if you are really interested. I do recommend the book for those who like science fiction.
Review 2009/19 – Star Wars: Slave Ship: Bounty Hunter Wars by K. W. Jeter
Alright, now for book two of The Bounty Hunter Wars. The plot is the same, the characters are the same, there is more action! If you enjoyed the previous book this is the next logical step in the plot. Of course, there are twists to the action and some new characters. I don’t want to give too much away because that is the real fun of reading.
There are times in this book that the Emperor and Darth Vader have some dialogue. My guess it is in their contracts to make guest appearances in these books. No, really, their involvement in the plot does provide more depth to the book since these are known characters and tie in the book plot to the movies. Therefore, I think it does work as a plot device. Other than that, I have precious little insight to this book. Read it and enjoy.
Review 2009/18 – Star Wars: The Mandalorian Armor: The Bounty Hunter Wars by K. W. Jeter
What can I say? I have always loved Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and all sorts of science fiction. These are my guilty pleasures of reading. You might even say the ‘cotton candy of my reading list’. Just to be clear, I don’t believe this book, or the rest of the series should be taken seriously. However, this book is still entertaining in its own way.
You might ask “what is the plot”? Well, if you insist, the story is about Boba Fett the bounty hunter. Remember him? He is the one who fell into the Sarlac Beast when Jabba the Hutt was killed in the dune sea. Guess what? HE SURVIVED! Excited yet? It gets better as the book goes on. There is a mysterious woman who has a sneaking suspicion she is someone else. She teams up with another bounty hunter who nurse Boba Fett back to life. The rest of the plot revolves around several adventures introducing new characters. The most interesting of which is Kud’ar Mub’at the assembler. This is a creature who is essentially a self created electromechanical spider. He creates ‘subnodes’ that are attached to itself to support his environment. The major plot line, of which there are several, involves Boba Fett being coerced into a scheme to destroy the Bounty Hunters Guild. Of course, this is the first in a three part series. So, hold on to your seat there are two more reviews to go!
Review 2009/17 – My Antonia by Willa Cather
Now this book is literature! There is a great story here which is told in a wonderful style. I loved reading this book! The book covers the adventures and life experiences of Jim Burden from his childhood growing up in the plains of Nebraska. Central to the story is Antonia, a child of the neighboring bohemian immigrants – hence the title.
There are many encounters between Jim Burden and his childhood friends throughout his life. The story is one of living and growing with all the little things that make up life. There is death, some sorrow, real joy and many other emotions. What I really got out of this book was the sense of people – real people rather than a ‘made up story’. I believe that says a great deal actually. Everyone has flaws and the characters of this book display their own in a very real way. I highly recommend this book and only wish that I had read it earlier in life as I could have learned a thing or two from the reading.
On a personal note, I received a copy of My Antonia from Reginald “Doc” and Juanita Cook when I was a little boy, possibly around 10 or 11 years old. Mr. Cook was an American Literature Professor at Middlebury College and was instrumental regarding the famous Bread Loaf School of English. I would visit them frequently at their house and they would talk to me about books. I needed little encouragement but they were certainly an inspiration and encouraged me to keep track of every book I read. These little reviews are dedicated to the both of them.
For some reason that I simply cannot explain, I never read the book until now. Little did I know what I was missing. This book is an absolute classic and should be on your reading list. To follow the inspiration of the Cooks, you should also recommend this book to your children and other young readers.
Review 2009/16 – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
This book is an American classic. In my mind it is forever linked as a required read in High School. I guess that is why I really didn’t want to read it again! It is also (correctly) associated with the 1979 movie “Apocalypse Now” which was a partial modernized version of the book. Surprisingly enough, my remembrances are more from the film than my reading in high school. According to Wikipedia the script also has portions of several other books. Of course, the movie plot is not even really close to the book. The theme is somewhat the same but really centered on the protagonist character Kurtz. In the movie the Kurtz character is played by the great Marlon Brando. What I recall is the movie is a build up to the point where Brando can simply be Brando.
Now that I have read the book again for the first time in many a long year, my first (second) impression is that it is written in the romantic fashion. Now, I don’t mean this is a romance novel! What I mean is the style of writing flows in a classic and timeless way. I guess this is my expression that means it is real literature and worth the time to read. Please don’t let your thoughts of ‘required reading’ get in the way of the book. Free your mind of the high school shackles and let yourself go. Experience the book for what it is – a very well written suspense novel.
Review 2009/15 – The Adventures of Buffalo Bill Cody by Colonel William F. Cody
Wow, this was a fascinating story. I thought the life and times of Colonel Cody would be interesting but he sure did pack a lot into his life. Of course, he was a showman and with any autobiographical work the facts are suspect. There is no denying in this case the main facts are true. While I was in the middle of reading this book I caught myself anxiously awaiting the outcome of the adventures being told.
There were a few things that were somewhat troubling though. The vast waste of the buffalo during the hunts was somewhat depressing to me. He wasn’t called Buffalo Bill without reason. He went on many famous buffalo hunts. In less than 18 months he killed almost 5,000 buffalo. Even more concerning was the killing of American Indians. His story reflects some of the troubling growing pains of the U.S. Mitigating the bad was his defense of the buffalo and American Indian. He took great pains in his life to protect the buffalo and defend the Indian.
His life was one of tremendous accomplishment. He entered his first cattle drive while only 12 years old. He was also an Indian Scout, guide for the Union Army (awarded the Medal of Honor), Pony Express Rider, Showman as well as a long list of other accomplishments. Reading this book is a window into the past of the old west. I recommend it to those who want to learn what it was like to be in a real wilderness.
Review 2009/14 – The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik
The full title of this book is “The Great Upheaval – America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788 – 1800. Now this is my kind of book! I learned a great deal from reading this book. It is what I call a kind of fictionalized history. What amazed me is that I thought I knew this historical period fairly well. Here is an example: I thought King Louis XVI was guillotined in a fit of passion by the French mob. Turns out he went on trial and he was essentially in prison or house arrest for months. There were even several attempts to escape – one which almost successful. I also didn’t know that John Paul Jones fought for Catherine the Great in Russia and died in Paris, France.
The book focuses on the significant historical events between 1788 and 1800 in Russia, France, England and the United States. The way Jay Winik allows the story to unfold is wonderful. He picked a momentous period to present to the reader and he does not disappoint. There are several significant events which are covered in detail, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the control and impact of the Russian Tsarina – Catherine the Great. Napoleon enters into the picture near the end of the book. I found the pace of the book breathless and the events were unrelenting in their magnitude each one seemingly building upon another.
If you are a fan of history this is an absolute must read. The cast of characters are brought down from the light of history to that of real people. What I was impressed with the most was the humane way it was accomplished. We are taught at an early age that George Washington ‘never told a lie’ and Thomas Jefferson was a great man. Jay Winik doesn’t take pride in the fact they were real people with ‘issues’ of their own. He did the right thing and treated them fairly as people. This is high on my list as a favorite book read in 2009.
Review 2009/13 – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Here is something truly difficult – what good does it do to review this book? What could possibly be said that hasn’t already been written to review Romeo and Juliet??? I wrote this review for two reasons: 1) I promised my sister I would review the books I read and 2) by writing the review I can keep better track of what I have read. Now that I think about it I guess I am being somewhat selfish here. What I am really capturing are my impressions and I would be fairly well amazed if anyone else were reading these “reviews” of mine. Ok, my dirty little secret is I am also using these reviews to force myself to write more. It is clear to me that in order to get better at writing it can only come from practice. Now for the rest of the review….
Surprisingly enough, I did enjoy reading Romeo and Juliet. It has been several years since I read it or any Shakespeare. After checking, it has been ten years! What I found this time around was I paid more attention to the plot rather than the actual writing. It is one thing to read a book and another to understand what is being written about. Since I had read the story before I was able to think about what was really going on. I also had to bear in mind – this is really a play, so there would be limited ability for the author to delve into detail. That meant the reader would have to provide some of that.
Shakespeare is an adventure well worth the time needed to really enjoy reading a play as literature. I expect some people can’t get past the language and syntax used but for those with an open mind it is a price well worth the cost. Read this book!
Review 2009/12 – The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
What could be better than to read a mystery book on a dank and stormy night? Particularly when the book in question is one by Agatha Christie. It was no accident that I picked up this book to read. My expectations were high and I was not disappointed. What I didn’t know at first was this was the book that introduces Hercule Poirot to the literary world.
It should be no surprise that I enjoyed this book a good deal as it has a bit of everything. There are classic characters, several plot twists, red herrings, believable suspects and the list goes on from there. Was it a murder or is the death an accident or from natural causes? The biggest problem I am faced with is whether to give the plot away or not. Suffice it to say the book is recommended to you for your pleasure. Is it perfect as a mystery? Technically to me, no it isn’t. However, don’t let that get in the way of picking it up for yourself. If you like Sherlock Holmes and related mystery’s this will do you quite well.
Review 2009/11 – Typee by Herman Melville
“Call me Ishmael” the line Melville is best known for appeared in his more famous work Moby Dick. On the other hand, Typee was his first published book and in his lifetime the more popular of the two. Typee was originally thought as a stylized version of an actual event involving Melville of his escape with a fellow sailor in the Marquesas Islands It has been proven this was not the case and the book is now considered fiction.
The book is representative of American literature published in the mid 1800′s and I believe ages well. I found the reading very interesting and enjoyable. Before picking it up my expectation was a south seas adventure and I was not disappointed. Not knowing anything of the plot I thought it would be rather ponderous and steeped in allegory similar to Moby Dick. What I found was more of a mixture of adventure and travelogue mixed in with some pontification from the author regarding the impact of white civilization on island natives.
The main character, an English sailor escapes along with friend on an island in the Marquesas – one of the most isolated areas of the planet. Their concern is how to survive long enough to get picked up by a more friendly ship without being eaten by the fierce cannibal tribe known as the Typee. The plot evolves with the two sailors falling into the hands of the Typee only to learn they are well received as guests – who are not allowed to leave. One escapes after a time and the main character presumes him to be eaten by the natives. Ultimately, this is found to be untrue and both escape in the end. In between these various plot devices there is a good deal of explanation of Polynesian island lifestyle. All in all, the book is an enjoyable read and really quite interesting. I recommend you read Typee if you have any interest in the South Seas and the 1800′s way of life.
Review 2009/10 – The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
This book was a bit of a surprise to me. For some reason I was thinking it would be something like “The Man in the Iron Mask.” Of course, it wasn’t as it is an entirely different book. There are similarities but not that THAT close. I selected the book to read mostly because it was available and Alexander Dumas is a fantastic author. Another reason is that I seem to be focusing on the time frame of Louis XIV (1700s) as I am reading several books at the same time.
Regardless of my misconception, The Prisoner of Zenda was an enjoyable book to read. It certainly wasn’t up to the standard of Alexander Dumas (he also wrote The Three Musketeers) but it was in a similar vein. The plot is one that will seem familiar to most everyone: it is the case of mistaken identity. A common person is the spitting image of a King in a fictional kingdom, the King becomes incapacitated with events causing the commoner to take his place. It seems that many people believe this genre was begun with this book. Of course, it seems familiar because it has been copied and recopied many times.
I am quite happy that my error resulted in my reading the book. It is ‘no great shakes’ as a piece of literature and won’t be considered a classic in it’s own right. However, it a pleasant bit of diversion and I recommend it to you.
Review 2009/9 – The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Mystery stories always captured my imagination and within that genera the detective based plots are my favorite. The pinnacle are the Sherlock Holmes stories. There simply aren’t enough of them. Conan Doyle did try to kill off Holmes but that didn’t work as the public clamored for more. In all there are 56 short stories and 4 novels by Conan Doyle with Holmes – and many more by other authors. Of course, there are the movies with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce along with all the others.
The most intriguing aspect of the book is the style of writing. To put it simply – it is elegant and pure to the Victorian Age. The plot twists are interesting and well done. It would be an interesting study to compare and rank the various stories with Holmes. Where does this one stand? I have read many of the stories with Dr. Watson and Holmes but never with an eye to really compare but I would rate this in the middle of the pack.
For those interested in the plot – it involves a wealth of jewels and treasure from India. A woman is sent one perfect pearl for six years. She then receives a note to meet a stranger who says his goal is to ‘right a wrong’ involving her. Colorful characters are introduced and the mystery begins to unfold. My goal here is not to explain the plot but to set the stage so you can enjoy the mystery yourself so that is all I am going to tell you! Enjoy the book and keep reading!
Review 2009/8 – White Fang by Jack London
Jack London is one of my favorite writers. He inspired me as a child with his books about animals and adventure tackling the wild outdoors. When I had an opportunity to move to Alaska, one of my first thoughts was – I could go live and experience for myself Jack London territory! One of his stories “To Build A Fire” really was amazing. Could it really get that cold? I found this to be true and some of my experiences brought the story to life (75 degrees below zero is cold, my friend and I am not talking wind chill either). One footnote: if you try and find the actual location of where the story unfolds, it is really Northwest Territories, Canada – but very close to Alaska.
White Fang follows the life of a wolf/dog mix from his beginnings to a long and event filled life. The story begins with the introduction of White Fangs mother who has turned feral and running with a wolf pack. After he is born the story shifts to his perspective and displays the travails of his life. His mother ‘finds’ her former master, an Alaskan Indian, and returns to the village life with White Fang (where he is first named). When his mother is sold to another Indian he is left to fend for himself and learns to fight to survive. When fully grown he is sold to a white man who exploits him through dog fighting. Fortunately, he is saved by a man from the lower forty eight (continental US for all you ‘outsiders’). The man ultimately leaves Alaska for his home in California with White Fang who saves his life when an escaped convict attacks the household.
Please be aware, like most movie adaptations, the 1991 movie with Ethan Hawke is barely the same story. There are of course similarities but there are clear and distinct differences. I do have the movie (on VHS) and enjoy watching it on occasion. However, I strongly encourage you to read the book too! The prose and style of Jack London get to the heart of the feelings which the movie cannot touch. THEN watch the movie again and you will have a much richer experience!
Review 2009/7 – The Four Million by O. Henry
O. Henry was a pseudonym for a very interesting gentleman. He was a bank clerk who was convicted of embezzlement (although his guilt is still in question). While in prison he turned to his natural gift of writing and penned many short stories. He was known for his ironic twists of fate at the end of the story. Unfortunately, his life ended sadly with financial problems and alcohol addiction. He died of cirrhosis of the liver, complications of diabetes and an enlarged heart.
The Four Million contains twenty five short stories – some of the best by O. Henry. The stories have one thing in common – they are all based in New York City. I found this book perfect for those times which only allow for brief periods of relaxation. For me, that meant my daily commute. By the time I had to leave the subway and walk to work I would be done with one of the stories. I found the stories to be engaging and quite enjoyable. To really understand the context of each story I do feel it important to note they were originally published in 1906.
Review 2009/6 – The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
I decided to try out a classic children’s book this time around. The Wind in the Willows was never really a huge favorite of mine but I do remember enjoying the story. As an adult I found the book interesting in possibly an odd sort of way. Odd because I was continually doing a compare and contrast between what I thought a child in the 1960′s or 1970′s would think versus a child of the 2000′s. There is possibly a good bit which would not be comprehensible to today’s child.
For example, a big deal in the story revolves around Mr. Toad or Toady as he is often called in the book. He is obsessed by motorcars making a ‘poop pooping’ noise – that alone made me stop and think! Because of their speed and power, he trades in his carriage for a new motorcar and then later on steals another. Mr. Toad is so obsessed he feels perfectly justified in running people off the road and driving like a maniac. You know, this part would probably fit right in with today’s society. So I went back and forth with parts of the book that fit and others that won’t!
I thought the book meandered around in a somewhat disjointed manner but that is part of it’s charm. The story follows several animals, Mr. Mole and Ratty among others, during several events of their daily lives. It can be somewhat confusing as the animals are given human qualities but only partially so. There is interaction with real humans but this is a pseudo-fictional world partially based in our own, particularly 1900′s pastoral England. For a real plot breakdown here is a link to a Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wind_in_the_Willows.
All in all, a worthy read as an adult. I would love to know what a child of today might think about it. Would Mr. Toad be a hero? Or, would Mr. Mole rise to the top? The book is a classic for good reason.
Review 2009/5 – Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
I enjoyed rereading Clan of the Cave Bear and this time I tried to identify why. It seems that I enjoy descriptive writing. What I mean is that particular type of writing which goes into some depth rather than just describe the basic observations of the person involved. Jean Auel does a great job of ‘painting the picture’ for my taste. This book, and the subsequent series, has been around for awhile (1980) and apparently there is another novel in the works. These are part of the Earth’s Children series.
The plot follows the life of a young (5 year old) Cro-Magnon girl made homeless from an earthquake. She is adopted by a Neanderthal tribe while at the brink of death and raised as one of their own. Obviously no one knows how this might have really happened or what it might have been like however, Ms. Auel provides her view of that era in this historical novel. which makes the reader think about what it might have been like to live in the world way back then. There was a movie released in 1986 which did not do well (I did not see it). No surprise as there was little dialogue and lots of arm waving (that is who they communicated in the book) and that presents a real challenge to any director.
I thought I might not like re-reading the book because my recollection was that it was so improbable that the heroine could ‘invent’ all these advances in technology. I was pleasantly surprised in how easy the narrative flowed – after all, this is a novel designed for pleasurable reading. My suggestion is to suspend belief, relax and just read it that way.
Review 2009/4 – The Spirit and the Flesh by Pearl S. Buck
I have recently been reading ‘dime store novels’ and felt it was time for something different. Hanging around my book shelves was this book by Pearl S. Buck and I don’t know where it came from. The edition I have was published in 1944 and it has an interesting disclaimer regarding war rationing of paper! Seems this edition uses smaller margins and lesser quality paper (it is quite yellow actually). I recall reading “The Good Earth” in High School and enjoying it. The only expectation I had is that the writing quality would be outstanding – I was right.
The book itself turned out to be two separate books reprinted as one – both are essentially biographies. The Spirit is the biography of Ms. Buck’s father and The Flesh is the biography of her mother. Originally, they were separately published as “Fighting Angel” and “The Exile”. Their lives are told by the recollections of Ms. Buck and mostly cover the same events in their lives.
The story was absolutely fascinating and a rather unique concept. Two true stories told from one vantage point, that of a daughter. They were missionaries to China in the late 1800′s and lived through the Boxer Rebellion as well as several other conflicts. The hardships they faced were really tremendous and quite captivating. I found it intriguing to compare and contrast the events while reading the second ‘book’. I won’t reveal the mystery I found in the book which was to try and identify which of the children is the author. An exceptional book that I recommend you add to your reading list.
Review 2009/3 – Once A Thief by Kay Hooper
Ugh! This book was simply a bit of cotton candy fluff that sticks to your teeth if you are unfortunate enough to read it. The book, oddly enough is written well enough but the plot was never really established. It kept meandering around without so much as a clue what was important and which characters were the focus – kind of like real life in a way….
Here is the basis for the plot (I think). A world famous cat burglar is drawn to San Francisco to steal a jewel collection which has not been seen for 30 years. The beautiful statuesque blond (who is short) is charged with guarding the museum. She meets the jewel thief by accident during a robbery by a rival gang and he protects her – so of course, she falls in love with him. After that brief encounter she inexplicably is ‘aware’ of his presence and in the following night’s stakes out other museums and jewelry stores trying to find him – and does! First plot twist – the security chief from Lloyds of London fires the incompetent computer geek installing the brand new security system and the company sends a woman to fix the system. She is there under some mysterious circumstances and has a secret. She immediately falls in love with the Lloyds guy while regretting that she cannot tell him her secret. Turns out she is with Interpol and part of a big sting to catch the international jewel thief. The book then mostly follows these two for quite a while. Then shifting over to the blond staking out a museum and witnesses a robbery in progress and a body is thrown into a van. She immediately knows it is her jewel thief. Does she call the cops? No of course not. She tails the van and rescues the jewel thief. I could go on but hopefully you get the point. Now, if you are curious on the big robbery – it never happens! The book never gets to that point.
This is a silly little book written by an author of romance novels who wanted to branch out. Fortunately, most of the romance was taken out of this book as the author wanted to focus on the character she loves the most – the jewel thief. Actually, there is not that much of her favorite character – maybe this is so she can sell more books in this little series of hers. The book is a mess but it does provide some diversion and little thought is needed.
Review 2009/2 – Dreamland Revolution by Dale Brown and Jim DeFelice
This was a fun book to read. The plot was timely, interesting and fast paced. It certainly kept my interest up and delivered on what the book was intended to be, a military minded action thriller based on the (relatively) current political situation. The action centers on an air force centric special military organization, known as Dreamland, utilizing state of the art airplanes and equipment (i.e., airborne lasers and more). The action is counterpointed with the interplay of the characters which I think worked out (for the most part) nicely. The Dreamland members are called in to help the Romanian military manage a counter insurgency effort against militants. As part of this there is CIA involvement, a militant who changes sides, and a coup attempt. Oh, yes, the exoskeleton flying jetpack was actually very interesting and well done.
My one gripe with the book was the family connections of the main characters do not seem realistic. I believe their family relationships unnecessarily detracted from the readability. The commander is joined in this very special and elite group by his daughter and son-in-law. Ok, fine I guess, but when all are injured in action occurring before the plot takes off and then soon thereafter participate in a dangerous mission just doesn’t make any sense. The daughter has recovered from a mysterious ‘coma like condition’ lasting several days and her husband is paralyzed from the waist down. He is deployed on the mission but she is not. Sorry, but this didn’t seem quite right to me. Neither should have deployed! Also, I kept waiting for something to happen with that ‘coma’ thing but it was seemingly dropped. There were a few other similar issues but still, this was a very minor thing to me overall.
A very big plot device some might think I would object to – I don’t. Near the end of the book the Russians are using the political situation as an excuse to destroy a natural gas pipeline with an aerial attack. Our guys at Dreamland decide to disobey orders and engage the Russians before they can destroy the pipeline. By attacking, it made the story jump! Would it have actually happened that way? No, but this is a book and not reality. That is what makes it fun and entertainment. The book is written in such a way that it does seem plausible given the circumstances. Bottom line – I recommend this book.
Review 2009/1 – April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik
I really enjoyed this book being the civil war enthusiast that I am. The book covered a number of areas only touched on by other historians. Some of the items covered in the book include the assassination of President Lincoln, the plot to decapitate the leadership of the United States Government, the surrenders of General Robert E. Lee and General Johnson along with many other events.
The book is not dry bone history as Mr. Winik brings it alive for us in a very interesting way. His explanation is done using his historical knowledge, properly documented with copious notes, paired with the best available ‘known dialogue’ of the principle individuals. He does not include a great deal of speculation on what might have happened allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions. By the way, Mr. Winik is a senior scholar of history and public policy at the University of Maryland and a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times so you can expect he knows what he is writing about!
His focus, as is clear by the title, is on events occurring in April 1865. Much happened that month which were crucial to the future of the United States. As you might expect, there is some groundwork he had to establish first, some which does not appear to become relevant until later in the book. However, this is all useful information even for those who have done their share of reading on the topic. Some maps are included which are useful to follow the action but also to break up the text. Actually, I would have liked to have seen more maps than those provided. I believe the maps cause the reader to pause somewhat and that allows time to consider the message Mr. Winik is delivering rather than rushing on to the next event. I recommend this book to those who are interested in how the nation was able to hold together in the months leading up to and following the assassination of President Lincoln.
Review #10 – The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
This is a science fiction book with many interesting concepts – including a novel approach to alien psychology. I have read a lot of science fiction and this one is very entertaining and thought provoking. It reads quite well and moves along rapidly despite its 560 page count. The plot has a real mystery to it along with everything else. The book is popular and a testament to the two authors who have collaborated on several books. I have read several of their collaborative books and all are well worth reading if you like science fiction, particularly if you pick up a copy from a certain used book store.
As the book has a large following it is no surprise there is much information available on the web. Because of that I won’t go into specifics in this review. A link to an article with great detail on the characters, plot and technology is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mote_in_God’s_Eye
Review #9 – The Mystery of Villa Sineste by Walter Livingston
What an interesting book! This book is part of the Mystery League collection written in the 1930′s. According to the dust jacket these books could only be purchased at the United Cigar Stores or Whelan Drug Stores and sold for but $0.50 per copy (how quaint!) Apparently, this was kind of a book of the month type club featuring a mystery theme.
I found the book a great deal of fun to read. The use of the language is very different and the concept of terror as well. I enjoyed the trip back to a past time when life was simpler. While a modern author can write about bygone days it is quite different than an author of the actual times. It reminds me of watching a vintage era movie and seeing an actor with an obviously misplaced wrist watch. Nothing beats the original for being authentic.
The story begins with two Americans being flown to a location in Italy. During the flight one of the passengers tells the other about the sordid history of the villa they are nearing. At the very mention of the villa’s name the plane develops engine trouble and they crash land in a nearby meadow. The two Americans are shaken up and only have minor injuries. The pilot and copilot however are in worse condition – all are pulled out of the wreckage by the mysterious owner of the villa.
The mystery begins to unfold with the focus on the owner as well as the evil nature of the villa itself. Is the owner a vampire? Or, is he a Dr. Frankenstein or possibly a werewolf? Could the villa be cursed killing those that enter the dreaded master bedroom? These and other possibilities are all in this plot. What I found interesting was they were all plausible for the plot and well handled. All in all, the book was wonderful entertainment.
Review #8 – Deep Six – A Dirk Pitt® Adventure, By Clive Cussler
This book had me shaking my head and wondering what would be the next implausible event. Nothing that occurred in the book made much sense to be from the technical perspective. The events start off with nerve agent leaking from an unknown source that was killing all sea life and threatening to expand to the entire ocean. Once that little mystery is solved we move on to a Presidential abduction that simply doesn’t ‘hold water’. Mr. Cussler isn’t done though. We move on to a mind transfer event which, of course, leads to a mind-mind-transfer! If the Russians can do it – so can the Americans! I won’t go too far into the details of the plot but suffice it to say I read the book, enjoyed reading the book but the plot, oh my. My favorite plot twists was the killer bed laser or, wait a minute, the guy dressed up as a woman was a good one too (I did enjoy the Marx Brothers reference). How about the secret service confusing the noise of fog machines with cows mooing – the list of odd plot twists is endless.
The book is a spy mystery with a hero who can do it all. No matter how, no matter what, Mr. Pitt will come through with the goods. Even when he loses the girl, he gets the girl. This is a book where it simply doesn’t pay to dig too deep into reality. Complete escapism at its most natural (notice I didn’t say finest). It is what it is and that is light entertainment. If you like this sort of stuff it does its job. I read it in wide eyed wonderment at how the author could come up with the stuff in the book and possibly think it would be part way plausible in the real world. From front to back my answer is no, absolutely not! When the nerve agent is released into the ocean something happens in real life, let’s call is dilution. We should all know that the solution to pollution is dilution and that would be what happens to nerve agent in a great big ocean. However, my answer to the implausibility is: so what. The book is intended to be entertainment and that is just what it is. Just don’t be fooled into thinking the plot could be real. Will I read another Clive Cussler book? I probably will, and why not? It is much better than watching television!
Review #7 – Wings by John Monk Saunders
The book ‘Wings’ is a novel based on a photo play (film) of the same name. The screenplay and novel were both written by John Monk Saunders. He was an American writer born in 1897 who served as an aviator in World War I – so he has a strong basis for writing the book (I didn’t know that until I started to write the review).
The movie was an outstanding success and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The plot is rather straight forward. A young teenaged boy, Johnny Powell, has a car with which he races around town and is labeled a trouble-maker. He falls in love with the same girl as his rival, Dave Armstrong. World War I breaks out and both Johnny and Dave sign up to be aviators. Johnny, being the reckless speed demon he is, turns out to be a natural. Dave needs help though but Johnny helps him out sealing their friendship. The plot twist though revolves around girls. Johnny is secretly loved by Mary but both Johnny and Dave are in love with Sylvia. Just before leaving for Europe, Johnny winds up with a locket with Sylvia’s photo. On the back is an inscription from Sylvia to Dave of which Johnny is unaware until much later.
On the war front, Johnny and Dave are paired up and are quite successful. However, during a pass where several aviators are enjoying Paris the mystery of the locket is discovered. Johnny is terribly upset and angry with Dave because he realizes both Sylvia and Dave were aware of the misplaced locket. The war goes on with both aviators volunteering for a dangerous mission. Johnny, being the hotshot pilot fly’s off. Both are charged with covering for each other but Johnny is still angry. Johnny completes the mission but Dave is
shot down and captured. He ultimately escapes, steals an enemy airplane and winds up being shot down by Johnny.
Overall, the book is what you might expect for being written in the 1920′s. It follows a familiar path and the phrasing is consistent for the decade. Predictability in the plot is there but I enjoyed the read. The last chapter was the best I thought and worth the time.
Review #6 – The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
What more can be said about the greatest science fiction/fantasy trilogy in literary history? Obviously, I am a big fan and have been for a long time. My first reading was back when I was about 10 or so and hunting for a hard copy book to read in my local library. Since that first moment when I unfolded the map in the back of the book I was hooked. There was a time when I would read the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings once a year but I haven’t done that in a while now. However, I expect I have read the trilogy in the range of 30 times or so. For this review I include all three books as Tolkien intended there to be only one book – the publisher is the one who insisted the book be separated into three parts for marketing and publishing purposes.
The difference in this reading for me is that I purposefully read it as slow as I could to focus on the quality of the writing. Instead of tearing through the text from action to action sequence I wanted to experience the
story the way Tolkien wrote it – slowly and deliberately. I was impressed with the book in a whole new way. Of course, Tolkien can be trusted to ‘get his English right’ as he was an Oxford Don for English Language and Literature. So, when he used a particular word I can be assured of it being used correctly.
Comparing The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King) to other books I have read recently would be an injustice to the other books. I believe the reason why the book has lasted so well is twofold – it is an excellent story but just as importantly, it is very well written. The plot hangs together and inconsistencies are practically nonexistent. For example, several scholars who have written books about Tolkien and the trilogy observed that as the story unfolds it is true to the phases of the moon.
Another sidelight to this reading is my comparison to the Peter Jackson movie(s). There are significant differences between them and some are incredibly glaring – such as when Sam leaves Frodo before the entrance to Shelob’s lair at Cirith Ungol. However, I understand there had to be differences between the two as it would be impossible to make a movie totally in concert with the book. I am impressed by how Peter Jackson was able to remain relatively true to the book and collapse the story for the movie. If you know the book as well as I, it is a challenge to pick out the dialogue from one character in the movie and identify which character in the book actually said it. My hope is that after watching these very entertaining movies people will actually read the books. My highest recommendation goes to this/these book(s).
Review #5 – The Afghan by Frederick Forsyth
This review is from a used hard cover book I picked up recently. It is a spy thriller and one that ties in actual events to a fictionalized plot – very topical. I found the book to be a quick read and entertaining. The
ending was somewhat disappointing but overall it provided what was expected – a thrilling plot with spys (a shocking revelation I know).
When I started reading the book I had no clue where the story was going. As I did not read the dust jacket I didn’t know what I was getting into. At first I thought the book was non-fiction because it read rather dry and covered historical events closely. Only when the plot was starting to get established was it made clear it was fiction (thank goodness).
The plot twist of significance to the book was having an englishman pass himself off as an Afghan native. Most of the first half of the book (after the dry stuff) was devoted to establishing this possibility as plausible. Well, ok, the author had to lay this groundwork or the rest of the book would not work at all.
I thought about detailing the plot blow-by-blow but come on folks, What good does it do to know exactly what will happen? The fun is finding out on your own and in trying to figure out what will happen! Suffice it to say that the plot involves a Guantanmo Bay detainee, lots of travel, a cargo ship or so, and the potential to do great damage through a terror plot. Oh yes, Osama Bin Laden makes a guest appearance.
I did notice a few inconsistencies and factual errors that just leaped off the page to me. One such error was reference to a civil servant flunky at the GS-15 level (not right at all as I can attest from first-hand experience). The author is British so it shows he did not do his homework on this little detail. There was something else I was going to include in the review but it was rather meaningless overall and would only make a difference to a very small audience. Since I read this mostly on an airplane I didn’t take any notes.
All in all, the book was pretty much what I expected and therefore, did its job. My trip to Albuquerque went well and I was entertained on the long flight. Will I read this book again? I doubt it very much. On a scale of
one to ten (ten is great) this was a six. Anything below a five would be hardly worth the time to read. I will admit, once I was over the halfway part of the book I wanted to find out what would happen so I recommend it for those who like the spy thriller genre.
Review #4 – Branchwater by Steven Maus
This is a science fiction/fantasy novel by a first time writer. The author created a new world with several twists such as a “human” race called the Mantliks who were created to protect the natural humans of the fourth continent. Most of the plot revolves around siege warfare from a race of humans who reside on the first continent. The attack is precipitated by the first continent’s desire to enslave the fourth continent humans and Mantliks to obtain the secret for creation of the Mantliks. To me, the most unusual aspect of the book was that Almighty God had a group of seven advisors. These advisors became jealous of God and killed him. Based on the back cover, Mr. Maus started writing this book when he was 15. This shows at times through some of the plot and his writing style. Nevertheless, the story is interesting in its own way. The science and warfare aspects don’t quite add up all the time but this is science fiction after all. I spent 30 years in the U.S. Army Reserves so I am rather picky about what I think makes sense on military tactics. Tolkien this isn’t but credit goes to Mr. Maus for his first effort. He has gotten much further than I have at writing a book.
Review #3 – Peril! by Sydney Horler
Peril! An interesting title for a book published in 1930 by the Mystery League Inc. The author, Sydney Horler was born in Great Britain in 1888 and is credited with writing 157 novels most of which were of the mystery or horror variety. Peril! was apparently published another name as it does not show up on the list of 157 other novels he wrote.
The plot starts off with the hero, Jimmy Hannay, down on his luck in London. He is out of a job and living on the streets. Miraculously, a luxury car pulls up nearby and the wealthy owner invites him home and gives him a meal as well as a job. Unfortunately, it turns out the wealthy owner is a crook. Jimmy finds this out when he is on his first job for the man which is to guard a door. When he hears a woman scream inside the room he rushes in to save her. She, of course being grateful, invites him home to meet her father who happens to be the wealthiest man in England worth a whopping $12 million dollars (weren’t the 1930’s wonderful?) He, of course gives Jimmy a job guarding his daughter whom he saved earlier in the night. To make matters more coincidental, the crook works for the arch enemy of the wealthy man. Adventures ensure with kidnapping, murder, electrocutions and other mayhem involved.
The book is of the dime novel variety. Not deep, but fun to read. I make no apology for reading it or for enjoying the reading. It was perfect for late night reading particularly since I have the hard cover edition. Nothing beats the luxury of a good hard cover book!
Review #2 – The Way of the World by Ron Suskind
I have just finished reading The Way of the World by Ron Suskind. While it was not a used book since it was released in August 2008, I read it because there is a work-related connection for me – I work for the Department of Energy. Now that my disclaimer is over here is the review.
The book revolves around the decision by the United States to invade Iraq mixed with related concerns like detainees at Guantanamo Bay, refugee camps, Arab-American relations, and religious views among other things. It was written with several interwoven sub-stories seemingly to prove the authors premise that the war was a bad idea. This is a rather openly opinionated and shallow book in my estimation, almost brazen in the authors’ political belief. Suskind is a very good writer in the mechanics of writing. His opinions though to me are suspect. He uses his writing ability to knit together a story in an attempt at leading the reader to his way of thinking. I have no problem with that at it is his right after all (one of my favorites). To me, he did not succeed in swaying me with his arguments. He was way too transparent in his choice of words and how he tied concepts together. My point is – he may be right or at least good points but I did not care for how he framed his argument. Simply put, I felt he was trying to ram his argument down the reader’s throat while using a bit of honey to soothe the pain.
I have met and know some of the people who are central to the book which is the primary reason I read it. My thought was, ‘how many times can I read about a book involving someone I know?’ The book is talked about at the Department of Energy but no one is overly focused on it – more of a curiosity than anything else. What I noticed in the book was Suskind placing himself in the life of his characters as if he was alongside them in very intimate circumstances such as alone in a car driving home. Literary license after all is and should be allowed but this book is not fiction or historical fiction. It is portrayed to be a serious essay on the facts, a peek behind the curtain, as it were. Suskind took the literary license a bit too far in my view as it seemed self-serving to his point of view.
Would I recommend this book to the casual reader? No, I really can’t go that far. I read it because it is related to my work. For those folks looking for an unbiased book about Iraq and terrorism – nope, this is clearly not the book to read. I wish I had the writing talent of Suskind but there is only one reason why I enjoyed the book and that was because I have some ‘inside knowledge’ on the subject and a few of the people involved. If you are anti-Bush and totally against the invasion of Iraq you will probably love the book. But, that is only because the premise will reinforce your current views.
I can just imagine the reaction if Mr. Suskind read this review. He might possibly shake his head at how I downplayed his deeply researched and carefully crafted argument. I don’t really care what he might think though. My opinion is mine after all and I read the book for information and the pleasure of reading. While he took years of work to write his book it took me about a half-hour to prepare this review. This is intentional as I want to capture my first impressions and feelings rather than dazzle someone with my insight. Read the book yourself if you like. I am glad I did read it but not by much.
Review #1 – Footfall by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle
Most recently, I finished the science fiction novel “Footfall”. It is a science fiction novel written in 1985 by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle which was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1986 and a No. 1 New York Times Bestseller. For a real synopsis of the plot I suggest going to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Footfall. The Wikipedia article is quite detailed so there is no reason for me to rehash the plot.
When it comes to science fiction there are several types and I would categorize this one as ‘reality based’. By that I mean it successfully melds current science and fiction – with the focus on reality or believability. I did not have to ‘suspend reality’ often. It is a rather long book at 581 pages but captivating in its own way – a quick read and a nice diversion. I like the phrasing and style of writing even though there were several little irritating things to me such as many of the characters “giggled” in some circumstances which just didn’t seem right. However, when it comes to creating a new world or story with a unique language and culture both Niven and Pournelle are masters. There really needs to be some ‘new words’ and concepts that weave into our current reality to make the book work.
As a testament to how I feel, I have probably read this book at least three or more times. This most recent reading I enjoyed it but probably not as much as the first or second. Why do I read books more than once? The last time I read this particular one was in the early 1990’s. Much has changed since then and to read the book with reflection is a very interesting thing indeed. I recommend the book for those people who enjoy light science fiction.
Up next on my reading list is a very recent book entitled “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism” by Ron Suskind. I was drawn to the book because I have met and work with some of the central people in the book.