The One with James and the Giant Peach

Wednesday, June 13, 2018
438. Title & Author: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (150 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Children’s Literature
Completed: 11 June 2018

Summary & Review:
After his parents are tragically killed, young James must live with his two viciously mean spinster aunts. With no friends, nowhere to play, and no fun, James’ life is sad and lonely until a mysterious man gives him a pouch magical beans. Unfortunately, James spills the beans and they are lost in the grass near the tree in the yard. The next day James finds that the beans have caused a giant peach to grow and the humongous fruit is now home to a collection of giant talking bugs. With their help, James escapes the clutches of his aunts and embarks on a great adventure.

This book was pretty much complete nonsense, but I guess that’s the point. It was full of interesting creatures and a larger-than-life adventure that I think entertained my kids pretty well as I read it to them.

Rating: 5.0

The One with The Total Money Makeover

Wednesday, May 23, 2018
437. Title & Author: The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey (229 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction--Finance
Completed: 23 May 2018

Summary & Review:
Nationally syndicated radio host Dave Ramsey offers his simple, clear, and logical advice about getting out of debt, preparing for financial emergencies, building wealth, and living a full life. His plan consists of seven "Baby Steps" that can help even the most financially flabby become fit.

I'm sure many "sophisticated" people scoff at Ramsey, not least because of his open Christianity and frequent mentions of God and quotations of scripture, but I think fair-minded readers will find this book to have sound advice. Like physical fitness, there aren't a lot of shortcuts to building wealth so Ramsey's book is not full of "get rich quick" tricks.

What I like about Ramsey's approach to money is that it is focused on taking care of your family and preparing for potential catastrophes. I'm sure there are methods to earn higher rates of return or build wealth more quickly, but at what risk? This plan focuses on building a sound financial foundation and ensuring that no matter what happens, your family is taken care of. As Ramsey says, "It is your responsibility to take care of you and yours."

Rating: 8.5

The One with Retribution

Wednesday, May 16, 2018
436. Title & Author: Retribution by Jillian Hoffman (479 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Thriller
Completed: 13 May 2018

Summary & Review:
After suffering a brutal, nearly life-ending rape, C.J. Townsend moves to Miami to escape her past and start fresh. For years she serves as efficient and proficient prosecutor until one day her past comes back to torment her once more. The man arrested as suspect for a dozen rapes, mutilations, and murders turns out to be the very man who had attacked C.J. more than a decade before. Will C.J. be able to keep her demons at bay and put this monster on death row where he belongs?

A while back Paige burned through every Jillian Hoffman book she could get her hands on. I decided it was time to see what the fuss was about and started with Hoffman’s debut novel. It was a cool book—part legal thriller á la John Grisham and part thriller/horror novel. It was a pretty beefy 479 pages and took me a while to get through it, but that isn’t a reflection on the book’s readability. I definitely plan on reading another Hoffman thriller.

Rating: 6.5

The One with Huddled Clichés

Wednesday, April 18, 2018
435. Title & Author: Huddled Clichés: Exposing the Fraudulent Arguments That Have Opened America’s Borders to the World by Lawrence Auster (57 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Politics
Completed: 18 April 2018

Summary & Review: 
The discussion surrounding mass immigration has been completely muddled with emotional clichés and sentimental anecdotes. But, since immigration and our nation’s policies regarding it are so critical to the future of our country, it is important that these distractions are dispensed with and reason and logic determine our policies. Here, the various clichés that have become so common in the media and culture at large are addressed and rebutted.

This was a short, concise read and some very salient points were made. Immigration is a difficult topic for the average person to realistically discuss because emotions, sympathy, and personal experiences enter the fray so readily. However, basing policy on sentimentality is no way to run a country. It is important that people explore the issue more deeply than simply thinking, “Well, why can’t these people come here? We’re a large, wealthy country and we can accommodate a few immigrants.” Sure, but how many? Where is the limit? We obviously can’t accommodate every person that wants to come here so how do we determine who gets to? What harm are we doing to the immigrants homelands by poaching their best and brightest? How can America continue to do enormous humanitarian good throughout the world if it is swamped by the masses at home? What good are we doing to our fellow citizens by importing low-wage laborers? What is this increased strain doing to our infrastructure such as schools, roads, hospitals, government services, and so on? Only clear, emotionless thinking can come up with satisfactory answers to those questions.

I believe in helping others, Christian charity, and trying to alleviate others' suffering. However, I also believe that is best done by helping people where they are rather than importing them to a country where they don’t speak the language, don’t have the educational or technical skills to succeed in employment, don’t share, know, or understand the culture, etc., ad infinitum. Additionally, it is much more economical to care for people in their home countries rather than bringing them to the United States or other advanced Western nations. Not only is importing masses of people not the best way to help them, but it also harms your own neighbor citizens. Thus, help the people where they are.

As to the government, it has NO responsibility to care for the peoples of other nations. Our government was established FOR OUR people, the American people, and its ONLY responsibility is to worry about the needs of American citizens. Every single government policy should benefit Americans, only Americans, over every other type of person on the planet. Again, private citizens should always look for ways to help others, foreign and domestic, but the government should only be concerned with helping its own people. Simple as that. Thus, immigration policy should be set to maximally benefit American workers, not foreign ones. Same goes for tax, trade, foreign policy....

This book would be ranked higher if I wasn’t already familiar with so many of the counter arguments presented here. But, even though they were familiar to me, they were still presented clearly and concisely.

Rating: 5.5

The One with Strategic Intent

Wednesday, April 11, 2018
434. Title & Author: Strategic Intent by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad (101)
Genre: Nonfiction—Business
Completed: 7 April 2018

Summary & Review:
The authors present their case as to why Japanese business outpaced their American and European competitors during the 1980s. Despite numerous challenges, these Japanese (and Korean) firms were able to dominate their respective markets due to a concept the authors named “strategic intent,” which they defined as an obsession with winning at all levels of an organization and then a sustainment of that obsession over the 10 to 20-year quest for global leadership. Strategic intent goes beyond simple ambition and encompasses an active management role to motivate employees, explain why the quest is valuable, and leave enough room for individual contributions and innovations in pursuit of the goal.

I’ll be transitioning out of the Army soon and entering private practice. With that comes new clinical challenges, of course, but also the burden of business ownership. Thus, I figured it was time I start learning a bit about business, management, and employee motivation. This little book is a reprint of an article from the Harvard Business Review and along with the article is a helpful summary of the key points and concepts so I don’t have to go back and read the whole thing again.

Rating: 6.5

The One with Molly's Game

Wednesday, April 4, 2018
433. Title & Author: Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World by Molly Bloom (262 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir
Completed: 3 April 2018

Summary & Review:
After retiring from competitive skiing, Molly Bloom decides to postpone law school and take a gap-year in LA. After some small time waitressing jobs, she becomes the personal assistant to “Reardon Green” who runs a big-time poker game with the rich and famous in LA. After apprenticing with Reardon for a few years, Molly takes on running high-stakes poker in LA and NYC alone. Eventually her empire comes crashing down as she is indicted by the FBI in a large organized-crime round-up.

Paige had gone and seen this movie when it was in theaters and then was so fascinated by the story that she bought and read the book. After the movie came out on iTunes I watched it with her, liked and the movie, and decided to read the book, too. Movie Molly was a fairly sympathetic creature who was portrayed as having an unassailable standard of honor. Book Molly wasn’t so heroic, in my opinion. Not even close.

A big part of the movie is the fact that Molly wouldn’t name names as to who played in her games, but this book is basically just a long form US Weekly. She gossips about any- and everyone she ever came into contact with during her games. Then she drones on about designer bags and dresses and fancy cars and all the materialistic trappings of her new life. Maybe some people find this is exciting by proxy, but to me it came off as an insecure attempt to show the world how important she once was. Greed, entitlement, materialism, shallowness, and a pretty large dose of mental instability are what fill the pages of this book.

Rating: 2.5

The One with Neuromancer

Wednesday, March 28, 2018
432. Title & Author: Neuromancer by William Gibson (277 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction & Cyberpunk
Completed: 25 March 2018

Summary & Review:
Case, a once talented hacker who now can no longer access the “matrix” after being poisoned by a former boss, lives a nearly-suicidal life of despair until a skilled street mercenary saves his life and recruits him to work for a shadowy figure named Armitage. In exchange for repairing his damaged nervous system allowing him to once again enter cyberspace, Case must help him hack an unknown entity. As he works with Armitage, he and Molly look into the man’s background and unearth who is really behind the whole scheme: an illegal artificial intelligence created by a powerful, reclusive family.

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t love this book. Maybe the cyberpunk genre just isn’t for me. I read Snow Crash (#279) by Neal Stephenson and didn’t like that book much, either. More recently, I read another of Stephenson’s novels, Seveneves (#411), and really liked it so my distaste of Snow Crash apparently wasn’t due to Stephenson’s lack of skill as an author. Perhaps, it was just the genre.

Neuromancer is regarded as a classic SciFi book so I’ll always be glad I read it, but I didn’t enjoy the experience of doing so. I can see how it influenced a lot of other books and seemed to predict a lot of what would happen with technology in the decades after it was published, but I thought it was, by and large, a confusing mess. Gibson constantly used his own jargon that he never bothered to explain or define and would often throw in a character and then expect us to know all about the person and why he was important. Sorry, Gibson, I don’t care about your world as much as you do so you gotta give me a little help remembering who is who and what is what.

Rating: 4.0

The One with Chill of the Ice Dragon

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
431. Title & Author: Dragon Masters: Chill of the Ice Dragon by Tracey West (90 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Children’s Literature
Completed: 18 March 2018

Summary & Review:
When Mina, a young dragon master from the far north, shows up and asks for help to vanquish an Ice Giant who has besieged her kingdom, Drake and his other dragon masters know they must find Rori and her fire dragon Vulcan. Will Rori and her dragon agree to return and help them defeat the giant before it is too late?

This will always be a significant book for me because it is the first “real” book that Fox read all by himself of his own volition. No prodding from me or Paige, he just picked it up and read it over the course of a few days. It’s pretty awesome to see your son develop a love of reading just like you have.

Rating: Fox gave it a 10.0

The One with The Paladin Prophecy

Wednesday, March 14, 2018
430. Title & Author: The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost (550 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy & Adventure
Completed: 10 March 2018

Summary & Review:
Will West has led an isolated, nomadic life with his parents who have always encouraged him to keep a low profile and not draw any attention to himself. But, when Will makes an unheard of perfect score on a national scholastic exam, people take notice. Along with an exclusive prep school who offers him a full scholarship, a group of shadowy men notice Will’s results and will stop at nothing to get him. As Will flees for his life to take shelter at the new school, he realizes there is a cosmic battle of good and evil waging over the fate of humankind and he has unique supernatural abilities that will help him in this fight.

This was another young adult-ish fantasy adventure like The Lost Gate (#429) that I just read, and both books even had characters with directions for surnames (Danny North and Will West). Funny. While Card’s world was more thoroughly developed, in my opinion, Frost’s book was more fun. Even though this plot was a little…cheesy? outlandish?...I enjoyed the story and, like The Lost Gate, I plan on reading the next book in the series. If I were 12 or 13, this probably would have been my new favorite book.

Rating: 6.5

The One with The Lost Gate

Wednesday, March 7, 2018
429. Title & Author: The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card (384 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Completed: 27 February 2018

Summary & Review:
Growing up in a family of magical demi-gods, Danny is a black sheep with no apparent powers. But, one day he discovers that he actually possesses one of the rarest and most powerful magics: the ability to make gates that instantly transport him between locations. Unfortunately, this ability is a death-sentence to any mage who possesses it so Danny fleas his family compound and eventually is taken in by orphan mages who protect and teach him in the hopes that he will be the one to finally create a Great Gate between the worlds.

Reading this was an uneven experience for me. I typically think of myself as an Orson Scott Card fan—in fact, this is the 15th OSC book I’ve read on this list—so I really wanted to like it. I guess overall I did like it, but it’s impossible not to compare this to some of Card’s greats like Ender’s Game (#186), Ender’s Shadow (#217), and Pathfinder (#252), and this book suffered in that comparison. It was another story about a young boy who has great powers/skills but it just wasn’t quite up to same level as the Ender, Shadow, or Pathfinder series.

Something that bothered me was the language and some of the sexual content in this book. This wasn’t anything pornographic, but it was still pretty PG-13, especially for Card since he’s LDS. It was adult enough that I wouldn't let my son read it until he was at least 16.

Those reservations aside, I will definitely read the next book in the series, especially because I already own it...:/

Rating: 6.0

The One with Fantastic Mr Fox

Wednesday, February 28, 2018
428. Title & Author: Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl (83 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Children’s Literature
Completed: 21 February 2018

Summary & Review:
Mr Fox has a talent for getting his family delicious feasts from the stock of three local farmers. Unfortunately for him, this talent has not gone unnoticed by the farmers who finally have had enough of this sneaky fox pilfering their livestock and gang up to catch him. At first they attempt to dig Mr Fox and his family out of their hole, but Mr Fox and his family are able to dig faster. Finally, the farmers settle on starving the foxes out, but Mr Fox proves how fantastic he is by coming up with a way to both feed his family and keep them safe.

I had fun reading this book out loud to Fox and Jane. We got them a box set of Roald Dahl’s books for Christmas so hopefully we can keep reading some of these children’s classics.

Rating: 5.5

The One with Ricochet Joe

Wednesday, February 21, 2018
427. Title & Author: Ricochet Joe by Dean Koontz (95 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Thriller
Completed: 20 February 2018

Summary & Review:
Out of nowhere, Joe seems pulled by a force outside of himself to stop evil happening in his town. With the help of a pretty young woman he learns that he has been selected to help in a cosmic battle between Parasite, a demonic force that infects unsuspecting people and controls them like puppets, and Seeker, who has reached out to Joe for his help. When Joe finally tracks down the person unwittingly playing host to Parasite and discovers it is his own beloved grandmother, he must decide if he can do what is necessary to rid the world of this evil.

Every month, Kindle users who are also Amazon Prime members can select a free book to download. Occasionally included in the options of freebies are these shorter format books called “Kindle Singles,” and this book is one of those. At only 95 pages in length, this was a quick, fast-paced read without a lot of room to really develop characters or backstory. But, that being said, it was a fairly entertaining, if superficial, read. I haven’t read anything by Koontz in probably a dozen years—in fact, it’s been so long that I’ve read something from him I don’t have any of his on this list that I started back in 2008. Whatever the last thing I read by him was, it must have left a bad taste in my mouth because I was hesitant to read this, even if it was only 95 pages. But, this little book helped remove some of that latent dislike of Koontz’s writings. Will I read more? Eh….there are a lot of books out there I want to read so it’s doubtful.

Another interesting thing about this book was that it was also in a new format called “Kindle in Motion,” so it had little slightly animated illustrations to go along with the story. It was a little gimmicky, but I’m all for it. Might as well take advantage of the opportunities e-books offer.

Rating: 4.5

The One with Love and Hate in Jamestown

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
426. Title & Author: Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation by David A. Price (247 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—History
Completed: 10 February 2018

Summary & Review:
In 1606, just a few short years after the failed Roanoke colony disappeared, three ships, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, set sail for the New World form England in an attempt to make a permanent beachhead in Virginia. One of the sailors was a former soldier named John Smith who would become an iconic figure in American history. Equally famous, perhaps even more so, is his twice savior, Pocahontas. The events of the early days of permanent English settlement in the New World and the story of John Smith and Pocahontas are expertly told in this accessible history.

This was a great book. When I learn about events like this and understand how important they were to the development of America, I am perplexed as to why we never covered it in school. Sure, the broad timelines of English colonization were touched on, but most of the time the story was simplified to English settlers came and, despite the magnanimity of Pocahontas in saving John Smith’s life, her people were repaid with theft and slaughter.

That doesn’t seem to be even close to the true story (and don’t even get me started on Disney’s absolute travesty, their 1995 animated film Pocahontas). In contrast to the Spanish and Portuguese, the English were very concerned with their treatment of the natives and John Smith was repeatedly reprimanded when we took too firm a hand, like burning a village in retaliation for thefts or attacks. In fact, there were years of peace between the Indians and English as the English settled on land that was either unused or purchased from the tribes. Not until a gruesome, unprovoked massacre by the Powhatans against the men, women, and children English farmers who the Indians were working with, did the English begin to justify taking land by force.

And why isn’t John Smith still popularly celebrated and remembered? He was almost singly responsible for keeping the Jamestown colony alive during the early years through his expert diplomacy, shrewd use of force, leadership, and desire to truly understand the natives' culture and language. And, while we’re talking about unsung heroes, Pocahontas deserves some major kudos as well. She stopped the execution of John Smith and then later warned him and others about a forthcoming ambush. Additionally, she took a keen interest in English culture eventually converting to Christianity and marrying an Englishman named John Rolfe. The example of John Smith and Pocahontas, as two people who looked for the admirable qualities of one another’s cultures, learned the other’s language and religion, and strove for understanding and peace could have set a precedent for English/Indian relations. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be and the massacre of March 22, 1622 seemed to cement the dire fate of the native tribes.

Aside from the fascinating subject matter, Price was also a deft touch with his scholarship. It was deep enough to feel substantial, but he didn’t get bogged down in arcane trivialities.  I would recommend this book.

Rating: 9.0

The One with The Name of the Wind

Wednesday, January 31, 2018
425. Title & Author: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (729 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Completed: 28 January 2018

Summary & Review:
When the man known as Chronicler is attacked by terrifying beasts, a mysterious stranger kills the creatures and saves his life. After coming to, he realizes that this stranger is none other than the legendary Kvothe. After much persuasion, Kvothe, who now lives as a simple innkeeper under the name Kote, agrees to tell Chronicler his story beginning with his days traveling with his family as part of a theater troupe, his homelessness on the streets of Tarbean, and finally his time at the University where he began to hone his skills with the magic known as Sympathy.

This was on one hand a substantial fantasy novel, but was also kind of like Harry Potter. The stories have a lot of similarities, but Rothfuss is a more serious and detailed fantasy author. The world that Rothfuss created is very well thought out, maybe not quite to Dune (#353) levels, but still impressive, and within this world he has placed some very intriguing characters.

It took me about 75-100 pages to really get into the novel, but then for the next 400-450 pages, I was really into it. But, the last 100-150 started to drag a bit for me as I saw that much of Kvothe’s story would not be told or resolved in this book, but would be saved for the second and still-unpublished third novels.

Rothfuss is clearly a talented writer and by and large I enjoyed the book. Was 700+ pages a bit long for the amount of story that actually happened? Yes, but many fantasy novels are excessively long so I won’t hold that against Rothfuss, much. Other issues I had were Kvothe being just a little too good at everything and Rothfuss expecting us to believe that stage training and music are so important in a world with dragons and magic.

One last thing, Denna is a **bad word redacted** and Kvothe is a little punk for letting her stick him in the friend zone to be used and abused.

Rating: 6.5….maybe 7.0. Let me read the second book and we’ll see how Rothfuss develops the story and Kvothe as a character.

The One with The Field Day from the Black Lagoon

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
424. Title & Author: The Field Day from the Black Lagoon (Black Lagoon Adventures) by Mike Thaler (64 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Children’s Literature
Completed: 21 January 2018

Summary & Review:
When it’s announced that field day will be happening in just one short week, Hubie knows he has to get ready for whatever they might throw at him. Monsters? Tightrope walks over sharks?  Anything is possible and Hubie is going to do everything he can so that he makes it through field day alive!

Fox, Jane, and I have read several of these young-reader chapter books together, such as the Dragon Masters series and Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot series. This book was definitely a step down in terms of sophistication and quality. The humor was very, very cheesy and forced and the story was nonsensical, even for a children’s book.

Rating: 2.0

The One with Goodbye to Berlin

Wednesday, January 3, 2018
423. Title & Author: Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (206 pages)
Genre: Fiction--Novel
Completed: 2 January 2018

Summary & Review: 
During the interwar years of the 1930s, Berlin is a city undergoing tremendous change. The former glory of the Prussian empire is gone, leaving little more than tattered remnants behind, and in its wake is rising a terrible new force. In this atmosphere, Isherwood lives and writes, learning much about dem Deutschen Volke.

Isherwood is undeniably a talented writer and this was an interesting book to read. Naturally, after having lived in Germany for four years, my interest in the country has increased considerably. Plus, the interwar years in Germany are often glossed over, in high school history classes for example, and the student only learns about WWII. Sure, passing mention is given to the Weimar years, mainly in relation to how it brought about the Nazi regime, but details are scarce. I found it fascinating to read these vignettes of everyday German life during those troubled years.

But, what would one of my reviews be without some political gripe?! And I have a biggie with this one! The first five novellas that make up the book are largely apolitical and barely mention Nazis or the political climate in Germany at all. These were what I was referring to in my comments above. The final segment of the book, “A Berlin Diary (Winter 1932-3),” is almost exclusively about the changing political climate and the rise of the Nazis in the city. Isherwood, rightfully so, does a powerfully effective job showing the evil behind the Third Reich. But, the guy is 100% freaking sympathetic to the Communists! Books like this do so much damage because they focus solely on the evils and terrors of fascism and ignore completely those of communism, and that is why today it is wholly socially acceptable to be a communist or socialist, but beyond the pale to be a fascist. Any fair minded person would see the insanity of this as the murders racked up by every. single. communist regime far, far, far surpasses those committed by fascist dictatorships. Isherwood deftly captures the fear and anguish felt by those persecuted by the Nazis, but what of the fear felt by those under communist governments? Berlin suffered under the Nazi yoke for twelve years, but then the city was crushed by the boot heel of Marxism for over four decades! Where is Isherwood’s condemnation of the Soviets and those who rule the DDR with an iron fist every bit as terrible—if not more so—than the Nazis? It is insane to me, absolutely insane, that people find it acceptable to be a communist or socialist. That label should be just as toxic as "Nazi" or "fascist."

Without this last section, or if perhaps Isherwood weren’t so completely blind to the terrors of communism, this book would have scored much higher.

Rating: 5.5

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