Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Don't Get Played Again

Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a review of the audiobook version of this fine novel. Both the characters and the writing get more mature with this installation of the Harry Potter saga. Jim Dale does an outstanding job of reading once again. This is the one where Harry gets played, but gives as good as he gets so that the player gets played in the end. Maneuvered into participation in the Triwizard Tournament, Harry must survive trials of the tournament and the evil deeds of evildoers. Death Eaters, you know. Hate those guys. Voldemort is not only gross, but loquacious and spends way too much time talking when he should be killing. Just like a villain. Stupid villains. They never get a happy ending, you know. Oh, and Rita Skeeter - bitch. Enough said. Dumbledore is his usual wise, great and powerful self. Anyhoo, Voldemort is back to wreak havoc in the next novel, and hey Voldemort - less talking, more killing! Jeez Louise! Stupid villain. There are wins, but there are losses and that's what gives me respect for JKR's writing with this installment. If you've never read, Harry Potter, you should, even though Harry never once passes gas and laughs about it.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018


The Complete Adventures of Curious GeorgeThe Complete Adventures of Curious George by Margret Rey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Curious George was a fixture of my childhood. I read those books repeatedly. Now, as an adult, I wonder - what made Curious George work? It's been around for a long time and kids still seem to love it. Maybe it's that the stories are simple, engaging and don't overwhelm the senses. Maybe it's that George makes mistakes, but doesn't get judged for it. There's a much about the character and the events that most any kid can relate to. The illustrations are friendly and heartwarming. As I read the book, I always found myself smiling at the end of a chapter. The book does a good job of educating without lecturing. Did I hold on to my childhood curiosity because of these books? I don't know. Likely, there were many factors that made me treasure that quality, but I like to think that the curios little monkey and the man in the yellow hat were a significant influence. Good reading for kids of all ages.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Jesus! This book is LONG!!!

AlaskaAlaska by James A. Michener
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The thing I love about reading is that a good book will take you to places that you either could not go to or probably never would, even if you could. James Michener makes an excellent tour guide in this novel set in Alaska. He takes the reader from the geologic formation of that part of North America to its first settlement by Asians crossing the Bering Land Bridge all the way to to modern Alaska in the early 1990s, which, by the way, is when I started reading this very long book. I bought it in early 1992 and said to myself, "This could take some time." Well, obviously, it did. But, you want to know if you should read it, right?

Aside from a few minor items that do not agree with the scientific consensus on the physics and geology involved with Alaska's history on Earth (popular notes and highlights in the kindle edition point these out), Michener makes a very engaging retelling of the events in a manner very similar to what Robert M. Hazen does in his similar popular nonfiction retellings of Earth's history. If this kind of thing interests you, I strongly suggest you read Hazen's works.

The characters Michener creates as participants in this historical fiction are a bit on the two dimensional side and many of them share too similar characteristics. But, they are all engaging and don't take too much away from what the story really tries to do, which is, tell their tales as survival stories. What else can one's goals in Alaska be, but to survive? Well, that and get rich quick, and there's plenty of those stories too. Michener makes you truly feel how majestic, isolated, cold, barren and dangerous Alaska can be. He also makes you want to google pictures of the mountains, bays, icefields, glaciers, skies and wildlife of Alaska. I think that when you've read this book, you'll feel that you've come as close as you can get to having been there as you can given that this is a work of fiction. Well, written nonfiction books would certainly do better.

This book is unnecessarily long. But, that's James Michener for you. If you do some hunting, you can probably find the Reader's Digest condensed books that have some of his novels and likely get the same satisfaction from reading them. There are Audible unabridged versions of most of his novels and if I were going to read this one again, I'd definitely do it as an audiobook. Jesus! This book is long!

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

This Will Make You FEEL Redeemed .... But It Won't Redeem You

Sandbox WisdomSandbox Wisdom by Tom Asacker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What a charming book! Full of sage advice and wisdom, this book details the experience of Bill - a corporate executive - who spends a day with Falcon and his granddaughter Annie. In that single day, Bill learns of the wisdom of children and how it can help him in his daily business life. Bill's experience seems too good to be true, so .... was it? Tom Asacker gives no indication that the story either is or is not fiction. It seems to me that if it were true, the author would have made a major issue of it, so it seems reasonable to conclude that it is entirely fiction, and herein lies the problem with this book. First, I will point out that the advice given in the book is good advice - shallow though it is. To bottom line it, people are more important than profits and business should be modeled on how it can make the world a better place. I'm all for that! However, there is nothing in this book that anyone with a decent upbringing wouldn't already know. I don't think it would be of any use to business people who do not have a decent upbringing as they would simply never pick it up, even if encouraged to do so. Business people who make the world a better place don't become so by reading books like this, and I seriously doubt that reading a book like this would ever transform a business person from being an opportunistic asshole to something approximating a decent human being. That said, if you're a touchy-feely, artsy-fartsy type, or a business person who feels guilty about screwing people over, this book is gonna make you feel real good about the possibility of change. It might even inspire you a little bit. If that inspiration leads to your action for the good of all, let me know about it. Otherwise, it's a nice little collection of wisdom. Enjoy!

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Monday, January 08, 2018

Bord Now

Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron: The Deluxe Junior NovelMarvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron: The Deluxe Junior Novel by Chris Wyatt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I am more a fan of DC Comics, I must say that Marvel Studios has frequently outdone DC and Warner Brothers Studios with their respective franchises. Where Marvel does not shine is in movie novelizations. I enjoy movie novelizations because there are no issues with mumbling actors and ambiguous cinematography. This novel, written for youngsters, reads like a series of facebook posts. There are more exclamation points than I could count and the scene depictions are very dry. There is very little insight into the characters, their thoughts and their feelings. Basically, Mr. Wyatt wrote down what he saw on the screen and heard on the speakers. I do like the attractive layout and format of the book and the movie stills are a plus. However, personally, I would never recommend this book to a young reader - I don't care how bored he or she is with reading. I don't think it would encourage reading at all. The best thing I can say about this book is that the hardcover version is less expensive than the kindle version, it's pretty and would look nice on a bookshelf and I now know all the dialogue despite mumbling actors.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018


FaceOffFaceOff by David Baldacci
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm more a fan of police procedurals than I am a fan of PI or similarly themed "mystery" novels, and while I do enjoy the works of many of the authors featured in this anthology, I'm not a hard core fan of anyone except F. Paul Wilson and John Sandford. When I saw this on, I was skeptical that the authors could pull off any authentic short story mashup of their characters. It seemed to me that the effort would be forced and come across that way. Well, that's how I found them as I listened. I was easily distracted while listening to many of these stories. I listened through the Hoopla Digital service, so at least I was spared having to buy the book. i would have returned it if I had.

That said, if you enjoy the genre, these stories aren't bad at all. I personally didn't find them compelling, but I'm me and you're you and we're probably not exactly alike, don'tcha think? If you stopped to look at this book, read it. I command you! :-)

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

No Gods, No Masters

Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old QuestionsLiving the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions by Phil Zuckerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most folks I know are, at least to some degree, religious. It's understandable. Often times, the inspiration religion gives them to do good is unquestionably admirable. Religion clearly provides many people with comfort, a sense of community and a moral compass. Religion has been and still is a source of inspiration for great art, literature and music that I enjoy very much. I understand the need and desire for people to be religious, because I used to be one of them. I just wish that more religious people would try to understand those of us who have given up that path, have found that nature is enough, and lead secular lives. Of the many books I've read that portray this subject, I can recommend no better than this one.

This book does nothing to bash or denigrate religion or the religious. It does address the problems that are created in the name of religion - racial bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, denial of science, positions of infallibility and the ridiculous notion that the USA is a "Christian Nation" in the sense that our government should endorse and promote only Christianity as a way of life for patriotic citizens. At the same time, it acknowledges and commends every single good that religion does for both individuals and society. Phil Zuckerman is not an enemy of the religious. He just wants religious people to understand secular people.

Up to one third of American citizens do not actively practice or participate in any kind of religion, so whether they claim to be or not, they - and those of us who freely admit as much - lead secular lives. Secular people do not deny the right of others to peacefully and ethically practice their religions. They simply lead their lives without such influence and would like to do so without being harassed, thank you very much. Essentially, secular people take the position that they have only one life entirely in this world and that people - not gods - are what matter most. If you as a religious person want to understand what a secular life is like as portrayed by people who live it, Phil Zuckerman has done of the work of conducting research and interviewing numerous people who live secular lives. Read Phil's bio and CV to see how qualified he is to do so and then, if you want to see the other side, sit down and enjoy. You don't have to change your mind. Just develop an understanding. You'll find that this book has extensive notes, a generous bibliography and an excellent index (formatted most usefully for ebooks).

Phil Zuckerman is, in my humble opinion, a very clear writer, though not all that concise. I prefer concise when I'm learning something. He writes some of the longest sentences I've ever read in my secular life. However, he is honest, forthright, considerate, compassionate and eager to portray his subject matter with minimal bias and unflinching honesty. I've met him online, but I'd buy him a beer and chat with him any day of the week.

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Monday, December 25, 2017


Animal Rage (Smallville Series for Young Adults, #4)Animal Rage by David Cody Weiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fourth in a series of YA novels based on the CW TV series Smallville continues the coming of age saga of Clark Kent as he learns to deal with his emerging powers and the responsibilities they impose on him. Clark meets Heather who can shape shift into any animal she touches. She is an avid animal rights activist making use of her meteor rock (kryptonite) induced talents. Her activities endanger Clark's friends and Clark must protect them. Clark's friendship with Lex Luthor takes a turn down an exploratory road of discussions about man's relationship with nature and in what way does nature shape a person.
The authors are veterans of DC comics and county fairs, so the narrative has engaging authenticity. I found it to be an enjoyable read and needed fuel for my Kryptonian obsession.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Fun Read!

Rebellion (Stargate, #1)Rebellion by Bill McCay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based on the 1994 film, Stargate, this is the first of five novels by Bill McCay that imagines what happened after the events of the film. In this installment, US government contracts a mining company to obtain a quartz mineral from Abydos. The US military, led by Jack O'Neil, follows to provide cover for the operation. Daniel Jackson acts as mediator between the natives and the mining company. The situation quickly turns into the kind of badly run occupation force similar to those that existed in Iraq, what with the mining company executives making unreasonable demands of the natives. O'Neil, with the help of Jackson, has the difficult job of smoothing relations between the mining company and the natives. Meanwhile, Hathor arrives at Abydos in her enormous pyramidal starship in response to Ra's lack of response (as Ra was killed in the movie). Good times all around!

Bill McCay is a prolific author of film and television adaption novels. His writing is engaging and his characters are believable. The pace of the novel is constant. Dialogue is not overly dramatic. McCay makes this a fun read, so if you're looking for a fun read and you're a Stargate fan, pick this one up.

I'm more a fan of the Stargate TV franchise than the original film. The first two books were written before the television series began, so O'Neil (no sense of humor) is not the same as O'Neill (a master of snark). There is no Teal'c and the Egyptian gods are not Goa'uld. The television series has its own set of novels.

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Monday, November 06, 2017

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3)Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This second time around, I consumed this treat as an audiobook. Jim Dale is an excellent narrator. As I mentioned in my first review, this is where I gain a good measure of respect for JKR as a writer. I particularly found her handling of time travel palatable. As physics is the love of my life, you should be aware that this is a huge concession on my part. I didn't even mind that Harry never once farted and laughed about it. You know - the way a real boy would. Read it or listen to it and you will definitely have an adventure. Thank you, Tara!

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Friday, October 06, 2017

People Are Good At Making Shit Up

Don't Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never LearnedDon't Know Much About Mythology: Everything You Need to Know About the Greatest Stories in Human History but Never Learned by Kenneth C. Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone eventually wonders how everything came to be and this was certainly true of ancient people. Of course, they did not have a reliable method of studying nature and predicting its behavior, so they made stuff up and that stuff became mythology. There are as many mythologies as there have been pre-scientific cultures, so it's a daunting field of study to master. No worries. If it's not your profession, just pick this book up for a good introduction to mythology. Davis delves into the major cultural mythologies of nearly all of Earth's civilizations. He does so in a very entertaining style and for those who want to seriously pursue the subject further, he provides an extensive bibliography. My only disappointment is in his lack of an exploration of how an established religion becomes mythology, and if he left that topic out due to its potentially sensitive nature, I get it, but dang, I'm still disappointed.
I was prompted to pick up this book while watching Stargate SG-1, which uses mythology as one of the show's vehicles for telling its story. In the show, aliens come to earth and pose as the recognizable gods of various mythologies. You'd almost think that Davis was a consultant to the show reading this book, but he was not.
In any case, if you're looking for an entertaining way to get a good overview and introduction to mythology, this is an excellent read.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017


Spook: Science Tackles the AfterlifeSpook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Roach is a journalist. It seems to me that, when presenting investigative journalism, journalists should serve the reader by presenting evidence to support a case for claims made in the investigation. This books is about how science tackles the question of an alleged afterlife. Mary Roach does an excellent job of presenting an excellent history of the subject as well as evidence collected in both research and her personal investigations with both diligence and humor. She sources both believers and skeptics, although I think she would have done well to source those who criticize the possibility of consciousness absent the body based on the absence of any plausible mechanism. In my estimation, that is the crux of the issue - believers hold their position based on ignorance (I don't know, therefore I do know) rather than actual mechanisms supported by data. Every single conclusion of a paranormal investigator given in this book involves wishful thinking. It's childish. If the evidence presented in this book is evaluated in isolation, it seems to me that any reasonable person would conclude, based on that evidence, that there is no good reason to accept as reasonably possible the existence of an afterlife or any existence of consciousness absent the body. I think it's perfectly acceptable that a journalist draws his or her own conclusions from their investigation, and I'll give Mary Roach credit for being honest in saying that her conclusion is based on feelings rather than facts, but I was disappointed that she believes in ghosts. Feelings are not a reliable basis for determining the truth of a claim. Children use feelings as a basis for constructing their world views. If you're grown up, you'll depend on facts.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Loquacious Villianary

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this more the second time around, even though Harry still doesn't fart in this book. Spoiler: He doesn't fart in any of them. There is some righteous puking though. Poor Ron. Lots of self-abuse. Silly, Dobby! Some over-the-top loquacious villianary. That Voldemort - he talks too much! I'm like, "Kill him already!" but he just keeps on talking to Harry. Maybe he's lonely. Who knows? I still say that the little hat trick that Harry pulled off is contrived, but JKR saves face in the later books. In my original reading, I came close to giving up on the series with this one. The Prisoner of Azkaban brought me back. On to that one then! Come, Watson! The game's afoot! Oh .... wrong series. Never mind!

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Oh, The Humanity!

Human UniverseHuman Universe by Brian Cox
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Human Universe is the book accompanying the BBC television series of the same name. Brian Cox is the host of the show and author of this book. He is a physicist and science popularizer in the same spirit as Carl Sagan, and his writing reminds me very much of Carl's. Like COSMOS, Human Universe is a person voyage and Brian gives his personal perspective on how our understanding of the universe is woven into the fabric of society. What I admire most about his presentation is his clear delineation of what is established scientific consensus, what is scientific speculation and what is his own personal opinion. He doesn't hold back. He lets the popular press, television producers, politicians, the blissfully ignorant and even his fellow scientists have it with both barrels of the proverbial shotgun when it comes to criticizing the misunderstanding of science, miscommunication of science, or the inappropriate use of institutional power to muzzle scientists. Filled with captivating photographs and engaging stories, this book has an emotional appeal that most popular science books do not. If you read it electronically, do so on a tablet. I highly recommend it.

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