Category: "Books: Read"

Mistborn - Brandon Sanderson

April 17th, 2012

Mistborn by Brandon SandersonThe Mists rule the night.

The Lord Ruler owns the world.

Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.

He failed.

For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.

Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.

There are many things that Vin knows, thanks to her brother. She knows that she is no one, that she can trust no one, that no one cares about her and that everyone will betray her in the end. She also knows, however, that she is different from everyone else; she has this...ability. And it may be that ability that has kept her alive this long. And then she meets some people. Or more accurately, then some people come looking for Vin and they will challenge everything that her brother taught her and offer her a chance to be a part of something important. But can she learn to trust them?

Mistborn is book one in a trilogy of the same name. Brandon Sanderson takes us to his sci-fi/fantasy world where people are either the low-class skaa or of noble birth. And everyone fears the Lord Ruler, who saved the world and enslaved it in the same act of epic bravery over one thousand years ago.

The characters in Mistborn and its plot are refreshingly unique. I enjoyed seeing this genre differently as it was presented by Mr. Sanderson. Some parts were difficult to read, but...they needed to be. I cannot go into more detail without revealing information you should find out on your own when you read, but due to the nature of the story line, some action sequences may leave you dizzy from repetition.

This book is so complex I feel like it is a trilogy itself rolled into one book. I cannot imagine how much more ground can be covered in two more books, but I am more than curious enough to find out. Mistborn is well-written and engaging. I look forward to book 2.

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Read This Before Our Next Meeting - Al Pittampalli

April 3rd, 2012

Read This Before Our Next Meeting - Al PittampalliSomeone asked me the other day, what I do for a living. I found myself hard pressed for an answer. If he wanted to know my job title, or what industry I work in, then all I had to do was to recite what's on my business card. But he seemed sincere. He honestly wanted to know what I do most of the day, so I was honest too: What I do for a living is attend meetings. Bad meetings.

One mediocre meeting after another quietly corrodes our organization, and every day we allow it to happen.

If an operating room were as sloppily run as our meetings, patients would die. If a restaurant kitchen put as little planning into the meal as we put into our meetings, dinner would never be served. Worst of all, our meeting culture is changing how we focus, what we focus on, and what decisions we make. But there is an answer. A new kind of meeting -- the Modern Meeting. Starting today, that's how we're going to do business.

Culture change occurs when a transformational idea spreads to enough people. Like a virus that makes its way from person to person, spreading exponentially faster, so can the Modern Meeting.

The status quo must go. Now. Before it's too late.

Like so many others, I have first-hand experience with inefficient meetings. A meeting is called and little to no information is given for what it is about. The wrong people are invited and then sit silently in the meeting as their time is wasted. The key people show up to the meeting without having prepared anything to offer and simply expect to bring value. In no time at all the conversation is derailed and the scheduled time elapses with no results. The meeting ends and nothing has been accomplished.

I think that more businesses are plagued by meetings-for-the-sake-of-meetings than would care to admit. I believe the topic is on the forefront of every initiative to gain efficiency in modern business. The "correct" structure of meetings was certainly an issue for many of the businesses that Al Pittampalli visited in his years as an IT Advisor, which prompted him to lead the charge for better meetings. He has studied various aspects of what could make an effective, efficient and successful meeting and his findings are laid out in this book.

This book serves to reinforce my frustrations with so many of the meetings that I am invited to attend. I would wager that the people who will be most drawn to this book are those of us who would like to see a change in their meetings. The irony is that we are the ones who are trying to make the change we wish to see. Perhaps I just need to make some anonymous gifts...

There are a lot of "business books" that have a good message and I will say that most are not very well-written. I found the message of Read This Before Our Next Meeting to be poignant and I thought the writing was clear, concise and engaging. The book is short, but consider that a strength instead of an issue of value; I am sure he could have written more, but is it worth it to dilute his message? I enjoyed this book and recommend that you pick up a couple copies make a few anonymous gifts of your own.

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Fablehaven - Brandon Mull

March 27th, 2012

Fablehaven by Brandon MullFor centuries, mystical creatures of all description were gathered to a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic in a cynical world. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite. . .

Kendra and her brother Seth have no idea their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws give relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken, an arcane evil is unleashed, forcing Kendra and Seth to face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save her family, Fablehaven, and perhaps the world, Kendra must find the courage to do what she fears most.

Kendra and Seth must spend a week with their grandparents when Mom and Dad are called away unexpectedly. They do not know these grandparents very well and the kids are beyond annoyed that they are being left with them. The house is beautiful and the yard is amazing, but there is something strange about this place. The kids learn that they are spending this week on one of the most important preserves for magical creatures and their grandfather is the caretaker. In the woods beyond the yard live creatures great and small, good and evil. After a series of dangerous events, Kendra and Seth need to take chances on which creatures they can trust to help them while avoiding those that will hurt them.

I absolutely love to drift off into a world of young-adult, fantasy fiction from time to time. They are the perfect remedy after a long, drawn-out read. It is hard to find a series that has a good balance of worthwhile writing and youthful creativity. I was directed to Fablehaven awhile back, but had my doubts. Once I finally got started, I flew through the book and was entertained throughout (I did take one exception with the constant and blatant disregard for authority from Seth, but I see it was necessary to move the story along). I am excited about this magical world created by Brandon Mull. I do not like to read any series back-to-back, but I look forward to reading book 2 soon.

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Trunk Music - Michael Connelly

March 8th, 2012

Trunk Music by Michael ConnellyTony Aliso finally had a hit. Stuffed into the trunk of his Rolls on a ragged stretch of Mulholland Drive, the B-movie producer took two bullets to the head -- a kind of job wiseguys call "Trunk Music." LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, hungry for action after an involuntary layoff, catches the case and is soon painstakingly unraveling Aliso's life, times, and ties...from his Mob deals to his beautiful wife to a stripper in Vegas to the disgraced FBI agent who just happens to be Harry's ex-girlfriend. Now somewhere between LA and Las Vegas is the one answer Harry needs. But so are enemies on both sides of the law, the woman he still loves, and the secrets that can break your heart -- or get you killed.

A no-name movie producer is found dead stuffed in the trunk of his own car. He may have been murdered by a business partner from a deal that went south, his estranged wife, his stripper girlfriend, or maybe this murder has more to it than meets the eye. Harry Bosch is back in action and this case has him traveling to Las Vegas and uncovering a complex scheme that has significant ties involving the Mob. It wouldn't be Bosch if everything went smoothly, even though the guy does try to play it level...most of the time. The road blocks he faces this time come in the form of a new boss, The Feds, an old flame and some potentially dirty cops.

This is the fifth book in the series. Harry is a tough pill to swallow at times; he can have a very reckless disregard for personal and professional relationships and certainly for protocol, as well. In the earlier books this is even more prevalent than here, but he is still the same, old Harry. I keep reading them because I do enjoy them. I like how the books are written and I like seeing the progression of Harry's career.

Trunk Music is my favorite of the series so far. I definitely attribute it to Michael Connelly's improvement as a storyteller and I am excited to read them all.

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Sacré Bleu - Christopher Moore

February 28th, 2012

Sacré Bleu by Christopher MooreIt is the color of the Virgin Mary's cloak, a dazzling pigment desired by artists, an exquisite hue infused with danger, adventure, and perhaps even the supernatural. It is . . .

Sacré Bleu

In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life . . . and then walk a mile to a doctor's house for help? Who was the crooked little "color man" Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue?

These are just a few of the questions confronting Vincent's friends—baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec—who vow to discover the truth about van Gogh's untimely death. Their quest will lead them on a surreal odyssey and brothel-crawl deep into the art world of late nineteenth-century Paris.

Oh là là, quelle surprise, and zut alors! A delectable confection of intrigue, passion, and art history—with cancan girls, baguettes, and fine French cognac thrown in for good measure—Sacré Bleu is another masterpiece of wit and wonder from the one, the only, Christopher Moore.

European painters and the rest of the art world sent the 19th century to a close in style. So many great painters made so many great paintings and Christopher Moore explores the potential that maybe there was more to their combined genius than meets the eye. In Sacré Bleu Moore weaves a satirical web of the super natural and the inspired, tracing the artists and their work back to the "color man."

I am very familiar with the distinctive cover artwork of his previous work, but this was the first book by Mr. Moore that I've read. I thought that setting this story in 1790s Paris and incorporating all of the great painters who worked in that time was an enticing offering.

I can now tell you that it is my opinion that if you like Christopher Moore, you will like books by Tom Robbins and vice versa. I found the styles of the two authors to be very similar. And Sacré Bleu is Tom Robbins meets art history, consider it five parts Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates and one part The Da Vinci Code.

I am such a big fan of when a writer is able to work a substantial amount of fact into a work of fiction. I appreciate the work that went into Chris Moore building this work of art around so many other works of art.

Moore is known for his humor and I did not find this book to be particularly funny, but I am a tough critic on humor. There were definitely some parts that made smirk, if not chuckle, but I don't think you should expect to laugh out loud while you read Sacré Bleu.

Overall, I think this book was just ok. I liked the art history lesson, but the writing style that Moore and Tom Robbins share is not one to which I am drawn. If you like that, you will probably get more out of this than I did.

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The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

November 10th, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldReclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness -- featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

A woman is chosen, seemingly at random, to write the biography for England's most cherished and most mysterious author. Margaret comes to live with the secretive Vida Winter to chronicle the series of unlikely and hard-to-believe situations that shaped her into the woman and the prolific storyteller that she became. She hears tales of twins, ghosts, love affairs, missing parents and more. The journey on which Ms. Winter takes Margaret is heart-breaking and wondrous. They are secrets that the world is waiting with bated breath to hear, but secrets that might need to be kept.

This is a bizarre little book, but one I really enjoyed. I found the plot to be very creative and unlike anything I've read before. I am always glad to read something so different. Some of the events described were surprisingly aggressive, which I'm not used to, but I was able to adapt. The one thing that I cannot deny was the power in Diane Setterfield's writing; it was awesome. She wrote poetically and emotionally and that is how I adapted to the stories told; good writing can transform just about anything into something worth reading about.

Admittedly, it took me a very long time to get around to reading this book. I tell myself that I do that to distance myself from the recommendations I receive so my expectations aren't too high, but sometimes the plot just sounds so droll. I do not want to raise your expectations to a level where they cannot be met by this book, but I enjoyed it and I hope you do too.

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The Finkler Question - Howard Jacobson

June 6th, 2011

The Finkler Question by Howard JacobsonHe should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one... Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik, a Czech always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.

Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor's grand, central London apartment. It's a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you have less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends' losses.

And it's that very evening, at exactly 11:30 pm, as Treslove, walking home, hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country, that he is attacked. And after this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.

The Finkler Question is a scorching story of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and of the wisdom and humanity of maturity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2010 Man Booker Prize Winner. Be like me. Be mislead by the synopsis, which summarizes what happens in only the first few pages and read the book. That is marketing. You sell books that are about lifelong friends who cope with loss in each others' misery. There is depth to that story. There are layers you can't wait to peal away, one chapter at a time. You may still sell some books, but not nearly as many, that are about two Jews who wonder what the point is to be Jewish any more and their non-Jew friend who is literally obsessed with all things Jewish.

This book is a great example of an unnamed genre where the weak plot is just a vehicle for an author to write beautifully about something. In The Finkler Question, Jacobson offers some deep perspective on mortality, companionship and the sense of self. He adds some commentary on the still-on-going violence against Jews around the world. His characters are flawed, even those who seem to be the best put together (maybe they are the most flawed of all) and that might be the most "real" part about this story.

It seems that from the a few of the recent Man Booker winners that maybe the Prize goes to the book that has the best writing and is not necessarily the best book...if that makes sense. To that point I cite this book and Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh.

Wikipedia says that Howard Jacobson "is best known for writing comic novels that often revolve around the dilemmas of British Jewish characters." This is recommended reading if you like pretty much anything by Michael Chabon who works a healthy amount of Judaism into his writing, whether it belongs there or not. That's not really my "thing," though I will always highly encourage people to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

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The Jefferson Key - Steve Berry

May 16th, 2011

The Jefferson Key by Steve BerryFour United States presidents have been assassinated—in 1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963—each murder seemingly unrelated and separated by time.

But what if those presidents were all killed for the same reason: a clause in the United States Constitution—contained within Article 1, Section 8—that would shock Americans?

This question is what faces former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone in his latest adventure. When a bold assassination attempt is made against President Danny Daniels in the heart of Manhattan, Malone risks his life to foil the killing—only to find himself at dangerous odds with the Commonwealth, a secret society of pirates first assembled during the American Revolution. In their most perilous exploit yet, Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt race across the nation and take to the high seas. Along the way they break a secret cipher originally possessed by Thomas Jefferson, unravel a mystery concocted by Andrew Jackson, and unearth a centuries-old document forged by the Founding Fathers themselves, one powerful enough—thanks to that clause in the Constitution—to make the Commonwealth unstoppable.

Intelligence operative, and Berry's cash-cow and serial hero, Cotton Malone has to match wits with Jonathan Wyatt while attempting to solve a conspiracy that has roots as deep as the US Constitution. (Wyatt is first introduced in Berry's e-book The Devil's Gold; a 40-page teaser that is not required reading, but still worth your time.)

This is not my first Steve Berry, but it is my first Cotton Malone. I normally pass on this type of character because this guy can literally do anything...think action-hero Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons (yes I'm still bitter about that). But I was drawn in by the intriguing concept of the Commonwealth; I am a BIG fan of conspiracy theory.

The Jefferson Key avoided that "action hero" story line...for the most part. And I greatly appreciated it. The suspense in this book was intense. I would provide an audible "dun dun dunnnnn!" at the end of a large number of chapters. Though I will admit that there were almost too many cliff-hanger chapter endings if you can imagine a suspense author's version of crying wolf.

I thought that Mr. Berry did a commendable job of balancing history with fiction. He wove an intricate web and it made for a great read. I liked this book and have been recommending it to others like I recommend it to you.

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The Devil's Gold - Steve Berry

May 5th, 2011

The Jefferson Key by Steve BerryOnce he was called the Sphinx, a man so inscrutable that neither his adversaries nor fellow intelligence operatives could predict his next move. Now a contract agent with a secret mission, Jonathan Wyatt has gone rogue. For eight years he’s been plotting. Waiting. Scheming to kill Federal agents Christopher Combs and Cotton Malone, whom he blames for the loss of his career. But as Wyatt prepares for a final confrontation in a remote South American village, he makes a discovery that stretches back to the horrors of World War II, to the astounding secret of a child’s birth, to Martin Bormann and Eva Braun—and to a fortune in lost gold.

Jonathan Wyatt is hot on the trail of one of the two man against whom he will exact his revenge. Eight years ago Christopher Combs and Cotton Malone participated in the administrative hearing that signaled the end of Wyatt's career. In The Devil's Gold, Wyatt has tracked Combs to South America and is closing in.

I will keep this review about this short story and not get into the economics of selling this as a stand-alone short story for less than 40 pages of material. Super short. But as Steve Berry can be counted on for, this reels you in. It is clear that this story was just to introduce Wyatt. The story is a fast-paced thrill ride, but it is over too quickly. Many things could have been developed more thoroughly, but remember that this is not its own full-length novel. Read it. You'll like it, but you'll wish it had been longer.

Note: This is available as an e-book only.

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The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

April 14th, 2011

The White Tiger by Aravind AdigaBalram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, Balram tells us the horrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life -- having nothing but his own wits to help him along. Along with a charisma as undeniable as it is unexpected, Balram teaches us that religion doesn't create virtue, and money doesn't solve every problem -- but decency can still be found in a corrupt world, and you can get what you want out of life if you eavesdrop on the right conversations.

Amoral, irrelevant, deeply endearing, and utterly contemporary, this novel is an international sensation -- and a startling, provocative debut.

In a book-length correspondence to the head of the Chinese government, Balram writes his views on the changing landscape of the global economy and the personal experiences on which his thoughts are based. His ideas are progressive and it must be his upbringing within the world of organized crime in India that has given him his unique perspective. He uses his experiences as evidence to bolster his credibility.

Aravind Adiga won the Man Booker Prize in 2008 for The White Tiger. I use the Man Booker Prize nominees list every year as a great source for my to-read pile. Sometimes I agree with the chosen winner, sometimes I do not. I have not read each book that was nominated in 2008 yet, but I was not disappointed with the Prize going to The White Tiger. I have never read a book like this before and I thought it to be very creative. This was a departure from what I normally read and that was as refreshing as it was frustrating. But I was pleased to see an author write in such a way to better display the main character's personality. I think all of this speaks to why Adiga was only the fourth author awarded the Booker Prize for a debut novel.

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