April 2, 2014

Review: Divergent

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 11:14 pm

Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I primarily read this book because my daughter wants to see the movie and I figured I better get it in before it would be spoiled. I did not have very high hopes but I did find myself getting pulled into the story. Putting aside what my wife would call “the special flower” syndrome, the story was not that bad. The pacing was very well done and the character development hooked me up until about the last quarter of the book where I thought things just moved way too fast.

I suspect now that I have read the frist part I will eventually complete the trilogy.

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March 8, 2014

Review: Tales of the Jazz Age

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 10:32 pm

Tales of the Jazz Age
Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tales of the Jazz Age is a collection of eleven stories. While the requesite cadre of flappers, fops, and dandies dally through a few of the tales, there are some interesting seques taken. The first collection of stories, My Last Flappers, are what I come to expect from Fitzgerald. Privileged middle to upper-middle class characters drinking and partying and the woes there in, sprinkled with some bandits and socialists along the way. There are tales of longing; Oh Russet Witch and The Lees of Happiness, which reminded me a bit of Vonnegut but without much of the humor and aliens. Those stories spoke of paths taken and those not taken and regrets into one’s waning age. I include the Strange Case of Benjamin Button with these, but that story itself is more fantifical and memorable; illiciting a more power reaction in me; yet a similar one. A telling of a life in reverse that unsurprisingly ends the same way but comfortingly without the regrets.

The inclusion of the rather odd Button is buffeted by a more fantifical tale: The Diamond As Big As the Ritz. This was a story I was completely unprepared for in this collection and quite a treat. More of and adventure, survivalist tale, Diamond is a story of a Pre Civil War plantation owner who set about with his wealth on quest of discovery and chanced upon a mountain that was literally a diamond. Packing up his family and slaves he creates a fortress at the at the peak of the moutain, a castle of jewels and extravagance; isolated from the rest of the world. He sends his children off to private school and that is where we meet the protagonist of the story: A Southern boy of meager, yet proud heritage who is invited to spend the Summer with his fellow classmate, the son of the antagonist. I won’t spoil the rest of the story here, suffice to say it is rather wild and thoroughly entertaining.

I will part with another tale that felt more at home in Western magazine, perchance written by Howard if not for the bit more of romance in this tale; Jemina. A veritible Hatfields vs McCoys kind of story in the south. While a bit comical, it was even more short and quick to end rather oddly.

Overall, I enjoyed the Tales of the Jazz Age.

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Review: Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies About the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior Into a Raging Homosexual

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 10:32 pm

Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies About the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior Into a Raging Homosexual
Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies About the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior Into a Raging Homosexual by Michael Wolraich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, the title is a mouthful, but the content is easily digested and I thought well presented. The book takes a decent look at the history and psychology behind persecution politics. Ideas that give rise to severe divisive stances and ideological blockades even in the face of contrary evidence. Focus is on the current persecution espoused by the far right and how the prominent voices; Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Pat Buchannan, etc.; achieved their status in society today. Looking at similar issues in the past, from the Red Scare to the Civil Rights movement and how those periods compare to today. What seems to have been the defining moment for what we see today is the IRS coming after the “Seg” schools. How from that challenge bloomed what we experience today. I found it very thought provoking and eye opening.

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Review: Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 10:32 pm

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free
Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was great! Witty, entertaining and enlightening. It made me really reflect upon many of the issues challenging our society today. It also spared a great deal of interest in James Madison and his works.

The premise that the great American crank, a once wonderful and uniquely American icon, has now been corrupted by being thrust into the limelight and give automatic credence with very little refutation is aptly explored. Where once cranks were curiosities that sparked imagination and wonder and often resulted in being run out of town; now they are given immediate expert status. Pierce posits that critical challenges have been push to the wayside and that now if and idea moves units, is shouted loud enough, and has enough people believe it is given as truth. Regardless of the idea’s merits or whether it passes scientific method. That crank ideas are then given truth and thus a debate is formed where hooey is pitted against scientific theory and gives credence that there is a middle ground.

Pierce’s hypothesis are backed up by his years of journalistic exploration and many first hand experiences and interviews with people help to draw out his points. That along with much discussion of the founding father’s ideals, especially lifted from the Articles of Federation and James Madison’s work I believe help him make a very strong point.

Read this book, it is awesome!

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November 5, 2013

Review: Nothing Gold Can Stay

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 12:28 am

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rash’s collection of short stories spanned a goodly amount of years. While tinged with beauty they were often flavoured with a raw edge that left me troubled, provoked, yet entertained. I have not spent much time in Appalachia but Rash gave me such a vivid picture that I would both delight at the beauty but keep an ever watchful eye on my back and should my tongue trespass.

Each tale was a little treasure with teeth. There were a few that I was outright frustrated at the outcome yet pleased that while there was no sugar coating, I was left pondering the motivations of the characters and how they would challenge my own if in a similar situation.

Excellent work and I will read more from this author.

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October 30, 2013

Review: Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 9:59 am

Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State
Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a difficult read primarly due to the amount of acronyms for the various governmental and privately run organizations. This type of book is one that shows one of the disadvantages of reading in eBook format. While there is a glossary in the back one can reference, doing so on a eReader is quite cumbersome. Aside from that the book was very approachable and provided a lot of primary sources, albeit aliases intact for most, to flush out the Author’s arguement that “Top secret America has become an institution that by it’s very nature is an unmanagable mess.”

A bit of history is presented to set the stage for what would become the explosion of survelience and covert military action post 9/11. An overall is presented of how this military industry kicked into high gear in reaction to 9/11 and then the book breaks down to exploring specific facets of Top Secret America including electronic survelience, drones, and secret prisions, and special forces. Most of this information is pretty mainstream today but what I find a bit disturbing overall is that while nation was shocked into awareness over the Snowden leaks, what Dana Priest was collecting and reporting on for the past 10 years was exactly what those leaks revealed. It is a wakeup call that collectively we have had our heads in the sand for far too long and let this monster run without fetters for too long.

What really hit home to me was the magnitude of the military industrial complex surrounding Top Secret America. The enormous amounts of money that goes into funding and the number of jobs it creates. Most of the money is going to contractors, private industry which in turn creates demand to steal away qualified individuals who were once employed by government institutions. As those employees leave the government sector for private employment demand for qualified personnel increases thus raising the reliance on private companies. The CIA, NSA, FBI, etc all become training grounds for these private corporations to pillage from. Cost increases and allegiance is no longer to the government but to the share holders.

Add in this increasing population of Top Secret America and what was once a specialized group is becoming more and more diverse. There is a monster of beauracracy in place defining levels of secrecy to the point that information is not shared effectively. Former chains of command are broken and confusion permeates the entire industry. You have multiple groups producing the same information in different ways and not sharing or working together. The amount of information is more overwhelming than effective that often the needle is lost in the many haystacks.

This is a very thought provoking book. How do we reign in this beast when there is so much money involved?

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August 25, 2013

Review: American Gods

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 9:51 pm

American Gods
American Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a thoroughly enjoyable book. Gaiman has sparked the desire in me to travel about the United States but to also bone up on my Herodotus and learn more about the pantheons of other cultures. The concept of immigrants bringing their gods and folklore with them and those beings becoming flesh over millenia was so vividly captured in his telling. How he wove the journeys of the first people to cross the Bering straight into the modern day Gods and the turmoil between them was outstanding.

I strongly recommend this book for a good hearted but thought provoking adventure.

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August 10, 2013

Review: Mockingjay

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 3:47 pm

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy. The ending brought a tear to my eyes and not many books choke me up that they do not. As I approached the last third of the book I was concerned that we were going into the Hunger Games for a third time but that was not the case. The arena this time was the Capitol and it was played excellently.

I have heard many complaints about Peeta being the weak point of the series, how he is always getting injured and seems almost useless to his team mates but I thought he was superbly written. The turmoil he goes through to fulfill his mission of keeping Katnis alive resulted in his injury time an again.

Katnis, as a character, is very flawed and that is what makes her a great protagonist. Her motivations are thoroughly explored and even when far from noble are hers to bear and believable. To paint her as anything less than fallible would be doing the reader a disservice.

Through all this I did feel a tinge of remorse for how things worked out for Gale but again, he remained true to his character. His ruthlessness against the Capitol was genuine and in line with his initial paintings. To have the rosier ending he would have like with Katnis would have lessened the work.

Overall, I was torn the most by the loss of Fennick. I really like this character and his demise, while noble, was wrenching. How I so wished his ending was not cut short.

I eagerly await how these last two books are translated to the movie screen. I could not see how a single movie could contain this book and expect they may break it into two. I for one would not be disappointed if they did to remain true to the story.

Probably one of the most poignant features of the work was the use of propaganda in warfare. How the value of human lives gets lost in the machinations of the orchestratores whose consuming goal is to achieve victory.

Bravo to a work well done!

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August 8, 2013

Review: Catching Fire

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 8:01 pm

Catching Fire
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I figured I needed to get this in prior to the movie this fall and also having very much enjoyed the first book. I was curious to see where Collins was taking the trilogy and was not disappointed. Although I will say, I thought a second round of the hunger games would be over played yet I so enjoyed the arena that I accepted another go without much reserve.

I read this book over two days at the shore and found the pace not slacking. The character development remained interesting showing different sides of not only the victors but new characters brought on board. I an eager to see how well this book translates to the big screen.

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July 27, 2013

Review: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 7:57 pm

Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was nice to kick back with an old friend after so many years. I read this book way back when I was in my early teens and loved it. In fact I loved everything Dragonlance back in the day. I got all the AD&D modules as they came out and was part of the Dragon of the Month Club acquiring all the lead figures.

This book captures the Dungeons and Dragons atmosphere perfectly and remains readable to those not fans of the role playing games. The action is fierce and told from many different sides while maintaining a perfect pace. The characters are well written and adored. I eagerly look forward to revisting the other two books in the trilogy along with the other offerring both new and old.

Reading this makes me want to break out my modules and start playing again!

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