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kravmonkey

kravmonkey

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Take Down
James Swain
Leading an Inspired Life
Jim Rohn
Shadow Of The Titanic
Andrew Wilson
The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft, Leslie S. Klinger, Alan Moore
The Emperor's Blades
Brian Staveley
Grave Peril
Jim Butcher
Words of Radiance
Brandon Sanderson
11/22/63
Stephen King
Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil
Tom Mueller
You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself
David McRaney

A Wish for Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story

A Wish for Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story - Berkeley Breathed Although I am a self-professed mega-fan of Berke Breathed and Bloom County I think I can briefly step outside this persona to write objectively about this book -- IT'S BRILLIANT! Not only is the book humorous and superbly drawn and colored but it also has in it the very heart-warming, kid-friendly message that you should like yourself for who you are.

Opus the penguin is down at Christmas so he makes a wish to Santa for a pair of "wings that work" so he can soar through the sky with the other birds. He joins his pal Bill the cat in several fruitless attempts to get around his physical shortcomings but with no success. In the end he discovers that his wings are much more useful than they seemed and that he's not any less special than the flying birds after all.

My family takes this off the shelf every Christmas and reads it at least three times. The book makes a great companion to the equally great DVD that's based on the book.

The Expert At The Card Table - The Classic Treatise On Card Manipulation

The Expert At The Card Table - The Classic Treatise On Card Manipulation - S.W. Erdnase Awesome little book on card magic and slights. Amazingly, this book has been in continuous publication since 1902 and has a small but diehard following in the card magic community. Although most consider a lot of the moves contrived and archaic the magicians who form the core following are immensely loyal to the book and spend many hours studying it with great care and attention. I am probably somewhere in the middle. The book is very nice but there are goofs and limitations that keep me from being one of the utterly devout.

The mysterious author's identity was never really discovered. The credited author, S.W. Erdnase, is believed by many to be East coast gambler James Andrews (just lop off the 'Jam' and spell his name backwards). Andrews, who admits in the beginning of the book that he wrote it purely for financial gain, adopted the Erdnase pseudonym to avoid being associated with a book that no doubt pissed off many professional gamblers of the day as it spelled out so many of their coveted secret moves.

In any case, Erdnase starts the slim volume with a treatise on gambling cons to be performed at the gambler's table (the Artifice section), moves on to some fantastic magician slights (the Legerdemain section), then wraps the volume up with a short card routine that uses some of the techniques just described.

This Bible Edition of the book is really cool. It's called this because of its similarity with many pocket-sized Christian Bibles. The pages are gold edged, it has a ribbon bookmark, and the thin paper rings similar as well. The version is a compact little number that can easily be stored in a shirt pocket if you're so inclined. It's a little larger than a deck of cards and only about a half inch thick. Not that it really matters but, despite the photo and description, the book is black (not blue) and the cover is not leather but some synthetic -- and hardcover-like -- facsimile. Word of warning though: the print is pretty minuscule so if you have a hard time reading the print on a bottle of Tylenol you might consider another edition of the book.

Tri-doku

Tri-doku - Japheth J. Light I am a longtime Sudoku fan, despite my deeply held belief that I am not pronouncing it correctly. I have to admit that, although the puzzles are fun and challenging, they do tend to get somewhat repetitive for me. Maybe I haven't studied enough of the advanced techniques or perhaps I'm simply unable to appreciate the subtleties that present themselves in the various puzzles.

At any rate, stumbling across this Tri-doku book in a local B&N was a pleasant surprise. I thumbed through the book and was curious enough about how the puzzles worked to buy a copy. Once I brought the book home I sat at the kitchen table trying to familiarize myself with all the rules, of which there are a fair amount. Once I was immersed enough in the instructions I dove into my first puzzle with a #2 pencil (more on that later). After many mistakes and frustrations I finally got the hang of it and I am now officially hooked.

The puzzles offer (to me anyways) so many more twists and "a-ha moments" than traditional Sudoku and are much more addictive. Of course your mileage may vary. Given that there are about 10,000x more Sudoku titles than Tri-doku (I think this book is the sole one, in fact) maybe it appeals to a much smaller type of puzzle solver.

At any rate, if you are looking for a unique twist on this phenomenon you should go over to the author's site (http://www.tridoku.com) to read the rules and give some of the puzzles a test spin. If you are at all like me you'll probably be purchasing the book soon after.

Now. The pencil thing. I found that, unlike most other puzzles you might work on, a pencil -- for this book anyway -- is a poor choice. This is more of a statement about the type of paper the puzzles are printed on than the puzzles themselves. I found that a black ball-point pen worked best and -- if you're careful -- was adequate even with the occasional goof. Using a pencil results in dull, very light numbers that don't erase off the page very well. I suppose I could take a star off my rating for this but the puzzles are just too damn cool.

The 4-Hour Workweek

The 4-Hour Workweek - Timothy Ferriss Instead of focusing on this book's lame contents (it was really bad) I decided to share my review of how it was otherwise used in the hopes that it might inspire others.

First of all, I found the book's paper a little rough in texture. This precluded it from being used in the outhouse or camping, if you know what I mean. The raspy paper DID, however, have just the right stuff to be 'ripped and rolled' into some really effective starter wicks in the old fireplace. Went up like a charm and led to a toasty warm fire in no time. Very little smoke produced and it left a good, clean ash.

The pages and binding that remained sat limply and dejected by the hearth for much of the evening before inspiration struck once again. I tore the front cover off (I am reluctant to burn colored ink in my fireplace -- call me old-fashioned) and ripped it into some smaller pieces to fold and wedge into a drafty window to help keep it closed. I made sure to have the outer cover facing outward to better repel any moisture that might attack the paper from the window seam. Again -- like it was MADE for the task!

Finally, and I'm not proud of it -- I like to minimize my footprint on Mother Earth -- I had to let the binding go. No good for burning and I doubt even a hungry squirrel would find it appealing. It was dropped in the trash by the light of the crackling fire on that dark snowy night.

I sat by the roaring fire, light sleet pellets tickling the window with a silent powdery snow, pondering the fate of the environment. With so many copies of this book very likely suffering some form of destruction around the globe what's a species to do?

The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class

The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class - David S. Kidder, Noah D. Oppenheim I gotta say, I really love this book. Small and easy to keep on the night stand it is a great way to end the day. I wrote my starting date on the first page and worked my way though a page a night. Some of the content was so interesting that it was hard to not peek ahead to the upcoming pages.

Occasionally I had to skip a night because of a late poker night, being sick, or some other odd reason but always made up for the lost night when I returned a day or two later. Very fun and highly recommended. Can't wait to get the subsequent versions of the book, including history and modern culture.

MAD's Greatest Artists: The Completely MAD Don Martin

MAD's Greatest Artists: The Completely MAD Don Martin - Don Martin Not enough great things can be said about Don Martin and this comprehensive 2-volume set. In the mid to late-70's, as a kid of about 8 years old, I spent countless hours thumbing through MAD magazines and it was ALWAYS the Don Martins I went to first. Sergio? Jaffee? Yes, geniuses! But Don Martin?! He was the king!

I used to cut or tear out all of the Martin pages and paste them into a homemade scrapbook of sorts. Then I'd trace the goofy figures for hours -- with their bizarrely bent feet and oddly descriptive sound effects (Poit! Furshgluk! Spaloosh!) -- and then I'd practice drawing them on my own until my fingers hurt. I idolized the man. As I look fondly into these books pages it's like reliving that period of my childhood (I see that I was pretty damn comprehensive in my snipping!). Now my yellowed, jagged pages are reproduced in all their glories on heavy stock paper in a more permanent hardcover form.

Each book weighs as much as a pregnant oxe and makes for some seriously uncomfortable reading on the couch (impossible to read in bed!) but for the sheer stellar stupendousness of its contents you simply cannot but anything more wonderful than this treasury. I have to say though, why they didn't split this into 3, 4, or even 5 volumes is beyond me.

No one can ever touch the comic genius and pure creativity of Don Martin. Worth every penny and strained muscle.

Eat This, Not That!: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution

Eat This, Not That!: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution - David Zinczenko, Matt Goulding There has never been a more revealing book title. This simplistic (but beautifully photographed) book's sole reason for being is to give the reader a simple food swapping suggestion for many of the bad foods we encounter today. That's it. Nothing really more profound (or useful) than that. It's not a food calorie reference, a nutritional guide, or a comprehensive look at the good and bad choices at popular food chains. Instead it tries to cobble together pieces of each of these onto the dense glossy pages of a handbook-sized volume.

I suppose this is all good on a certain level but much of what the book showcases is either common sense or has been talked about in about a billion other places. You know: instead of a quadruple grease burger topped with fried onions and extra cheese go for the garden salad with 4 drops of non-fat dressing. Thanks. Very helpful.

Letters from a Nut

Letters from a Nut - Ted L. Nancy, Jerry Seinfeld Shameless derivative hack of Lazlo Toth's books. Completely unoriginal and not the least bit funny. Nothing redeeming about it other than its potential use in starting up a roaring fire in your fireplace on a cold winter's night. Use care not to burn the glue binding as this can release some potentially dangerous fumes. Rip the pages out completely first then discard the binding once the covers and inside pages are depleted.

Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West

Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West - Hampton Sides This isn't your typical history book. Blood and Thunder tells the fascinating story of the legendary Kit Carson and his trials and tribulations in the Old American West. The narrative reads a lot like an exciting Western adventure novel, full of harrowing confrontations and larger than life characters. There's a lot of wonderful action and some very interesting facts I never knew about this era of American history.

Sides does an impressive job balancing the book between oppressed Navajo indians and the unyielding force of white settlers. Kit Carson is given a humanity I never knew about and his character arc in the book is truly remarkable. In the end I found the book satisfying, enlightening, and far too-fast a read.

Highly recommended!

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) - Mark Bauerlein The Dumbest Generation's premise is that today's kids are sorely equipped to handle the challenges of the lives they have ahead of them. The primary reason behind this, Bauerlain states, is that this upcoming generation (broadly people under 30 but more specifically people in high school) spend an ever decreasing amount of time reading. This rationale should come as no surprise when you consider that the author is an English professor. The author sees this decline first-hand in the classroom and makes it his mission to inform people of the situation.

Because of the younger generation's short tether with all things digital and their apparent widespread disdain with "old fashioned" learning through books they have become a population of short attention-spanned narcissists, satisfied in only the here and now, their naively inflated self-importance, and with the spread of their most trivial inner thoughts and feelings through channels like MySpace and Twitter. Bauerlain broadens his argument to include the whole Internet, claiming that it not only encourages impatience and uneven reading patterns but it also allows for kids to lazily address today's questions with quick hit searches on sites like Wikipedia.

Bauerlain supports his argument very well throughout the book with copious amounts of data, from which he draws pretty sensible conclusions. I plant myself firmly in his camp though I am easier to convince than many as I see this first-hand evidence of this myself in the workplace -- or at least the results of the reading-decline epidemic. Many of these impatient up and comers demonstrate a lack of focus, a strong sense of entitlement, a poor work ethic, and -- most importantly -- their thirst for continued learning virtually dried up. Knowledge is not typically sought out and needs to be delivered in easy-to-swallow packets, on their schedule, and in forms most convenient to them -- traits that I'd argue are not abundantly present in voracious readers.

I thought the book fell somewhat short on providing solutions, preferring instead to state the accusation and spend many of its subsequent pages backing up the claim with data and repetitive statement of the problem. It's not enough to just point to the problem. To fully hit it head-on we need to be more constructive and not stop short of voicing suggestions.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke NOTE: I didn't put the spoiler flag on this review because it technically doesn't give anything big away. Nevertheless it does come pretty close. So, if want to dive into the book completely clean you might consider moving on. You have been warned.

On with the review. First off, this is not Harry Potter for grown ups. I really hate it when people use that lazy comparison not only because it's completely stupid but because it isn't even remotely true.

With that off my chest, I can say that this is an engrossing and fascinating journey through a dark magical world of some strange characters. Add to that the fact that the writing is stunningly beautiful and it contains a good number of twists and turns and you've got the recipe for a cracklin' page turner.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell requires a LOT of patience. If you are looking for cheap action, mindless plots, and immediate gratification you are probably not going to be very happy with this tome. Weighing in at over 800 pages and nearly 34 pounds it is a true commitment if there ever was one, no question about it. In fact, the book itself was 10 years in the making, according to the author's website. However, if you can settle down and just go with the flow of the book -- and not fight it -- then you will be greatly rewarded in the end. Trust me.

The book takes place in the early 1800s, largely in England, Venice, with a side slice of Spain on the side. The sprawling story involves one Mr. Norrell, a highly skilled, wealthy recluse magician with a burning desire to be the sole practitioner of modern practical magic. He takes it upon himself to dedicate his life's work to decimating any and all other magicians he can through various means, most notably by buying up every tome of practical magic he can get his hands on. Remember, this is early 19th century England -- books are not easy to come by, good books on magic even less so.

When Norrell's abilities become known he is cajoled into moving to London where he becomes an overnight sensation by bringing the wife of a well-connected politician back to life, though dooming her in the process by selling part of her life to a faerie nutjob whose help he needed to perform said miracle. Norrell is the toast of the town and uses his considerable wealth and new network of powerful friends to monopolize modern day magic in England, the only place in the book we are made to believe has any to begin with.

A good 200 pages into the book we are introduced to Jonathan Strange, a neutral personality who has never settled on a profession for long and, in what seems like a random impulsive decision, chooses one day to pursue magic as a vocation. As luck would have it he eventually crosses paths with Norrell who -- against all sensible predictions -- takes Strange on as a pupil and carefully directs his learning through a less daring subset of his precious magic books.

The rest of the book takes us through their odd relationship, the war with Napoleon, and eventually to a showdown between the magicians in the end. There are, of course, numerous escapades and side stories along the way that make the read that much more enjoyable. The pace is leisurely at times but never seems to drag too much.

I have a few gripes, of course. With this large a book it would be hard not to but it's worth emphasizing that these pithy little criticisms are vastly outweighed by the overall boldness of the book as a whole. First off, the magic seems too...easy. Despite this, and paradoxically so, it is only practiced by essentially two people throughout the book. This is explained away by the author in so much as it is books of practical magic that allow people to perform magic. Nowhere is there a connection with talent and magic; to be good you have to be in the right place at the right time and have access to these very rare books (nearly all of which are hoarded and kept hidden from everyone by Mr. Norrell). An entire gaggle of theoretical magicians were duped by Norrell early in the book into not practicing again and, apart from appearances from two of them as minor characters later on, never surface again for the remainder of the book.

I was a little put off at times at how "God-like" Jonathan Strange, Mr. Norrell's apprentice, could be in particular. In some of the [poorly rendered] battles with the French his magic seemed limitless. All he had to do was just think of anything he wanted, no matter how ludicrous or unbelievable, and voila it would happen. Giant hands emerging from the ground to take down horse and rider? No problem! Move entire cities across the Atlantic to avoid the enemy? I'm on it! Create entire networks of temporary roads to grant the army a more hasty pursuit? Got it! The examples go on and on. I would have felt a little more interested in the magic if it was actually a struggle to perform and if the bag of tricks Norrell or Strange had actually had limits.

Another gripe of the novel was the build-up of the Raven King. He was painted from the outset as this larger than life king of unimaginable powers, from where all 'modern' magic sprung. He was revered and struck terror into many people's hearts, even after all these years of his vanishing. It was somewhat of a letdown, in the end, when he finally does appear, though for purposes of not spoiling if for you, should you read the book, I digress.

Lastly, the faeries are somewhat of a mystery. We are told that they have their own kingdom and are quite powerful yet...we only meet one. The background of the faeries and what their motivation is remains completely vacant for the whole story. The one nameless lunatic faery we do meet needs only to annoy practicing magicians who are gaining power, and to cast spells on attractive people so that he can call them to his faery ballroom every night to dance. Other than that we don't really learn much more. Like why is this faery like this? What's his story? Where are the other faeries? He does play a role late in the story but it is almost anti-climactic.

I think Susanna Clarke is a very gifted writer. This being her first published novel makes it even more impressive. The fact that she cut her teeth in the literary world as an editor is somewhat odd, given the massive size of this volume -- it might not have been a bad idea to put some passages "under the knife" with the benefit of another keen editor's eye. Nevertheless I don't feel that some of the more bloated chapters robbed me of my time. I was drawn in and it was only afterwards that I looked back on earlier chapters and recognized their irrelevance to the story.

To sum up, this is a real corker. Grab a copy and, if you're lucky enough to be drawn in, you will not readily put it down to come back to the real world. I, for one, will be reading the follow-up to this book (supposedly a loose continuation of the story) when it is released. Hopefully for our sake that's not 10 years away.

I think the book does have some forgivable problems. First off, it could have benefited from some good editing as it does tend to meander and ramble on at times. Next, there are also some obvious weaknesses in this world of magic that lead the reader to believe that Clarke didn't think some things fully through. Lastly, the origins of some of the antagonists are left far too mysterious and vague, to the detriment of the tale. I kept waiting to learn more about this in the story but as I approached the end I realized there wasn't going to be a good payoff on that front.

Nevertheless, the writing, as I said, is top notch and very impressive. I anxiously await the follow-up to the next installment as the slim collection of related short stories that followed this book left a lot to be desired.

Dead Man's Walk

Dead Man's Walk - Larry McMurtry Wow. What a stinkeroo this turned out to be. In fact, it sadly confirms the suspicions I had of McMurtry while reading Lonesome Dove which is to say he has incredible skill in drawing you into a rich, realistic, dusty Old West atmosphere but lacks the ability to create a well-structured story. Also, contrary to popular opinion, I feel McMurtry -- at least in his Western novels -- paints some pretty one-dimensional characters.

This book triples the meandering of Lonesome Dove, which incidentally I really loved but for different reasons. Dead Man's Walk forms the first of two prequels to Lonesome Dove (the other being Commanche Moon) and attempts to build a solid back story to our two macho heros Gus and Woodrow. Lots of tension, to be sure. Tons of violence? You bet. Grisly, sadistic (and mostly unnecessary) torture? Yep. Not much point for being? Unfortunately, yes.

I slogged through Commanche Moon after this book but now, after reading three out of the four Lonesome Dove books, I have to admit defeat and leave Streets of Laredo (the series' last book, chronologically speaking) untouched. Probably just as well as that book is frequently talked about as the worst of the bunch.

Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry One practically experiences the harsh, dusty realities of a long-distance harrowing cattle drive first-hand in this sprawling 1,000 page epic story set in pre-Civil War Texas. Unlike many contemporary Hollywood Westerns, where the good guy always wins the girl and everything is tied up in a neat bow, McMurtry paints a much more realistic picture of the "old West" where not everything goes as planned, the weather doesn't always cooperate, and good guys don't always finish first.

This epic tale is loaded with vivid characters -- both good and bad -- and very believable action. Sometime almost too believable. Lonesome Dove is widely considered to be stronger than the other three books in the series (two prequels and one sequel), all of which were written afterward. Although there are several scenes where McMurtry goes for the gratuitous, gory violence you'll no doubt find this book an engrossing, terrifying, and utterly heartbreaking read.

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War - Nathaniel Philbrick Profoundly readable history of the Mayflower and the Pilgrim's Plymouth Colony settlement in the early 17th century. Much of what I was taught about this was either wrong or grossly misleading. It is astounding what the early settlers had thrown at them and managed to barely survive. Brutal weather, horrible leadership, devastating diseases, native American attacks and betrayals, and massive food shortages plagued the settlers right from the start and never let up. It's a story of perseverance and courage against the relentless, unforgiving backdrop of early colonial America.

Philbrick's writing, as usual, is razor sharp, engaging, and extraordinarily readable. I'd highly recommend this book not only for people interested in early American history but also those looking for a surprisingly riveting, fast paced non-fiction read. Truly spectacular accomplishment.

Carrion Comfort

Carrion Comfort - Dan Simmons An extraordinary horror tale of psychic vampires that will leave you on the edge of your seat. I found this massive 800+ page book to be quite addictive and had a real hard time putting it down. The pace is unrelenting and the characters are entirely believable. Although I found some of the scenes a little gratuitous the book ultimately was highly satisfying.

I read this book years ago and was struck with how great it would be as a movie if done properly. I also hungered for a sequel. Dan Simmons has made many sequels to his books (Hyperion, Summer of Night, Ilium) but this one -- though absolutely crying out for one -- has never gotten that treatment. Maybe some day...

Communion: A True Story

Communion: A True Story - Whitley Strieber This book was stupider than a circular firing squad.