Wednesday, September 4, 2019

[Book] This Fight Is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren

Book Cover
Elizabeth Warren is running for president, and pretty much every candidate writes a book prior to running.   It's a good way to let folks know where they are coming from, and do so in a long format, unfiltered by the journalist's desire to pare things down into sound-bites.

This book is subtitled: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class.  This is a book about politics, personal history of the author and the economic history of the country along with ample explanation of why the past matters today.  This book does not shy away from discussing racial economic disparity. Though, I definitely feel it could have gone much deeper into those subjects (as I don't think that past is well understood by most).

Overall, this is about the author trying to sell us her plan for the future, and it lays out a good narrative that moves between individual voters that the author has talked to, and how the economic changes of the past have directly affected those people.  This is then followed up with political policy statements.  Often, this is re-instating protections that have eroded in the last 50 years, but with modifications that acknowledge racial and gender disparities of those past policies.

Personally, I have found this book to be quite compelling, and to my mind, Elizabeth Warren is the front-runner.  That said, this is mostly because she has actually put in the time to make actual policy statements, and directly talk about the plans that she would support.  Most other candidates aren't to that point yet (and some may never get there).  She's done her homework, and is serious.

Recommended: assuming you can deal with some politics.  There are enough personal touch-points in here to keep my attention (which is rare with a political book).  Skip it if you just don't have the emotional bandwidth for this sort of thing.  There are certainly many things pointed out about the current state of this country that had me feeling quite angry, and I totally get that not everyone can handle reading a deep dive on all the things that have gone awry on our way to this point.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

[Book] How To Be A Snow Queen by Mari Schuh

Book cover
This is a children's (6 to 10 years) book about leadership, the subtitle is Leadership With Elsa.  While recapping the story of Disney's Frozen, it is a combination of pointing out leadership traits within the story, and pop-up video style call-outs to movie related facts.  Because this is an educational title riding on top of the fictional story of Frozen, it is categorized as a non-fiction book.

Even trying to keep in mind the young audience that this book is for, I felt that the book was very light on leadership itself, and was much better at other real-life tie-ins.  For example, one pop-up suggests that the animators learned a lot about meteorology for the movie.  Another pop-up describes the career choice of "Doctor" (in relation to a healer Troll).  There is a very short glossary on the back page which includes; Architect, Candidate, Confidence, Coronation, Kingdom, Meteorology and National Park (only one of these being a leadership related trait).

So, while I don't recommend this book specifically for leadership information, I genuinely enjoy the story, illustrations and pop-up facts that go along with it.  It is also difficult to read out loud, because to read the pop-up information, you have to temporarily drop the narrative.  There's not an obvious place to pause and read the extra word-bubble.

Get this if you want a Frozen book for a Frozen-obsessed kid, and you want it to offer more than a recap the story: That is the sweet spot for this book.  Skip it if you don't have a Frozen obsessed kid, or if you have a kid who is actually interested in leadership.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

[Book] The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Book cover
This is a book that I've known about for most of my life, and Tom Sawyer is a character that I've heard referenced through my entire life.  A fairly large area of Disney's Magic Kingdom is dedicated to this book; one of my favorite places to hang out for an hour.  Yet, nothing of the story was spoiled for me.

First and foremost, the "n word" appears nine times through the text, four of them clustered together in two adjacent paragraphs of dialog.  Frankly, it sucks, and really does sully the experience of the book as well as my opinion of the Author.  There are a few black slave characters in the book, but none are given depth or consideration. As I also said in my review of Peter Pan, the slur was as much a disservice to black Americans then (only a decade from emancipation) as it is today.

The villain of the novel is Injun Joe, referred to as half-breed without explanation as best as I recall.  Not quite as painful as Peter Pan, but still several "Indian" stereotype checkboxes are used for this character.

A modern reader literally has to "get over" both of these things to be able to see the story.  Yet, this story has both of these things, and I suddenly understand why I've never heard the story before.  It is an archive of prejudices that went out of style for mainstream America before I was born, featuring the title character lying, skipping school, stealing, running away, smoking tobacco and somehow, ending up without lasting consequence.

Past the prejudices, the writing is good, and mostly everything feels like it could have happened.  The first half of the book drags on, and there isn't much adventure, mostly endless mischief.  Tom Sawyer does grow some in the book, but not as much as I'd expect.  This book kept my interest, but mostly because of the historic context.  This is, in part, how children acted in the 1830s, and what a small Missouri town about a mile off the Mississippi river was like.  Many of the places written about are real, and I'm fond of history.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend the book.  There were parts of it that I enjoyed, but the parts that made me uncomfortable pretty much outweigh the overall experience.  If you've read the book, and think I have it wrong, let me know... I'm happy to hear from others.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

[Book] Defy the Fates by Claudia Gray

Book Cover
This is the final book of the Defy the Stars trilogy (start with reviews of book one and two).  There are probably mild spoilers for the first and one major spoiler for the second book in this review of book three, so please proceed with that in mind.

As I wrote in my review of Defy the Worlds, I do not recommend diving into this book without reading the previous two first.  While this book could stand alone, it does not include as much exposition about the previous events as I'm used to (in other serial novels).  Also, to be honest, the other books were great, and it would be a shame to skip them just to get to the end.

This book starts with Noemi fatally injured, and in a stasis chamber to keep her alive while Abel makes a plan to save her life, but trading his own in the process.  This self-sacrificing cross-plan is a trope, even within these novels, but I cannot pretend that real people don't often repeat the same patterns.  It was, however, the one painfully predictable point in an otherwise great story arc.

Meanwhile, in retaliation against Earth, some of the leadership of Genesis have hatched a secret plan to defeat Earth once and for-all, but one of the members of this plan commits treason and reveals the plan to...  Not going to spoil that bit.  Finally, there was one technical hurdle that was described in some depth during book 2 about how tricky it is to land on Haven.  That was, well, completely ignored (or forgotten) in book 3, and that also bothered me.

I liked this book the least of the three, but I still enjoyed it a lot.  Overall, this is the ending that the series needs, and I liked a lot more about it than my two nit-picks.  That is, I recommend the whole series.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

[Book] Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Book cover
Originally a play, then released in book form as Peter and Wendy, this book is the basis of Disney's cartoon movie, Peter Pan.  The movie is surprisingly faithful to the book with the exception that Disney's version doesn't portray deaths that the book does.

Problematic doesn't begin to describe this experience.  Like a lot of classic literature, defenders will point out that this is a product of its time.  Yet, I was outwardly embarrassed while reading sections of this by just how far out of touch it is.

As much as Wendy was a main character, her experience of Neverland, a fantasy/dream world, included absolutely everyone wanting her to act as their mother, but included actual work, mending everyone else's clothes.

Then there is the Native Americans of imagination land.  Named as a racial slur*, the Piccaninny Tribe follows terrible stereo-types, and a major sub-plot puts Peter Pan as their white savior, leaving near half of the tribe to sacrifice themselves for Pan and the Lost Boys, later.  *Some online sources suggest that the term wasn't a slur until much later, but an awareness of the purveyor has rarely made the recipient feel better.

Read this if you have to, but I don't recommend it.  It's not the worst, or even most problematic book I've read, and parts of it are ripe for stealing for your own stories (since this isn't covered by copyright in most countries these days).  Worse, I'm happy I read it, if only that I can complain about it here.

If you've read it, let me know what you think I got wrong.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

[Book] Every Tool's A Hammer by Adam Savage

Book Cover
Subtitled, Life is What You Make It, this is a book about making things.  It has many, many other components though.  It is partly a memoir of the author's career.  It is partly a book about management, especially the end of Chapter 4 which covers delegation and the importance of communication.  It is also very instructional, in that it prescriptively lays out a number of best practices for making, along with illustrative stories of why these practices are so important.

This book wouldn't be what it is if it were not for who the author is.  Adam Savage is best known as the more approachable co-host of Mythbusters, that aired for 14 seasons, but he is also a set designer, prop maker and miniature model builder on several movies.  Mythbusters was recently rebooted as Mythbusters Jr., and Adam Savage can regularly be seen answering questions and making things on and YouTube.

To help show how the book is organized, here is the chapter listing:

Dig Through The Bottom of The Rabbit Hole
Use More Cooling Fluid
Increase Your Loose Tolerance
Screw > Glue
See Everything, Reach Everything
Hammers, Blades, and Scissors
Sweep Up Every Day

The very beginning of this book defines making as any creative activity.  That includes sewing or coding, woodworking or electronics, writing or drawing, in virtual spaces or meat space.  To get down to it, I highly recommend this book for a maker (no matter how one defines it) or anyone who really likes Adam Savage.  If building stuff is not an interest, then maybe this book isn't either.  Reading this book has pushed me back towards making more things (which includes pre-publishing a number of book reviews (I was running low), but also doing some work on my personal web site.


To my readers (between 4 and 20 of you), feel free to send me a note or leave a comment if you have ideas about things I should add to my reviews, or even if you have a strong opinion about a book that you want me to read and review.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

[Book] Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray

Book cover
Set before the first prequel movie, this book follows Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, and his Jedi Apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, on a diplomatic mission set forth by the Jedi council.  They are sent to a planet, Pijal, that we haven't seen before, which really is a great way to see the author's creativity.

We are presented with a wide array of new characters on this new world, like the Jedi Rael Averross, who has been the regent of Pijal for the last 8 years, and the escaped slave Rahara Wick.  Count Dooku, Qui-Gon's former master also makes some important appearances in this story, which broadens the sense of the Title as well.

There is a strong theme around slavery in the Star Wars universe throughout this novel which is a fairly major plot point within the story and is shown as a shining red flag on the corruption within the late republic.  I feel I could write a lot about the dynamics of this theme, but it's better to simply suggest; pick up this book.

As in her previous Star Wars novels, Claudia Gray is a master at weaving the deep politics of Star Wars into the story.  To me, politics was the primary thing the prequels were not very good at showing in a compelling way.  Here, the politics really bring the Star Wars story out of space fantasy and firmly back into what science fiction is best at.  Here is a mirror to our current selves.

It turns out that Claudia Gray has become my favorite author.  I await each book that comes out.  Read this book if you like Star Wars and want more stories about the background of Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan.  I do not think it is necessary to know the characters before reading this book, as the movies did a poor job of really exploring their personalities anyway.  It is okay to skip this book if you aren't a fan of Star Wars.   That said, even though I'm not in love with the prequels, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it as a good piece of science fiction.