“Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. It is inherent in the spirit of man. It is a divine gift…everyone has this most precious of all life’s endowments—the gift of free agency; man’s inherited and inalienable right.”

--David O. McKay

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The One with Quidditch Through the Ages

314. Title & Author: Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp by J.K. Rowling (105 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Completed: 4 January 2015

Summary & Review:
The history of the most popular game in the wizarding world is presented from the early days of rowdy kids playing in a peat bog to the era of professional leagues and the World Cup. Included in this short history are examinations of the development of the rules and balls of the game, the teams of Britain and Ireland, and the spread of the sport throughout the world.

This book is included in a nice boxed-set called The Hogwarts Library that J.K. Rowling wrote for charity. It is a very brief book, but still has fun aspects to it. Rowling did a nice job making it humorous and including some Easter eggs for fans of the Harry Potter series.

Rating: 6.0

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Second One with Pompeii

313. Title & Author: Pompeii by Robert Harris (278 pages)
Genre: Fiction—History & Thriller
Completed: 3 January 2015

Summary & Review:
This book tells the tale of the volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius by following the life of Marcus Attilius, an engineer for the Roman Aqua Augusta for the two days previous to the eruption and the two days during the terror of it. It is also filled with extremely interesting insights into Roman Engineering and life in the towns near Vesuvius.

I just recycled my summary of this book from its first appearance on this review list (#7). Apparently, back then I didn’t write very long summaries, and reading it I didn’t really do justice to how entertaining the story is. Recently, Paige and I went and saw a movie titled Pompeii, but unfortunately it was not based on this book. The movie was just a gladiator movie followed by a destruction movie. Lame. This book is excellent and would have made a tremendous movie. Half the fun is the fact that you as the reader already know the end so you get to enjoy all the hidden clues of what is about to happen that the characters in the story miss.

This is the first book that I’ve re-read since I started this book review list and has appeared on here twice. Why did I read this one again? Besides the fact that I really like it, I read it in preparation for our upcoming trip to the Bay of Naples and the ruins of Pompeii.

Rating: 9.0

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The One with The Painted Word

312. Title & Author: The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe (106 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Art History & Theory
Completed: 28 December 2014

Summary & Review:
Author and social commentator Tom Wolfe turns his sharp eye--and sharper wit--on modern art, theory, and criticism. As he traces the evolution of art among the culturati during the Twentieth Century he shows the inconsistencies and hypocrisies within the insular art world. As artists and critics attempted to dispose of the millennia of artistic heritage before them they eventually came full circle and became the very thing they were trying to destroy.

This is only the second book I’ve read by Tom Wolfe, but I am already a huge fan (you can read my review of his modern masterpiece The Bonfire of the Vanities here). I especially enjoyed seeing Wolfe deploy his talents to examine Modern Art. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Art History and even wrote my senior thesis on Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, so I was thoroughly exposed to the art of the Twentieth Century and I completely agree with Wolfe’s observations. I can’t say I altogether blame the artists and critics for delving so deeply into the theory behind the art rather than the quality of the art. Where does one go after Michelangelo? Bernini? Caravaggio? Can a modern artist really top the artistic mastery of such geniuses? Probably not. So, instead they try “rejecting” all that and focusing on theory.

One quote I found particularly interesting explains the general public’s dislike of modern art. There was never a demand or market for it. Rather, the self-anointed masters of the art world presented it to the people and told them that this was "good" despite what they, the public, may think. Long quote: “The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in Modern Art, the notion that the public scorns, ignores, fails to comprehend, allows to wither, crushes the spirit of, or commits any other crime against Art or any individual artist is merely a romantic fiction, a bittersweet Trilby sentiment. The game is completed and the trophies distributed long before the public knows what has happened. The public that buys books in hardcover and paperback by the millions, the public that buys records by the billions and fills stadiums for concerts, the public that spends $100 million on a single movie—this public affects taste, theory, and artistic outlook in literature, music, and drama, even though courtly elites hang on somewhat desperately in each field. The same has never been true in art. The public whose glorious numbers are recorded in the annual reports of the museums, all those students and bus tours and moms and dads and random intellectuals…are merely tourists, autograph seekers, gawkers, parade watchers, so far as the game of Success in Art is concerned. The public is presented with a fait accompli and the aforementioned printed announcement, usually in the form of a story or a spread of color pictures in the back pages of Time. An announcement, as I say. Not even the most powerful organs of the press, including Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times, can discover a new artist or certify his worth and make it stick. They can only bring you the news, tell you which artists the beau hamlet, Cultureberg, has discovered and certified. They can only bring you the scores.” (p. 24-5)

That nails it on the head and explains the widespread scorn for Modern Art. People see a Rothko and think, “That is just a square painted on a canvas. Boring.” Or they see a de Kooning and think, “That’s ugly.” But, the residents of “Cultureberg,” as Wolfe calls it, those few thousand world wide clustered in New York and Paris and Milan and Berlin who tell everyone else what is art, they scoff and laugh at the little people and think, “Oh, they just don’t get it. They’re so dumb.”  Just compare Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel to Franz Kline’s Painting Number Two and ask yourself which is more worthy of acclaim and admiration. So, who’s the dumb one?

Rating: 9.0

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The One with Miracles and Massacres

311. Title & Author: Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America by Glenn Beck (290 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—History
Completed: 26 December 2014

Summary & Review:
A dozen stories from America’s history spanning from the Revolution through the War on Terror are presented in novelized form. The tales include both bright spots in our country’s past, such as the life of Butch O’Hare and the Battle of Athens, to darker tales such as the Battle of Wounded Knee and the My Lai Massacre.

While many people would avoid reading this book because of an irrational hatred of Glenn Beck, if they could get past that and read the book they would be rewarded. This book is not political at all. Rather, it presents some incredible stories that are quickly being forgotten yet illustrate important principles. I think my favorite story was Butch O’Hare’s, the O’Hare the airport in Chicago is named after, but I actually enjoyed all twelve stories and learned about events I had not know about before. The format that Beck chose to present them in was very entertaining.

Rating: 8.0

Happy New Year's Eve!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The One with Visitors

310. Title & Author: Visitors by Orson Scott Card (598 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction & Fantasy
Completed: 18 December 2014

Summary & Review:
Still facing the eventual extinction of all life on their home planet of Garden, Rigg and his friend Umbo along with several others, must figure out why the “visitors” from Earth decide to immediately destroy their planet after seeing how the colonization has progressed. Utilizing their abilities to travel through time, they decide that Rigg must sneak aboard the original colonizing starship and return to Earth to find out why Earth turns on their colony. Meanwhile, Umbo and the others are faced with the more immediate threats of political power struggles.

I have really enjoyed this series. Visitors is the third book in the Pathfinder series, and I can’t tell if it is the last book or not. It seems as though all the major conflicts introduced in book one have now been wrapped up. If it is the last book, I’ll be disappointed. I really like the world and the characters that OSC has developed here. While the time-traveling can get a little complicated, it is still a great read. This book returned to a lot of the themes that Card writes about, such as morality and justice, but does so in a fresh way.

Rating: 8.0

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The One with The Rising Mist

309. Title & Author: The Rising Mist: The Final Book of the Mist Trilogy by M.J. Evans (236 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Completed: 24 November 2014

Summary & Review:
After learning that his two younger sisters have been taken captive by the lord of the Dark Kingdom, Hasbadana, Nick must leave the peaceful confines of the Kingdom of Celestia to try and rescue them. Offering himself as a prisoner in exchange for his sisters’ release, Nick soon finds himself captured as well. Only Urijah, the Lord of Celestia, can free them, but doing so means he must remain with Hasbadana. Knowing Urijah will never go back on his word to stay, Nick must figure out how to convince Hasbadana to willingly let him go. Finally, Nick, along with his companions Bethany, Lazari, and Mastis, decide the only way to free Urijah is to heal the shattered soul of Hasbadana. But, is that even possible?

This is the third and final book of my mother’s middle grade fantasy trilogy, The Mist Trilogy. It has been really fun to see her grow as an author since first reading her drafts of book one, Behind the Mist. I really like how she expanded the world of the Land Behind the Mist here with the addition of a cool underground kingdom called Mantelia. It was fun to see that new world and the creative creatures that occupy it. There was a lot of adventure and fun in this final installment and the pages flew by.

All three books of The Mist Trilogy, as well as her excellent stand alone novel North Mystic, are available at her website: http://behindthemist.com/buy.htm.

Rating: 10.0

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The One with The Summons

308. Title & Author: The Summons by John Grisham (341 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Thriller
Completed: 4 November 2014

Summary & Review:
Summoned home to settle his father’s estate, Ray Atlee returns to his hometown of Clanton, Mississippi. As he enters his boyhood home he finds his father dead, an apparent overdose of morphine during his battle with end-stage terminal cancer, and also finds something completely unexpected: a hidden stash of over three million dollars in crisp $100 bills. Torn about what to do and who to tell, Ray stashes the money and hides his discovery from his brother. Soon, however, he realizes that someone else knows about the money and will stop at nothing to get it.

My dad has always said that Grisham is hit or miss. One of his books will knock it out of the park and the next will be a dud. This book, unfortunately, falls in the latter category. The plot plodded along as virtually nothing happened after the discovery of the hidden cash for almost three hundred pages. Then, when the action finally picked up, it just wasn’t that exciting. The Associate (#182) wasn't a much better read.

Rating: 5.5