“And you owe it to yourself to fight to keep your freedom.”

--From the afterword to The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein, written by Sarah A. Hoyt

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The One with Dad is Fat

344. Title & Author: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (274 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Humor
Completed: 30 January 2016

Summary & Review:
Comedian Jim Gaffigan, the father of five young children, offers his commentary and observations about family life. Each chapter is a short comedic essay on some aspect of raising his kids in New York City and how he and his wife deal with living in a small, two-bedroom apartment with their rambunctious family.

A few months ago I read Gaffigan’s second book, Food: A Love Story. I’m glad I read that one first, because if I had read this one first I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to reading Food, which is a much funnier book. While this book was short than his second, Gaffigan seemed to run out of new material pretty quickly. It was largely repetitive with Gaffigan making jokes about raising a “basketball team” and living with them in a “small, two-bedroom apartment.” I will admit, though, that at times Gaffigan was spot on in his observations about parenting and the behavior of children. But, it just wasn’t as consistently funny as Food.

Rating: 6.0

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The One with In the Heart of a Mustang

343. Title & Author: In the Heart of a Mustang by M.J. Evans (361 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Young Adult
Completed: 14 January 2016

Summary & Review:
Hunter grew up believe his father was a war hero who died saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. But when the truth about his father shatters his world, he cannot cope with what he learns: his father is alive and has been absent from his life because of his repeated prison sentences and life of crime and drugs. Hunter’s world collapses and after being arrested for getting mixed up in the wrong crowd and turning to crime, he is sent to a ranch for troubled teens in Arizona. There he meets a recently adopted wild mustang who needs him as much as he needs her. Together they will face even greater challenges than what the pair has already gone through.

Man, this book was intense! This is the fifth fiction book my mom has written, and was clearly written for a slightly older audience than her previous fantasy adventures—young adult rather than middle grade. The story was powerful and covered themes such as forgiveness and redemption very effectively. As always, her writing was beautiful.

Along with being an author, my mom is an avid equestrian and she expertly included this passion of hers in the book. There was fascinating detail about the wild horses of the American West and how to train them. You don’t have to be a horse person to love the book, but if you are, my mom’s inclusion of these details is an extra bonus.

You can buy her books from her website at www.dancinghorsepress.com.

Rating: 10.0

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The One with American Sniper

342. Title & Author: American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle (432 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Autobiography
Completed: 3 January 2016

Summary & Review:
Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (RIP) served four combat tours in Iraq and over the course of those many months in combat became the most lethal sniper the US military has ever fielded. This autobiography covers all aspects of his life during his years as a SEAL including his enlistment, training, deployments, and family life.

Kyle’s book was made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, and the two versions of his story couldn’t have had a more different tone. Eastwood’s movie was taut with suspense and life-or-death action, while Kyle’s book was very conversational and nonchalant, e.g. (paraphrased quote) “Yeah, there was a terrorist, so I got him in my sights and pulled the trigger.” In this case, this may be one of those rare instances where the movie is better than the book (see also: The Notebook). But, just because Eastwood’s movie was more intense and exciting doesn’t mean this wasn’t a good book. Kyle lived an amazing life and I appreciated that he wasn’t shy to show some of the downside to his chosen profession, especially the strain it placed on his family and marriage.

One thing I loved about this book was Kyle's patriotism and cultural confidence. He knew America possessed a superior culture to the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq and wasn’t afraid to say so. Our world has become so afraid to pass any judgments on anything that we can’t even admit that there are certain ways of life objectively superior to others.  Kyle had no such qualms and it was refreshing to read him.

Rating: 6.5

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The One with The Agony and the Ecstasy

341. Title & Author: The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone (776)
Genre: Fiction—Historical Fiction & Biographical Novel
Completed: 31 December 2015

Summary & Review:
The life and work of Michelangelo are followed from his early days as an apprentice in the studio of Ghirlandaio through his struggles and triumphs in Rome, culminating with the design for the dome of St. Peter’s just before his death at the age of 88. Blessed with prodigious talent but lacking in charm, Michelangelo’s career is often beset by difficulties and controversies, but the artistic drive within him spurs him to create some of the most magnificent masterpieces in history.

This was a fascinating book and I really enjoyed reading it. For a long time, I took Michelangelo for granted and favored the work of Leonardo da Vinci, a contemporary of Michelangelo. However, as I’ve been able to see his work in person I’ve learned to more fully appreciate what Michelangelo was able to accomplish. What was fun about this book was knowing before hand the works that the young Michelangelo would eventually produce, e.g. the Pieta, David, Sistine Chapel frescoes, etc., and looking forward to reading about the process of how each work came into being. I would constantly be anticipating reading about what went into the next masterpiece and reading about each process was incredibly interesting.

Rating: 8.5

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The One with What Alice Forgot

340. Title & Author: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (426 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Novel
Completed: 15 December 2015

Summary & Review:
Alice wakes up on the floor of a gym, a gym she has never been in before. She learns from the unfamiliar people around her that she fell of her stationary bike and hit her head during a spin class, something she had never attended before. She is 29, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant. Eventually, however, Alice realizes that something is not right. The fall has caused her to completely forget the last 10 years of her life. She’s not 29, anymore. She’s 39, has three kids, and is in the middle of a nasty divorce. How did things turn out this way?

First, I’ll just give the obligatory “spoiler alert.” Okay. I really liked the premise of this book. It was very interesting to think about what it would be like to suddenly be ten years older with no memory of what happened during the intervening span. Would you feel like a stranger in your own life? Would you be happy with how your life turned out? Would you like the sort of person you had become? Moriarty did a great job exploring this through out the novel as Alice, mentally 29, examined her 39-year-old self and life. The book was great right up until Alice got her memory back. Then things kind of fell apart a little bit. The narrative became a little choppy and disjointed and Moriarty almost completely blew up everything. If Alice hadn’t gotten back together with Nick then the whole experience of losing her memory would have been completely pointless! Thankfully, Moriarty decided on the right ending.

Merry Christmas Eve eve!

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The One with Gallery Guide: Masterpieces

339. Title & Author:  Gallery Guide: Masterpieces by Francisco Calvo Serraller (71 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Art History
Completed: 5 December 2015

Summary & Review:
The Prado museum in Madrid, Spain is one of the world’s greatest painting galleries and this guide highlights 22 of the finest works including pieces by Raphael, Fra Angelico, Bosch, Dürer, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Titian, and Goya. Meant to serve as a supplement to the wall panels near the pieces, this guide includes more in-depth commentary on the paintings as well as color reproductions of the works.

Nearly four years ago I read two of these Prado gallery guides, both on Goya, that Paige had purchased when she went to the museum back in 2005. At the time, I had no idea when, if ever, I’d get to Madrid myself to see the incredible Prado collection with my own eyes, so I enjoyed reading the guide. But, over this past Thanksgiving weekend we were able to travel to Madrid and go to the Prado. I loved the experience, especially being able to see in the flesh some legendary masterpieces that I’ve studied previously, especially Las Meninas by Velázquez. While leaving the museum I saw a little box selling this guide and I remembered that I had read similar guides, the Goya ones, in the past so I pick up this one. I’m glad I did! I only wish I had purchased the other guides available as well.

Rating: 7.0

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The One with The Puppet Masters

338. Title & Author: The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein (407 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Completed: 4 December 2015

Summary & Review:
When several agents of America’s most secret intelligence service go missing while investigating reports of a flying saucer, Sam Cavanaugh, fellow agent Mary, and the Old Man—the head of the service—travel to Iowa to find out what happened. What they discover chills them to the bone: a flying saucer has indeed landed there in Iowa and its payload was an alien species capable of attaching to a human host and controlling everything they do. Will they be able to root out the alien parasite before humanity becomes nothing more than puppets?

This is the second Heinlein book I’ve read, and the second one I’ve really enjoyed. Even though the plot can seem a little dated—flying saucers aren’t really in vogue anymore—the themes were just as relevant now as they were when the book was published in 1951. The action was consistent throughout the novel and there were plenty of twists and turn to keep it exciting. Science Fiction is becoming one of my favorite genres as of late. I love the typically optimistic outlook many of the authors have about humanity and progress. The books often have what appear to be insurmountable problems facing the protagonists but they find a way using human ingenuity, grit, courage, and luck. It’s a nice change of pace from reality where it come often feel like things are just hopeless and we’ll never see improvement. Not so in Science Fiction. There is always hope and a brighter tomorrow to come. As Sam is dashing off to fight the slugs, despite huge odds against him and perhaps even certain death, he states, “I feel exhilarated. Puppet masters—the free men are coming to kill you! Death and Destruction!”

Additionally, this edition of the book came with an excellent afterword by the author Sarah Hoyt. She explored the importance of individual freedom and liberty and had excellent insights regarding the current war on Islamic terrorism. Sample quote, “And eventually it convinced me of the validity of this American idea that right and might reposes in the individual. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, every man born equal—I wonder if people who grew up with it from birth realize how crazy, how revolutionary, how outrageous these ideas are.” Well, I know our current president doesn’t get it. After the horrendous Islamic terrorist attack that recently occurred in Paris, he said that those ideas, i.e. freedom and personal liberty, were universal values. Um…not so much. Those are values pushed forth by a tiny slice of humanity during a microscopic window of history. We cannot assume the freedoms we love will always just be there if we don’t defend them.

Rating: 8.0