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Books and Review List – 2020

READ STUFF!

One of my hobbies is reading and listening to audiobooks. To add some variety to the site I list the books I read each year and provide mini reviews. This is an exercise for to help me remember more of what I read, to suck less at writing, and evaluate my thoughts on each book, instead of passively absorbing them.

I’ll update this post throughout the year as I continue reading. I’d love to get some books recommended by anyone reading this or to discuss your thoughts on any of the books listed. So, please comment if you want! Here are links for past book posts; last year managed to get 48, let’s see how many come through this year!

New books will show up after this line. The newest books will be on the top so if you have seen this article before, whatever is on top is most recent! SPOILERS BELOW


February

Age of Death
By Michael J. Sullivan | Fantasy | Novel — Book 4 of 5 | 2020

Age of Death is the 4th book in the “Age of Legends” series by Michael Sullivan. I was pretty disappointed from the last installment in the series – ‘Age of Legend’. However, this latest installment won me back and I can’t wait for the final book which is coming out in May!

Without delving in to specifics/spoilers, this installment had a lot more “real” development of the characters. Some of the mysteries introduced are starting to make sense and it ends on an outstanding cliffhanger with pretty much every character in a precarious position. The previous book felt like it was world-building with ‘filler’ character development which was setting up a bigger event. Some of that event has started here — which is great — but I can’t wait for the final book to wrap up the suspense.

Overall, I really liked this book and think the “Legends of the First Empire” is a strong fantasy series and worth investigating. It’s good for both novices to fantasy and I think holds up for connoisseurs of the genre as well.

Something Wicked This Way Comes
By Ray Bradbury | Fantasy Horror | Novel | 1962

I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this before. If I had to summarize it I would describe it as a “Halloween book” which is not surprising given the title. I knew little of this book apart from recognizing the title here and there (I think it came from Shakespeare?). The novel follows events in a small Midwestern town as an unusual carnival arrives in late October. It focuses on two boys who become the focal points of the plot and deals with a lot of very deep themes while coming across very subtly.

Jim Nighshade and Will Halloway (and later Will’s dad) are the “Protagonists” but it’s not quite so clear as that. They are boys around the age of 13 who run off at night and see a mysterious carnival setting up in town. As the story unfolds small unsettling, unexpected, or creepy moments add up until you realize that the carnival appears to be more malevolent than the town expected.

Nothing “bad” which happened was so blatant or crude as to really be noticed but it generates internal struggles in Jim, Will, and others who perceive it – from the ability to get older (what Jim wants, to be more independent) or to get younger (what Will’s father wants because he feels too old to enjoy raising and relating with his son). The way the carnival inspires those particular fears and desires which fundamentally shakes people who attend and fall in to the ‘trap’, as it were, leads to a really interesting exploration of ‘Good and Evil’, and to what degree redemption is possible.

The story is very suspenseful and a pleasure to read, the world feels ‘real’ and not like some fantasy world, the dialogue and setting also feel real; there are very few moments when you are inclined to think “yeah, but that would never happen”.

I wish I had read this as a kid and know that it would have been spooky and been a favorite for me. As an adult I think some of the parts which would appeal to a kid’s sense of exploration, adventure, and independence are not appreciated as much but the prose, the relationships, the characters, and the mystery were all enjoyable to experience.

After finishing this, it being far different than I expected, I read a little bit about this book and saw a lot of writing about how this book influenced writers like Neil Gaiman and Steven King. Gaiman’s American Gods is something like a more adult version of this with themes like how a regular person is essentially impotent to deal with any sort of supernatural ‘evil’ and must simply try to deal with events as they happen). I definitely enjoyed this book and think anyone in to Fantasy or Horror (light horror?) would also find this book worth reading.


January

Wild Seed
By Octavia E. Butler | Fantasy / Sci-fi | Novel | 1980

Last year I read a book, Kindred, by Octavia Butler for the first time and enjoyed it quite a lot. A friend encouraged me to try out of her better known books, Wild Seed. It takes place starting in the 1700s and follows the life of Anyanwu, an African woman over 300 years old. She eventually is tracked down by Doro, another “mutant” who collects and breeds gifted people – like Anyanwu.

We go on to find out that Doro has lived even longer than Anyanwu ~3500 years – and through his life has lost most of his humanity by seeing generations of people live and die before him. His long life also comes at a cost – his “host” body dies and he inhabits the nearest human at the time his body expires; furthering his inhumanity. He appears to have devoted the majority of his long life to collecting people with powers, putting them in communities, having them breed together, and trying to produce more powerful and stable people with powers.

Anyanwu is the most gifted and stable person he ever found but she is “wild” (others, who grow up in his communities grown to fear and worship him). He married her to one of his other gifted “slaves” have several offspring from her, and then kill her to prevent her disrupting his plans. However, after she marries one of his most “gifted” sons Doro eventually starts to have doubts about killing her; after some years of pursuit and tense moment over the next two hundred years. Doro comes to appreciate that Anyanwu is the only thing in his life which isn’t temporary. The book ends as Doro comes to tears while Anyanwu prepares to end her life, the only permanence Doro ever experienced.

There are two things I really like about this book. The first is the way she highlights racial issues throughout the story; they are nuanced and subtle but, in my opinion, impactful. I also really liked the development of Doro and Anyanwu throughout the story. Overall, this was a really interesting book and between this and Kindred, I will likely read more in the future.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
By Mark Twain | Novel / Historical Setting / Children’s | Novel | 1876

This was a daily deal on Audible which I had picked up a long time ago but never read. I recall reading at least parts of it in grade school or something like that but couldn’t have described the story at all. Now that I read it the story definitely doesn’t have much to it; a childlike adventure story with some funny moments. What I did enjoy though was the style of Twain’s writing. I’m planning to check out some other writing by Twain less targeted at a younger audience.

Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed
By Ben Rich and Leo Janos | Personal & Company Biography | Non-Fiction| 1996

Skunk Works is a book I picked up after a recommendation from Smarter Every Day’s channel on YouTube. As a kid, I always liked looking at the cool planes in aerospace museums so I thought it might be interesting learn how they are made. This book is my favorite one I’ve read this year because of it’s light, digestible style and intimate portrayal of what was once extremely classified work. There are funny moments, tense moments, and funny discussions of bureaucratic failures. The book flows from project to project and manages a compelling message across the decades. More impressively it is not a series of ‘tasks’ they did over the years. The work is a cohesive mission everyone participates in.

The two parts most enjoyable parts for me were hearing the first-hand accounts of how some of the events happened and then the description of how Lockheed managed to run such a successful autonomous part of their company. Ben Rich details interesting personalities, ambitious projects, and shady government processes in a fun and easy to read way. I’d recommend this book for anyone with an interest in planes, history or engineering. It is a good read. I think most people will enjoy it regardless of their interests.

Good to Great
By Jim Collins | Company Management / Development | Non-Fiction | 2001

I picked up this book after reading Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing about Hard Things and it was a very different kind of book. Ben’s book is very direct, blunt, and almost entirely from his direct experience. Jim Collins put together a more ‘data-driven’ management book which attempts to describe what it takes from being “good enough” to “great”.

While I don’t know that I agree with the gist that all conclusions are the clear derivations from the data (although the data is consistent and appears uniform), I do think the conclusions all make sense. This book is probably a worthwhile read for anyone in a leadership position or trying to align their team effectively.

An interesting and likely valuable read but not something which I will hold on to. I don’t think the ‘whole’ will sink in as much as a few of the ideas.

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