Tag Archives: book review

Catching up… Oz, Epcot and the Rape of Nanking

I haven’t written much lately so here’s a quick catch-up.

I got a promotion a few weeks ago, and then I was very honored to receive a special award at work, too. The job is keeping me busy, but it’s going well.

Last weekend, my son and I were invited to tag along for a special screening of Oz The Great and Powerful. We both liked it a lot. It was a little long for my taste, but well made. And I like director Sam Raimi’s little nods to other work he’s done (Evil Dead hand, possible deadite, and I think a line from ED too). I’ll be curious to see if this launches more Oz tales on film.

That movie screening was brought to us by the official Disney Parks Blog. We even made the recap video they posted. 

The screening took place at Epcot and we spent the day there prior to the event. I made my son a photo scavenger hunt for Epcot and we spent most of the day doing that. This was his first time getting all 100 objectives in the scavenger hunt. I’ll post another blog eventually with the full list.

That morning was also the day of the Disney Princess Half Marathon. We knew some people running in the race and got there early to offer some encouragement. We saw my friend Alison, and then Alexander spent about an hour giving high fives and encouragement to all the other racers who went by. It was very nice of him, though he didn’t even understand why it was nice when he was doing it.

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I’ve still managed time for reading. I read The Silver Linings Playbook and liked it much better than the movie, even though I liked Jennifer Lawrence in the film. I think the book probably handles things a little more realistically. And the denouement of the film is really the middle of the book.

I read a book called Dear Coca-Cola…. This is one of those books where a guy who thinks he’s funny writes letters to corporations and then prints their responses. The first book I read like this was Idiot Letters by Paul Rosa (http://www.amazon.com/Idiot-Letters-Paul-Rosa/dp/038547508X). It was published in 1995, and while pretty funny, I think there was subtext in the commentary on corporations and the people who work for them. There were a couple of other similar books by a guy named Ted L. Nancy, which was a pseudonym. These were much more focused on the humor, and not in a good way. But still, these books were better than Dear Coca Cola.

But after that “humor” reading, I was ready for something more serious, so I started reading The Rape of Nanking. I don’t have a lot of words at this point… I haven’t finished the book yet. I’m reading it in little pieces. It’s a tragedy and a real life horror… and that doesn’t even begin to describe it. I think it’s an important book, giving the history of a nightmare in war, as well as digging into the depths of the depravity of man. I don’t think I’ll do a real review on it, but I recommend the book.

After this, I’ll need to pick up something a little more light-hearted. I bought Jimmy Buffett’s Swine Not? at the Dollar Tree, so maybe that… But if you have any book recommendations, let me know!

Book Review: Slow Apocalypse

I’ve read most of the novels John Varley has written, so when I saw Slow Apocalypse, I wanted to read it. If you’re a fan of Varley, this may not be the book for you. It is very unlike his other books at a macro level, though there are some familiar threads (Red Lightning deals with the after effects of a disaster).

When I read the synopsis on Amazon, it seemed to be the setup for a Tom Clancy like thrilled. This is not a book like that. It is much more similar to a disaster story, like you might see in a movie, but as the title implies, the story unfolds much more slowly. I think the book takes a very literal and methodical approach to describing what would happen in the hours, days, and months after devastating catastrophes.

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Book Review: Lost on Planet China – J. Maarten Troost

I’ve developed an interest in China over the last few years, even to the point of trying to learn Mandarin with Rosetta Stone. When I saw Lost on Planet China on the shelf I gravitated toward it because of that, and then was doubly drawn to it when I recognized the author. J. Maarten Troost is the author of Getting Stoned with Savages and The Sex Lives of Cannibals. Neither of those books is as salacious as their titles suggest, and their subtitles really describe them more: A Trip Through The Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu and Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific. They’re very funny books, but they really do capture the spirit of life as a fish-out-of-water expat in the island nations on which they’re set.

Lost on Planet China is different because the author is not living in China, as he lived on the islands of his previous books. This book is really a travelogue, but still very much a fish-out-of-water story, and the book starts off with the author affirming that he knows absolutely nothing about China. While humor is present as in the other books, there’s a lot more history and politics, probably because China itself has a lot more history and politics. This makes it a different read than the others.

The subtitle of this book is “One Man’s Attempt To Understand The World’s Most Mystifying Nation” and I think the really focus is on that word “attempt.” The closest Troost comes to understanding China is captured in this quote toward the end of the book: Planet China is as varied and diverse as Planet Earth.

Throughout the book, Troost dwells on negative aspects of modern China – pollution, prostitution, overcrowding, etc., but does a good job at keeping it in context of the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao, while still keeping the writing fairly light. It doesn’t seem like Troost tried to find the real culture of China while he was there. I think the culture of China really lies in the people of China, and unable to speak or read the language, Troost goes into the country handicapped to the point where he’s unable to dig below the surface to the point where he could understand China at all.

While he explores far flung places, including Tibet where he finally does find blue skies and less crowding, and while I’m sure that he enjoyed this part of his travels the most, it’s also where the book stalls. The book also ends abruptly as Troost approaches North Korea with some trepidation that makes him long to return to China. The book could use another chapter to put the journey into perspective.

Overall, I’d recommend this book, and the other two written by Troost. I enjoy the humor and perspectives of the places usually only seen in episodes of Survivor and on the Discovery Channel. But I hope he goes back to China and writes a book about the people, not just the country, and then maybe we all can understand the world’s most mystifying nation a little better.

Book Review: Trader – Charles de Lint

It’s a familiar premise: two people wake up one morning and they’ve switched bodies. Freaky Friday was probably the first, and most recently, the Ryan Reynolds/Jason Bateman move The Change Up tackled it. I don’t think anyone saw that one. It was even tackled on The Daily Show this past February when Jon Stewart switched bodies with Justin Bieber.

This scenario always seems to be played up for comedy, but Trader by Charles de Lint, is the first time I’ve seen it done where the impact on the switched is really experienced for the traumatic experience that it is. Max Trader is a successful luthier (he makes musical instruments) who wakes up unexpectedly in the body of a stranger, Johnny Devlin, a deadbeat moments away from being evicted. Devlin is thrilled at the opportunity to take over Max’s life. Homeless and angry, Max tries to take back his life from someone unwilling to give it up.

I’ve read a few other novels by Charles de Lint, and he’s a bit of a master of the urban fantasy genre, mixing elements of real world city life with the magical, incorporating Native American shamanism, urban legends and fairy tales into a gritty cityscape of Newford, a microcosm of everywhere, but probably most closely resembling somewhere like Seattle.

As Max Trader navigates this city, he receives assistance from Joe Crazy Dog, and other characters familiar in de Lint’s novels, and he eventually finds himself in the spirit world where his quest continues. It’s at this point where the book loses me a little bit, as some characters find themselves in the spirit world version of Los Angeles. It was a small scene, but that setting didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the book.

If you enjoy the switched bodies type of story, or even if you’re extremely tired of it (as I was before reading Trader), this book should make the idea fresh again instead of a cliche. De Lint’s characters and dialogue are great, and Newford feels as real a city as any I know. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. You don’t need to have read any other de Lint books to know what’s going on.

Book Review: Enchantment – Guy Kawasaki

Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki

“I’m going to show you how to change the world, not understand it.” -Guy Kawasaki, Enchantment

It’s not too often that I read “business” books. I’ve read things like Who Moved My Cheese, and Soar with Your Strengths, but they’re not usually my cup of tea. But when BzzAgent.com told me about Enchantment, I was immediately interested. I just accepted a new position with my company, working on a large project that will require influencing a lot of people, so the timing was great. And the name Guy Kawasaki was one that I was familiar with from his work with Apple. And even if I didn’t know his name, getting pull quotes on the cover from Sir Richard Branson and Steve Wozniak would have caught my eye. I signed up for a copy and was lucky to be one of 90 to get it for free.

What are your passions? Do you hide them under a bushel? Instead, tell the world that you love cooking, hockey, NASCAR, or knitting – whatever it is – because pursuing your passions makes you more interesting, and interesting people are enchanting.

The book is really interesting, but it’s still formatted like a business book. It’s Guy Kawasaki’s ability to enchant the reader that makes it stand above the rest though. And really, the book is about how to be enchanting, so I had to expect to be enchanted, and for the most part I was. I must admit though that the first half of the book was more enchanting than the second half.

…heroes, mensches, and simply likable and trustworthy people are enchanting, and if you want to enchant others, you need to aspire to those attributes, too.

The book has 12 chapters, and each chapter ends with personal examples from other people about their experiences being enchanted. And throughout the book Guy Kawasaki shares his own personal experiences of enchantment and real world examples of enchanting ideas and products. These stories are really where the book shines. It gets bogged down towards the end of the book when it leaves the personal examples of bulletpoints and checklists.

Death is the great equalizer – we all die equal… While we’re living , we need to get over ourselves and accept others if we want to enchant people.

One of the best things about the book is that it’s not specific to any one industry or position in a company. So many business books are only about how to be a good manager, or how to manage a project, etc. No matter who you are or what you do, you can find things in this book that can inspire you to be better at whatever it is you do, because it’s about how to delight people, and everyone can use those skills.

The goal of enchantment is a long-lasting change – not a onetime sale or transaction. In other words, you want enchantment to endure and, even better, to blossom. That’s what happens when you change hearts, minds, and actions.

At the end of the book, I come away with a feeling that Guy Kawasaki is a cool person – someone you’d want to grab a beer with and watch a hockey game (one of his passions), and then fight over who is picking up the bar tab. He’s enchanting, and so is the book.

Full disclosure: I received Enchantment for free to review by being a BzzAgent for BzzAgent.com. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Off the Record – Jennifer O’Connell

My blogging has been sporadic lately, but I’m a voracious book fiend, so I’m going to add book reviews to this blog.

Off The RecordThe most recent book I read was Off the Record, by Jennifer O’Connell. I finished reading it this morning. I kept my son up late last night because it’s summer, which allowed him to sleep in this morning, and since sleeping in is pretty impossible for me, I used the gift of time to finish the book. And make banana pancakes, but that’s a different story.

I suppose Off the Record would be described as chick lit. I don’t like pigeon holing books into genres and subgenres, but I’m sure my friend Sarah would classify it as such, and tease me about reading it, because I am in the middle of a perpetually unfinished novel that she classifies as chick lit, too.

Off The Record tells the story of a plain Jane lawyer (fittingly named Jane), who learns that a famous pop song was written about her. It’s a bit of a second-coming of age novel, as Jane is reunited with the little known next door neighbor of her childhood who became the well known one hit wonder. Jane struggles the conflict between the person she thinks she should be and the person described in the song.

The character of Jane develops realistically through the story, but the rest of the characters felt a little flat for me. There were several subplots that could have added more texture to the book, and supporting characters could have had their own development instead of acting as a peanut gallery for Jane’s story. But ultimately, this is Jane’s story, and that part of it works. I also found the backdrop of Chicago to be well-formed. The book definitely knows where it is.

This book reminds me a bit of Tiffanie Debartolo’s How to Kill a Rock Star, a book with the grit of a rock star, which I would recommend well above Off the Record, which is light bubble gum pop – there’s flavor, but not much sustenance. The book is an easy read and would make a good beach book this summer.

The next book I’ll review is Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions, by Guy Kawasaki. BzzAgent sent it to me for free, and since I just accepted a new project analyst job that will require persuasion, I’m looking forward to reading it. Guy was part of the team the originally marketed the Apple Macintosh in 1984, so I think he knows what he’s talking about.