Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Hogwarts #1)

0439708184-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third time I’ve read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but the first since finishing Deathly Hallows and first time reading it critically.  I’ve tailored this review in the following in mind: the intended audience for the book (much younger than myself) and it’s place in the series.

Unlike books later in the series, Sorcerer’s Stone (aka Philosopher’s Stone in other parts of the globe) features brevity in length, but is still backed with vivid descriptions of the magical world Harry suddenly finds himself exposed to.  Rowling uses her words carefully show the reader not only the setting, but also the story.  What also helps is keeping in mind the audience, the primary of which would be the same age as 11-year old Harry, and as a result Rowling focuses on the “big events” over the first year at Hogwarts just like children would focus on the big happenings during their school year.  And added to it all is a mystery that soon touches upon the magically communities darkest times as well as the saddest for young Harry.  Yet Rowling weaves it altogether to create wonderful story that is a joy to read the first time and many subsequent times afterwards.

[Spoilers Below]
As the introductory installment of the entire Harry Potter series, Sorcerer’s Stone does an excellent job in world building and giving the reader an introduction to the characters.  As for character development, there are minor examples in Hermione and Neville, but this is to be expected for the age level and with six more books there is plenty of time for characters to grow like any pre-teen would.  Finally how is foreshadowing and are there any potential plot holes for later in the series?  Littered throughout Sorcerer’s Stone are names and items that will become important later in the series, but unless they were critical to the plot those individuals and items were only descriptors.  There was only one glaring potential plot hole and that is the Snape-Quirrell interactions, especially as events unfold with Snape becoming Voldemort’s right hand man later in the series.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a wonderful book both as a standalone and as part of a series.  It stands up over time as great piece of children’s literature and fire the imagination of readers.

Harry Potter

The Hobbit (The Lord of the Rings Prequel)

054792822x-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hobbit, and subsequently The Lord of the Rings, is the book that is chiefly responsible for the fantasy genre today; either in influencing or reacting against it.  Nearly fifteen years after reading The Hobbit for the first time, I returned to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth to find the experience just as fun as I did back then though my memory of events turned out to be incorrect as I followed Bilbo Baggins on his adventure.

For mature readers like myself, getting into the rhythm of the text can be tricky as one has to remember that the story was originally based on from bedtime stories Tolkien told his children.  Plus the text feels like it was transcribed from an oral telling like around one told around a campfire or a warm hearth in a hobbit hole, but this only helps enhance the adventurous aspect of the story Tolkien tells.  The vivid descriptions of locales and fantastic creatures adds great detail to the story that in a way sets the stage for the more grown up tale of The Lord of the Rings.

While this particular edition does seem to have some strange word choices that forces the reader to go back disturbing the flow in a few spots, it doesn’t diminish the overall book.  Others might decry The Hobbit being childish, but that’s who Tolkien was aiming for in 1937 and anyone who thinks this is A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) or The Wheel of Time or The First Law needs a reality check before they begin this book.  For any fan of fantasy, if you haven’t read The Hobbit I whole recommend that you do but only with the perspective.


The Kobayashi Maru (Star Trek #47)

0671658174-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Kobayashi Maru by Julia Ecklar
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

First mentioned in Star Trek II, The Kobayashi Maru is legendary in Trek fandom as the infamous no-win scenario simulation that Academy cadets must face.  Julia Ecklar gives us a look into how Kirk, Chekov, Sulu, and Scott faced the simulation while dealing with a literal life-and-death situation.  The accounts are personal to each man as we get a glimpse of these characters when they were just cadets, personally I can not pick one as the best of the four however I will say that Ecklar’s version of Kirk’s creative solution is more impressive than presented in the 2009 Star Trek film.  This is by far the best Star Trek novel I’ve read and I found it difficult to put down.

Star Trek

Doctor Who: The Dalek Generation

0385346743-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Doctor Who: The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

The Doctor Who adventure, The Dalek Generation, featuring the Eleventh Doctor is an enjoyable, quick read that any fan will enjoy.  Nicholas Briggs unquestionably succeeded in capturing Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor, which any Eleven-fan will appreciate.  The overall story is fine especially the use of time travel and the Doctor’s interaction with the Blakely siblings, however Briggs did make some head scratching miscues.  These miscues are essentially story details that hurt Briggs narrative because they open up obvious alternative ways the Doctor could have attempted to stop the Daleks then how Briggs wrote the conclusion.  Putting aside the miscues, as a first time reader of a Doctor Who book this was a treat and recommended to anyone else looking to read a Doctor Who book for the first time.

JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency

0230341837-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency by John T. Shaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

The three-term Congressman who entered the Senate in January 1953 wasn’t thought to be a future President at any time, let alone by the end of the decade.  As John T. Shaw chronicles in JFK in the Senate, John Kennedy saw the U.S. Senate as a stepping stone to achieve the presidency.  And in his nearly eight years in the upper chamber, Kennedy learned lessons that helped him to be a better politician and help secure him the nomination and later election.

Shaw’s study of Kennedy in the Senate starts with a basic outline of his life with a focus more on his first Congressional and Senate campaigns respectively than anything else, including his three-terms in the House.  Shaw’s then looks at Kennedy time in the Senate in three aspects: domestic, foreign, and finally his role documenting the institution’s history.  Shaw concludes by showing how Kennedy used the Senate to launch is campaign for 1960.

The focus on Kennedy in relation to the Senate is revealing especially as Shaw brings to the reader’s attention things not previously emphasized.  The first was Kennedy’s legislative work on the labor issue as well as he learned to balance regional and national economic issues, issues that seemed glossed over or neglected in larger studies of Kennedy’s life.  The second was Kennedy’s perspectives on foreign policy while in both the House and Senate including his critiques of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations’ foreign policy.  Shaw reveals how Kennedy’s views and critiques turned out to be astute in the hindsight of history.  Finally Shaw shows through Kennedy’s work on Profiles in Courage and the committee to designate the five greatest Senators that he seemed to show his political priorities for higher office by separating his career from those past and present who were thoroughly Senators.

In barely over 200 pages, Shaw gives a well-rounded look at John Kennedy’s career as a U.S. Senator before he became only the second person ever to be elected President directly from that body.  Shaw shows that Kennedy deliberately didn’t strive to be the best Senator he could like his colleagues, his aspirations went higher.  And that is why this book is recommended for anyone interested in Kennedy.

Baseball’s Creation Myth: Adam Ford, Abner Graves and the Cooperstown Story

0786471999-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Baseball’s Creation Myth: Adam Ford, Abner Graves and the Cooperstown Story by Brian Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

The mythologized and debunked tale of General Abner Doubleday’s invention of baseball in Cooperstown, New York is the focus of Baseball’s Creation Myth by Brian Martin.  The story behind the Doubleday-Cooperstown tale brings into the spotlight three men who inspired it, who spun it, and who promoted it.  Martin tells about the lives of these three men along with the social and political times they lived in when the Cooperstown story was birthed.

Martin centers his book on the lives of Adam Ford, Abner Graves, and Albert Goodwell Spalding.  Although several other individuals for a few pages do become the focus, it is these three that propel the narrative on how the Cooperstown story came to be and of how of all places Denver, Colorado is where it germinated.  Martin explains that the backdrop of the patriotic and optimistic times of the first decade of the 1900s under Theodore Roosevelt, in which the story is first introduced, is why it became such a fixed fact of Americana.  And Martin explains the different paths Cooperstown and its Canadian counterpart St. Mary’s became homes to their nation’s respective Halls of Fame.

The understanding of both Ford and Graves is center to Martin’s text and their lives and experiences are examined throughout the book especially their relationship to baseball.  A few times Martin does take side streets in his text, most notably when discussing Mark Twain’s experiences in Virginia City.  However for the most part Martin sticks to building what he believes to be a very reasonable, though admittedly circumstantial, case on the Cooperstown story was conceived and took root.

Having no real clue about what to expect from this book, I found it enjoyable read on how a mythical event of Americana came to be as well on the lives of two ordinary men who played a part in how it came about.

The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud

1451654669-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

The life of Red Cloud, let alone his name or accomplishments, were unknown to myself until seeing this book.  I did not know what to expect about how the authors would treat both the Native and Settler sides of history nor did I know if it would be a readable narrative.  After finishing the book, I found that Bob Drury and Tom Clavin did a wonderful job in producing an engaging life story of Red Cloud along with describing the context of the times he lived in.

I feel it important early in my review to note that I don’t believe that Drury and Clavin were 100% accurate in everything, in particular with Lakota society, though without that knowledge myself I cannot critique it.  Another important thing is often cited Red Cloud autobiography, which turns out to be more a second-hand oral history than an actual autobiography as explained in the “Notes and Bibliography” section.  While these issues do take away something from the book, they don’t undermine it.

Drury and Clavin recount Red Cloud’s life in a very engaging way first by setting the stage for the events leading to the conflict between the Lakota-Cheyenne-Arapaho coalition and the United States Army, then piecing together Red Cloud’s early life as well as a history of the Lakota and “Sioux” nation.  Then the text details the events beginning in 1851 that led to the conflict known as “Red Cloud’s War” with particular attention paid to the military events during 1866 in the Powder River region.  Although they are chronicling the life and achievements of one man, they don’t make him out to be a flawless human being they make it out to be a man of his culture, society, and time.

The authors are not shy about showing the very cringe worthy cultural clashes of Natives and Settlers during the time frame, there are no purely good or purely evil individuals characterized in the text there are just normal humans.  The atrocities committed by both sides are told in detail as well as how the popular press at the time either sensationalized the events or barely noted it, depending on who the victims were.  The authors also noted that when a victory was won by a Native tribe it was described as a “massacre” when Whites won a victory it was called a “battle,” in reality the two terms could be reversed the vast majority of the time.  This is not a 21st-century politically correct whitewash of history; this is a full color slap in the face history.

The Heart of Everything That Is might not be absolutely perfect and accurate; however Drury and Clavin do a justice service to the life and times of Red Cloud along with numerous other individuals both Native and Settler who interacted with him.  The authors show that the settling of the American West wasn’t the clear-cut Hollywood version of history, but a bloody clash of two utterly different cultures.  In the end nothing could stop American expansion across the Great Plains, but the authors showed that for a time it was stymied because of the actions by one man.

A Giant Cow-Tipping by Savages: The Boom, Bust, and Boom Culture of M&A

SavagesA Giant Cow-Tipping by Savages: The Boom, Bust, and Boom Culture of M&A by John Close
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

Beginning in 1981, the business of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) started to change the American and later the world economy.  In his book A Giant-Cow Tipping by Savages, John Weir Close attempts to tell the history and the larger-than-life personalities that dominated the M&A industry.  However, the mishmash of short biographies and short stories documenting major deals is an informative, but meandering read.

The title of this book comes from Ted Turner describing his feelings about AOL-Time Warner merger; through you wouldn’t know it until nearly the end of the book and until then you wondered why Close or his publisher decided on the title.  Then there were the vignettes of Robert Campeau and Ilan Reich that were prominently displayed within the book, but either interrupted the flow of the text or where just there and only later showed to be an illustration of what was happening in the overall industry.  And then there are the sentences that have to be read more than once to understand what Close to talking about or approximate what he means.

The descriptions of the various deals throughout the 1980s and earlier 90s, the period Close focuses on the most, and the history leading up to and sometimes after are the best part of this book.  Having previously read Barbarians at the Gate I was familiar with the most famous M&A deal of all-time and with all the key players.  Close gives the reader a look at all the other major deals before and after RJR Nabisco, but also the relatively minor in financial terms but had a major impact in the Delaware courts and thus had affected larger deals.

John Weir Close was ambitious in attempting to give the modern history of M&A in A Giant-Cow Tipping by Savages, but the final product is unfortunately not equal to that ambition.  The highlight of Close writing is when he describes the events surrounding a major deal.  However connecting between these major deals is at times an intellectual trudge in figuring out how he’s tying these to one another.

The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

0743265157-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency by James   Tobin
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dream to follow his cousin’s Theodore to the Presidency seemed to be exactly on course until he was stuck down with polio and appeared to be derailed forever.  But as James Tobin recounts in his new book The Man He Became:  How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency, Roosevelt’s illness and his determination to regain his health and the use of his legs enabled him to make his way to the White House in a quiet unexpected way.

Tobin begins his account at his time period’s end with Inauguration Day 1933 following Roosevelt through the ceremonies of the day and how he proceeded to stand up, walk the new way he had learned, and sit down.  Then we are taken back to summer 1921 to an athletic and healthy Roosevelt just before he contracted the poliovirus.  The contrast is stark and makes the reader want to see how Roosevelt went from the latter to the former, a task that Tobin skillfully chronicles.

Within the recounting of Roosevelt’s contraction, illness, recovering, and physical rehabilitation from polio Tobin enlightens readers on a number of issues.  The first is the mechanics of the poliovirus and how it became major epidemic disease in the early 20th-century.  The second is the societal attitudes towards the disabled in the 1920s and early 1930s that many faced and were amplified when Roosevelt returned to politics.  The third was political dynamics that the nation and the Democratic party was facing throughout the mid-1920s especially when it came to New York Governor Al Smith and Roosevelt’s relationship towards him.  The fourth is Roosevelt’s dealings with the press about his physical condition and how much he actually used a wheelchair.

At 311 pages of text, Tobin for the vast majority of the book is both detailed and efficient in his writing.  The only time the text seemed to wander was when Tobin discussed the societal attitudes towards the disabled during the time period, mainly because he continued to show example after example of attitudes and biases after clearly giving the reader ample evidence already.  If being given an overabundance of information on a particular issue that Roosevelt had to confront is the only noticeable “glare” then it might come down to the individual reader and not the writer.

Upon finishing the book, Tobin’s view that polio helped Roosevelt win the Presidency does hold up.  A polio-free Roosevelt had all the talent to become President, whether he would have succeeded would be another matter.  However, it was a post-polio Roosevelt who learned to use his talents in another way like he had to learn to use his muscles in another way that helped create a recipe for a successful return to politics and then ascension to the Presidency.

To Green Angel Tower, Part 2 (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #3b)

0886776066-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_To Green Angel Tower, Part 2 by Tad Williams
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The second part of To Green Angel Tower brings Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn to a stunning and thrilling finish.  The book begins with the Norn attack on Josua’s camp and Simon & Miriamele’s quest to the Hayholt, directly where it left off in Part 1 giving a “sense of continuity” of the overall novel.  The story arcs of the various second tier characters were either ended or brought into the main story before the last quarter of the book so as to concentrate on the major climactic siege of the Hayholt and the supernatural battle on top the aforementioned Green Angel Tower.

By the last quarter of the book every living character, save one, has made their way to the Hayholt through a variety of paths.  It is only then that all of them start realizing that they had been tricked by the Storm King and the Norns, including their human allies Elias and Pryates though the later had tried to cage his supernatural ally himself.  The Storm King’s defeat is not through strength of arms, but on empathy towards the great antagonist at the right time that stymies his return to mortal plane.  The resolution to the great crisis is a unique twist that one doesn’t see coming along, but given the one who expresses the empathy it goes well with that character’s development throughout the book.

There were some issues I did have while reading that I have to mention, the first of which was the pace at the beginning of the book.  To Green Angel Tower was originally published whole in hardcover so one would assume that Part 2 would feel just like a continuation, but the beginning of Part 2 reads and feels like it is a different book entirely.  I mentioned in the first paragraph that Part 2 began where Part 1 left off to give a “sense of continuity” but it doesn’t read that way especially as one continues on through Part 2.  It seems that To Green Angel Tower is actually two books in one that were pressed in the original publication so as to have the “trilogy” but the series would have been better served as a tetralogy when originally published.  The second was trying to keep the various timelines straight of the various storylines, especially as they started interconnecting with one another and which sometimes was maddening trying to remember what another character was doing somewhere else at the time.

Overall, To Green Angel Tower Part 2 was a fantastic finish to a memorable series.  Not withstanding my feeling that the series should be a tetralogy and my other minor issue, this is a series that any fantasy fan must read because of how Williams brought something new to the genre over a quarter of a century ago and inspired several other authors to bring their ideas forward with his success.  So consider Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn as well as this book recommended.

The Dragonbone Chair
Stone of Farewell
To Green Angel Tower Part 1