Book Thoughts

A place for me to give my thoughts on books, history, and their influence on my life.

Review of An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger

An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students - Ron Berger, Howard Gardner, Deborah Meier, Kate Montgomery

I really enjoyed this book on what makes for bringing a culture of excellence into the classroom.  I thought Berger's stories were inspirational, and loved many of his ideas.  Like many stories on great teaching though, his methods are virtually impossible to use in a big sense because his school basically allows him to teach however he wants.  At most public high schools, teachers would have to maintain a certain pace while covering a large curriculum.  However, I do like his technique of peer review and of making the work important to students.  Demanding more of students is something that sounds easy, but over time it can become difficult to maintain a high level of determination when teaching a class load of 130 kids through 180 days.  This book reminded me to never give up pushing each and every student.

Review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe - Neal Shusterman

This book had so much potential.  I thought the premise was intriguing, and I actually thought the two main characters, and side characters, were engaging.  However, the story took forever to really get going, and the entire book from start to finish was very negative in nature.  I could live with that, but the premise of the world is that everyone is immortal and no one wants for anything, so it was hard to read a book where literally none of the characters seem to enjoy anything.  I also was disappointed in the ending because it felt far too simple after the long buildup.  I thought I would enjoy this more.

Review of A Revolution in Color by Jane Kamensky

A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley - Jane Kamensky

It has been a long time since I enjoyed reading a history book as much as I did A Revolution in Color by Jane Kamensky.  This book tells the story of John Singleton Copley, the master-painter who came to prominence during the years of the American Revolution.  It is much more than a simple biography though - the book also tells the story of Revolutionary Boston, New York City, and London as Copley moved around during his life.  It looks at the world of painting and how important it was considered by most people of the time both in America and abroad.  For me, this book took a period I have read a great deal about, and it make it exciting again with new information about aspects of the period I had never really thought about.

Review of Madam Secretary by Madeleine Albright

Madam Secretary: A Memoir - Madeleine Albright

I am a big fan of Madeleine Albright and this book did not disappoint.  This memoir tells the story of Albright's career in service, focusing mostly on her work in the UN and as Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration.  It covers a lot of ground, and was a great primer for all international issues of the 1990s.  I enjoyed her writing style and her wit, and felt that she was very open and honest with her successes and failures.  Highly recommended for those interested in a great woman or the time period.

Review of The Mist by Stephen King

The Mist - Stephen King

This novella is another Stephen King classic that has been turned into a movie and I believe two television shows.  I knew the basic story having seen most of the movie, but as all King books go, the reading is far superior to the movie.  This is a quick story but plays on people's worst fears of giant bugs and the unknown.  I wish the ending had more of a resolution, but overall it was a quick, entertaining read.

Review of Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row - John Steinbeck

This is a tough book to rate.  I think I would give the writing 4 stars because Steinbeck is such a beautiful writer, but I would give my enjoyment of the book 2 stars.  I found the story disjointed, really did not enjoy any of the characters, and there was no real buildup in the story at all.  It was just a sad expose of a small part of a town full of the poor and downtrodden.  That was likely the point, but I just found it tough to turn the pages.

Review of Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands by Roger Di Silvestro

Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands: A Young Politician's Quest for Recovery in the American West - Roger L. Di Silvestro

A fun, quick read about Teddy Roosevelt's time and love of the Badlands and the West.  I did not feel like there was very much new here that I did not know from pervious TR books, but I did enjoy the writing style and the fair way that the author treated Roosevelt.  It is difficult to blend TR's love of nature and conservation work with his seeming bloodlust for hunting, but the author presented both sides and included comments when appropriate.  A good read for fans of Teddy.

Review of Darth Vader: Volume 4

Star Wars: Darth Vader, Vol. 4: End of Games - Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca

A great wrap up volume to the Darth Vader story arc in this four book series.  It shows how Vader came to be the leader of the Empire (under the Emperor of course) after his failure to stop the destruction of the first Death Star.  It is classic evil Vader but it is one of those cases where you generally are rooting for the bad guy.  These Star Wars graphic novels are the first graphic novels I have ever read, and I am glad to have a new part of the world of literature opened up to me.

Review of Salems Lot by Stephen King

'Salem's Lot - Stephen King

It had been a while since I read Stephen King, it was like returning to an old friend.  This novel was the second he published, and one of the classics I had not read.  I really enjoyed this tale of vampires, and even though it was published more than 30 years ago, I think it has aged very well.  It is classic King with his writing style, character building, and combination of the real and the horror fantasy.  I look forward to continue my lifetime march toward reading all of his novels and short story collections.

Review of Darth Vader: Volume 3 by Kieron Gillen

Star Wars: Darth Vader, Vol. 3: The Shu-torun War - Kieron Gillen, Leinil Francis Yu, Kaare Andrews, Salvador Larroca

My favorite entry in the Darth Vader graphic novel series.  Vader finally gets to be smarter than everyone else, and more deadly when all of the fighting starts.  I am enjoying the storyline and think there is some great material here for a movie if they ever wanted to give Vader his own film.

Review of Darth Vader: Shadows and Secrets by Kieron Gillen

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets - Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca

Another solid entry in the Star Wars cannon.  This continues the story of Darth Vader and what happened to him after the destruction of the Death Star in the first film.  I like the new characters introduced in this series, and it is good to see how Vader progressed after the initial defeat.  Looking forward to the next one.

Review of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah

Well this novel certainly lived up to the hype.  What a beautiful, and heart-breaking story of two adult sisters living through the German occupation of France during World War II.  Kristin Hannah has a beautiful way with language, and her ability to create believable characters is outstanding.  Highly recommended for any lover of history, Europe, or just a really great story.

Review of The Pearl by John Steinbeck

The Pearl - John Steinbeck

This was a novella from Steinbeck that was honestly very depressing. Without giving any of the story away, the book looks at depressing poverty and the influence that the chance of riches can have on a family's life. Worth the read for any fans of Steinbeck.

Review of A Murder of Quality by John le Carre

A Murder of Quality - John le Carré

My second George Smiley novel in as many days.  This books was not a spy-thriller, but was more of a simple murder mystery.  It was a quick story, and while I enjoyed the read, it certainly is not a classic and was not one that I imagine will be memorable.  I look forward to the more famous of Le Carre's spy novels that are coming up in this series.

Review of Call for the Dead by John le Carre

Call for the Dead - John le Carré

I had been meaning to read John le Carre for quite some time, and decided that my week on vacation was the perfect place to start.  This is the first book in the George Smiley series that many people I follow on these sites rave about.  I enjoyed this first novel and its simplicity.  It basically follows how the spy craft game works in 1950s England while working through a suicide case.  There is very little action so to speak, and the enjoyment is reading about how they came to resolve the case.  It was a very quick read, and I will continue on to the next one.

Review of The End of All Things by John Scalzi

The End of All Things - John Scalzi

This was the sixth book in the Old Man's War series and as always, I enjoyed the read.  This book continues the story from the previous books, and it once again takes on the form of multiple novellas rather than one continuous novel.  That part frustrates me a bit as the last three books in the series were either collections or a retelling of a previous story, but Scalzi does a great job of writing about characters and relations between groups of people.  I am caught up on this series for now, but will certainly continue reading if and when the next book comes out.