Friday, September 27, 2019

Rogue: The Paladin Prophecy Book 3

These days, it is all the rage to stretch out the last book in the series to a multiple movies. With Rogue, it feels like they really good have used more stretching out. The book starts with Will seemingly joining up with his grandfather on a quest to create super-humans. Later we learn that they have not really bought into Grandpa's story, and are planning to subvert his plans. That leads them to an adventure into the neverwas. Their powers seem to have been augmented, allowing them to always "know what to do". They eventually destroy the bad-guys machine that they would use to take over the earth. In the process, they run across one of their former friends who has teamed up with the "other side". They also rescue the "dead" angel and then return back home. It felt like a lot of details were missing from the story. There were also many enticing bits that were not explored. (I would have loved to see what happened when they finished with the bad guys and returned to face the "human baddies". How did time work? Was there any connection between the neverwas and their "mini-mes" on the computers?
There were many interesting avenues to explore. However, instead of going there, most of the book was just a series of battles with various monsters. The book used the excuse of "their powers getting stronger" to explain how they always "knew" the best path. However, even with that explanation, things were still too predictable. On the other hand, their "meanness" towards their former friend Brooke seemed to be way out of hand. The relationship with the "bad creators" also left a lot of questions. Why were there powers getting stronger? Why were they able to use these power to defeat the "creators", even though these powers came from the creators? There was some potential in this book. Alas, it was ruined by sloppy writing and too much focus on the action.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Battle of Hackham Heath: Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years

In the second book of the Ranger's Apprentice prequels, the good guys win. At least they manage to win the main battle in the book. The evil Morgarath has recruited some semi-intelligent ape-bears creatures to serve as his brute force. They have no regard for their lives, but they are susceptible to fear of horses and feel some remorse when their family die. Morgarath is a brute with little regard for others, but he is also shrewd. The rangers carry out a lot of skilled maneuvers to help support the King and his army. The rangers are really good, but not quite invisible. The King's daughter is born (though his wife dies.) We also have a young would-be apprentice introduced and hear about another orphan baby. Will these all be characters in the main series?

Sunday, September 22, 2019


Legend begins with the intertwined stories of a rich girl prodigy (June) and an elusive boy criminal (Day). You know that they will somehow become romantically connected, but don't see exactly how. Luckily, the novel doesn't dawdle. Day is looking for anti-plague medicine for his family and breaks into a hospital. In the process he supposedly kills June's older brother. June is conscripted to help hunt him down. Both are keenly observant and he eventually makes an innocent gesture that clues her in (thought not until after they have kissed.) He is arrested and sentenced to death. Then she makes some additional discoveries. She had thought she had been the only one to score a perfect score on the test that is administrated to all children. However, she discovers that he actually had earned a perfect score, but the results were faked to give him a failing grade. She also learns that the "Republic" is really not all that it is cracked up to be. Could the United States really fall into dictatorship without most people knowing? People often look at Trump shenanigans and predict a falling away coming from that direction. However, a west-coast dictatorship in the novel is more likely to be caused by a left-wing mast uprising. Could we gradually fall without knowing? Would the government willingly silence dissenters to keep the masses happy?

Friday, September 20, 2019

Maze Runner

A boy wakes up in a world with no memories in a world he does not understand. He discovers that it is a world with just boys. A new one comes every month. They get electricity and other basics provided for them. However, they have to work to provide food and solve a maze. They hope to sometime escape and get out. However, many of the boys get attacked by monsters and die. Some get stung, but get an anti-venom that causes them to undergo a changing. They get some of their thoughts back.
One day a girl appears, bringing on the beginning of the end. They finally make their way out of the maze, only to find it was part of a horrible experiment. The earth has been smitten by a plague. The maze was set up by a company in hopes of breeding special humans that can help come up with a solution. Other humans help rescue them. (This all seems to coincidentally come at the same time.)
The novel is very dark. These kids are locked in a fake world with real monsters with real death. Is this justified if it can bring about a cure for humanity? Ironically, the kids justify much to save a single boy, but find it abhorrent that they may all be sacrificed to save the human race. Does justification simply depend on free choice?

John Paul the Great

John Paul the Great spends some time providing a biography of Pope John Paul II. However, most of the book details the author's spiritual journey. For many immigrants, Catholicism was an "old world" custom that they sought to avoid. Their descendants needed the spiritual confirmation rather than custom to participate in the church. Pope John Paul II was keen to this and was a humble, prayerful figure that traveled the world to help spread the message of peace. This helped open the church up to many that would otherwise have not sought it. Alas, at the time, the church was also suffering from bad behavior from many priests. The Pope's great love may have made it difficult for him to take early decisive action to stop the bad actors. (This was also influenced by his experience losing his family at a young age and enduring the horrors of communism and Nazism.)

There are many scenes of the Pope's humility. When the author, Peggy Noonan, met the Pope helps show his non-judgmental nature. In the same audience as her was a rocker, dressed to the part. Pope John Paul II treated him just as the others, and even signed the music that was presented. In another instance, Pope John Paul II met with his would-be-assassin for an extended time period, and forgave him. the author had a great respect for the pope as a person - and even more for what he enabled her to accomplish in her spiritual life.

The Tournament at Golan

The Tournament at Golan is the first "prequel" book to Ranger's Apprentice. Things seemed to be going well, but I expected it would not work out. (After all, doesn't this need to set up the background of the villain?) In the book, an usurper to the thrown has had somebody masquerade as the crown prince in order to discredit him. He has also "dismissed" the Rangers that live in villages, and appointed "pretty boys" in their stead. (Often the dismissals were justified by some trumped-up false accusations.) The book centers around two rangers going around trying to gather up the dismissed apprentices to confront the bad player. In the end there is a big battle, the bad guy cheats, and the good guys have a chance to kill him. They don't. They do confine him to his castle with his army. However, they sneak out through underground tunnel. I'm guessing these will be the "bad guys" through the rest of the series.

Save Me A Seat

Being the new kid at school is never easy. It is especially difficult when you are coming from a different culture. It can be even worse when you think you understand people only to have that understanding flipper around. In Save Me a Seat, a bright elementary student moves from India to the United States. He speaks the same language, but people cannot understand him well. He also struggles with the different customs of the school. He sees one other Indian in the class, and seeks to befriend him, thinking he will understand. However, this other Indian is a born-in-America class bully. The new boy (Ravi) is upset when he is asked to go to the special ed teacher to help with his English. He also meets the American boy there (Joe). Ravi looks down on Joe because he is there. However, they end up becoming good friends.
The portrayal of Indian-American culture show many aspects (both good and bad) that I have seen. The struggles of kids to understand each other is real. Having the kleptomaniac bully get stuck with leeches in his pants may be over the top, but does feel satisfying.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking Fast and Slow is Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman's very accessible work about how we think. He anthropomorphizes the quick, impulsive "System One" and the slow, methodical "System Two" as the two parts of our thinking process. System One will often provide us with our "gut" reactions without us seeming to process it. People who are trained with much experience in certain situations will often find System One guiding their reactions, seemingly without them understanding why. (An example was a firefighter who told everyone to evacuate just before a collapse.) System Two is a much slower process and what we use for detailed thinking. Of particular interest was his description of collaboration with his "opponent" Gary Klein and a publication of "A Failure to Disagree". It was interesting to see how two opposing sides could come to realize they agree on a lot.
Kahneman's work has helped to explain a lot of areas where the "rational agent" of economics fails to follow the rules. People often respond to situations based on their given baseline. It tends to be much more painful for people to "lose" than it is beneficial for them to "win". Using this knowledge, many odd behaviors can be explained. Even when we know about a given situation, our initial instinct is often to do it in our "gut" way.

I am Number Four

Mogadore had let their planet go to waste. They sought to destroy the planet Lorien to gather their resources. Nine children escaped the planet to earth. The Mogadorians, too, are on earth trying to destroy them. However, the children have charms that mean they can only be killed in order, and they have done a good job hiding. I Am Number Four centers on the fourth of these. HE has realized that the other three have died by tatoos that have appeared. He has been moving about with his caretaker, Henri. Anytime there is something that may cause them to be noticed, they move. They try to live in rural places and slip under the radar. He finally starts to develop friends in Florida when something happens that makes them move. This time, he adopts the name John Smith and lives in Ohio. Alas, things start to get complicated. He gets bullied by a football player, and then falls in love with a girl. He also befriends a boy that is into aliens and conspiracy theories. At first, John tries to blend in, but as he develops his special powers, he uses them to save his friends. He has to tell them, and can't lie under the radar. Eventually, he is found out and a battle royale ensues. Quite a different coming of age story.
in the process, we learn that many of the human advancements came from Loriens. Even earth language was provided. Many of the important figures in history were caused by human/Lorien cross breeding. This helps explain how they could fall in love. The unfolding narrative works really well. There are some clues (like the special character of the dog, Bernie Kosar), that are guessable before the characters learn about it. This helps add to the fun.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Time sleeping seems to be a waste. After all, we are not engaging in what could be more productive activity. Alas, that is not the case. Paradoxically, sleep actually aids in performance. Many studies have shown improved problem solving, memory and creativity after getting sufficient sleep. Lack of sleep also severely limits our performance. Drowsy driving is actually a much more serious danger than drunk driving. Not getting enough sleep can also decrease the number of chemicals that tell us we are full while increasing the ones that tell us we are still hungry. People think they are acting fine when they don't get enough sleep, but they are not. The immune system and memory also suffer when there is not enough sleep.
How do you get sufficient sleep? For one, you stay away from drugs. Sleeping pills knock you out, but don't help you get quality sleep. Alcohol is somewhat similar in that it helps you into "fake sleep". Nicotine and Caffeine are also detrimental. A slightly lower temperature can help you sleep at night. (Hmm. I always seem to like it warmer, but then I wake up sweaty.) It is also useful to be consistent. You can't fully "make up" lost sleep.
Sleep can be one of the best "performance enhancing drugs." We should try hard to maximize it.

The Hive: The Second Formic War, Book 2

The Hive is the second book in the second Formic War series. This is yet another "Ender's Game" book. Card has really milked his seminal work for all it has. (Though it would be nice if he would actually finish some the series that he has left hanging, such as Alvin Maker.) There are a number of subplots floating around. There is the pirate who gets captured by the Formics and is then used as a science experiment. (I could just see this going bad.) There is the young married couple zipping off separately in space to help with the war effort. Then there are the military people. We have a lunar refugee crisis. And then there is bureaucratic incompetence. A central theme is that military and political people can be good, but most of them have their own motives that are not necessarily in the best interest of the organization as a whole. Chain of command can often separate those with needed information from those that act on it. The "hegemone" seemingly knows everything. He and his song both have the best interests of themselves and the world at heart, though they sometimes seem corrupt. They also seem to magically know exactly how things are going on. The "good guys" always seem to have just a little more brains and intuition than would be humanly possible. The book also devolves at times into long political episodes before picking up again. It wraps up a lot of the key plot points, but leaves open plenty more for the next book.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Alliance: The Paladin Prophecy Book 2

Alliance is the second book in a boarding school series. The kids all have their friendships and weird new things start to happen. Will West and his friends are trying to find out more about the secret society and beings that are trying to take over the world. The difference between good and evil starts to get fairly murky. They find new things out about people they know. They also begin to find other kids with powers. And in the process, love starts to kick in. Will is torn between two close friends who both have romantic attachments. The big "adventure" is the exploration of a castle next to campus and the unearthing of more knowledge of the past. The book answers a lot of questions, and then ends with even more questions. The writing is fairly fast paced, but does tend to telegraph future intentions a little too much, while at the same time having the kids just "know" things.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Vanishing Stair

I've read a few of "boarding school" books close together and it is hard to keep them straight. They all involve "gifted" children who are plucked away from their home and do amazing things. In the Truly Devious series, the things involve solving mysteries. This novel eventually picks up where the other one left off. Our heroine is bored silly at home in Pittsburgh. Luckily, the right wing senator (and her parent's employer) comes to encourage her to go back to school. Her parents comply. Back there she gets to spend more time investigating the school deaths past and present. (The novel includes regular interludes of the 1930s to give us details of the past murder.) She gets to meet a professor who wrote "the" book on the murders and is working on new research. Alas, we do not get good vibes from her. Her security guard "friend" warns her not to go exploring. Alas, she does, and ends up finding the dead body of a missing classmate. The security guard eventually leaves. However, she contacts him after she "solves" the original murders. (As readers, we get the "full story" of the original murders as part of an interlude in the story.) Alas, the book seems to end right before the action wraps up. These books were written in cliffhanger fashion and do not stand alone well. A lot of loose threads from the previous book are wrapped up. However, there are many more things opened that we want resolved at the end. And, being a teen book, we also get some interesting interpersonal relationships going that are left in quite a messy state. Oh well. I guess that leaves us eagerly anticipating the next book in the Truly Devious series.