Level up!

Three main types of books I'm into: -Fantasy (pure indulgence) -Childrens (also fun- none of this pretentious "YA" crap) -Classics (this is where I'm "leveling up" my intelligence stats. +1!)
Institutes of the Christian Religion - John Calvin, Henry Beveridge

Thankfully, I only read excerpts of "Institutes" as part of the huge Great Books set I got from my wife's grandmother: https://www.amazon.com/Foundation-readings-discussion-course-volumes/dp/B000N83EWU .. I've been slowly working through these classics and mostly enjoying every one, but John Calvin seemed to be one of the hardest to slog through. My general impression of Calvin is that he was very rigid and closed-minded. He acknowledges that there are smart and wise people on earth who aren't christian, but then goes ahead and says that you basically have to be a christian in order to gain any knowledge in this world and that everybody else is stupid... Maybe it was my attitude going into this, but I don't think I want to delve any deeper into Calvin's writings. I already knew I didn't like Hobbes. Who knew I would dislike both Calvin and Hobbes?

Navigators of Dune by Herbert, Brian, Anderson, Kevin J.(May 17, 2016) Hardcover - Kevin J. Herbert Brian & Anderson

Another of the ever-expanding books in the Dune universe.


First, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that all the plot lines, all the situations, themes, and everything in all these books sprang forth fully formed in the original book Dune. Dune is a masterpiece. That is all.


This one is no masterpiece, but it's fun. An interesting take on the Butlerian movement and a setup for the world of Dune. I think this second series (Great Schools, starting with Sisterhood of Dune) hews closer to the original intent of Frank Herbert's idea of a Butlerian Jihad (and the fundamental underpinnings of his universe) than the first series did.


The characters seem like unstoppable forces hurtling towards each other: Manford Torondo, Josef Venport, Norma Cenva, Valya Harkonnen, Anna Corrino, etcetera. I was excited to get to this book and see the denouement of how all these folks would interact.


Yes, the ultimate ending was predictable, as is usually the case with prequels, but some of the twists and turns weren't



in the very end, I actually even started to sympathize with Erasmus.


I understood Norma Cenva's motivations,and she was a major motive force for the other characters. Did a good job at answering my question why the Spacing Guild didn't just take over everything in the original Dune series.


I maybe even a little grieved for Josef Venport, and his stubbornness. I was surprised at the depths to which Valya Harkonnen sunk, and I really wasn't surprised at all that Vorian Atreides rode off into the sunset the way he did.

(show spoiler)


So anyway, that was a book. On to the next one.

Mentats of Dune - Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson

Another fun, engrossing read. I like the Brian Herbert prequels. I know not everyone agrees. There's thousands of years of space between these prequels and Dune proper, and I'm surprised at how many stories that can be told.


These books have a lot more in common with the Butlerian Jihad prequel series than any Dune books that come afterwards.


That being said, I'm now retroactively a little disappointed that they've already used the words "Machine Crusade" in the prequel series, because I think the events of this book are more of what Frank Herbert had in mind of the Butlerian Jihad. The dichotomy and balance between Manford Torondo and Josef Venport, with the Emperor right in the middle, is intriguing, and keeps me turning pages.


And yet, there's enough room for these books to surprise me. I certainly wasn't expecting the events that happened at the end of this book. On to the next one!


(again, this book is 4 stars only in deference to the original Dune, which is unapproachable)

So this is my first reread in my Goodreads / Booklikes era.

When I got this book, I broke my Robert Jordan rule (no unfinished series!) and read it. In hindsight, I wish I hadn't broken the rule.

Nevertheless, this was a good book to read while I was sick, and it didn't ask too much of me. It's been five years, so the characters are familiar without me remembering all the details of what happened to them. I wish I could reread every book I love every five years,

but life is long.

Now, on to the sequels!
Reblogged from Level up!:
Sisterhood of Dune - 'Brian Herbert',  'Kevin J. Anderson' Ahh, it felt good to just throw myself into a book again.

This one's quite good.

As an afficionado of the Dune series, especially the prequels, this was a good one-- I even broke my Robert Jordan rule (no unfinished series!) to read this one.

Turns out this is the first in a new series taking place after the Butlerian Jihad series of prequels, so chronologically book 4 in the Dune universe. Luckily, I read that series pretty recently, so the characters are still fresh in my mind.

Since this isn't the first of the prequels, this shouldn't be a starting point for anyone. If you read this, you should have at least read the 3 books in the Butlerian Jihad series. By that point, you should have an opinion as to whether you love or hate the Dune prequels.

For my money, the Brian Herbert/Kevin J Anderson Dune prequels do a LOT less damage to Frank Herbert's amazing universe and legacy than Frank Herbert's books 3-6. If you disagree, well, you're wrong, but you're entitled to your opinion. (Penny Arcade!) You are free to be disappointed in the prequels-- they're a lot shallower and more forumulaic than Frank Herbert's masterpiece, but they're fun adventure reads that certainly do no harm to the original ideas.

Anyway, this book is great for lovers of the Butlerian Jihad prequels. Only 3-4 characters remain from that series, but the world is similar. It's an interesting time-- the imperium is young and weak. People are still uncertain as to the lessons to learn from the fight against the thinking machines, and the universe isn't so static as the next several millenia-- until really the book Dune. There are interesting characters, etc. etc., and enough drama and unresolved tension that I'm not bored reading an (arguably) unnecessary series between familiar points. About the only thing I was disappointed in was I thought the Mentats could've been .... smarter. For being Mentats, they're surprisingly un-Mentat-like-- maybe that's because these guys are the first.

I read it in two days and thoroughly loved it. It's only not 5 stars in deference to the original Dune, which is, unfortunately, always a comparison

The Reluctant Dragon - Kenneth Grahame

Picked this up for a bit of light reading. I don't know if I put it on Booklikes (or if it was in the dark period), but our family LOVED Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows. It was so dreamlike and ....very English.


Anyway, for an american sorta-anglophile, and definitely a fan of old Disney, I was delighted to find out that the Reluctant Dragon was a Grahame book as well. (the rights were acquired in Disney's bid to get Wind in the Willows' rights)


Anyway, unless you're an old disney freak like I am, you may not have seen Disney's late 40s, not-quite-a-short, not-a-full-length-movie of The Reluctant Dragon.


For better or worse, the film version was what stuck with me as I read. I wish I could have enjoyed Ernest Shephard's illustrations more (He's the guy behind Winnie-ther-Pooh, if you don't remember your early 20th century english kid lit)


Anyway, Grahame's language was droll, and really enjoyable. The details of the story were very different from Disney's version, but the tone was the same. What a silly dragon.


It was a nice short read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it's not as essential as The Wind in the Willows, and I probably won't be reading it out loud to my kids, especially since I've already forced them to watch the movie...

Sometimes a Great Notion - Ken Kesey

The Great American Novel.


Full Stop.

This is it. I found it.


Simply the best book I've read since Midnight's Children, and possibly the best work of fiction I've read. Not my favorite book, that would probably be a David Eddings. But the Best.


Maybe it's just because I'm from Oregon, but this book resonated with me on so many levels. The great descriptions of the landscape, climate, culture, hardships, and contradictions of Oregon.


Sure, it's about some pretty unsavory people. They use bad language and make bad choices. Several of them are embarrasingly old-fashioned (read: racist as heck), but that's my family. These are my neighbors. This is the world in which I live.


I'm surprised that over the course of this (pretty long) book, I found myself identifying more with grumpy grandpa Henry Stamper, and almost equally grumpy near-superman Hank than with Lee, the educated outsider. Not what I would have expected. By the end of the book, I had a lot more sympathy for Hank's side of things than Lee's side of things. Nevertheless, the ending brought all those viewpoints together anyways.


And the ending... since the book was written in the 60s, I assumed it would have an unhappy ending, as most movies from the 60s and 70s do. As a child of the 80s and 90s, I like my happy endings and find the generation before me uncomfortably profound. This particular ending was like one of those movies that freezes the action right at the climax.(I'm thinking the old Italian Job, but I know there are more movies like that). So the 60s and 70s folks can imagine doom and gloom, and I can go on keeping the happy ending in my head where...


Hank and Lee ride the log booms into the mill victoriously down the river past the screaming hordes of townspeople. Where Viv leaves the both of them to head back east to find herself, and where Hank and Lee, with the assistance of Andy sneak old Henry out of the hospital (and off the drugs) and they go riding off with a fat paycheck and the animosity of the whole town into the sunset.

(show spoiler)


Anyways, it was a good book and one that every Oregonian should read.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet - Madeleine L'Engle

Wasn't expecting to like this one, but I did. It was a bit episodic, but a pretty complex woven-together plotline. Not as didactic and trippy-for-the-sake-of-trippiness as A Wind in the Door.


In fact, the story was so compelling, I found the Murry family and the present-day conflict to be the weakest part of the story. The layered past/genealogy/archetype thing was cool.


Also: I love me some 'corns.

A Star Over Bethlehem - Agatha Christie Mallowan

Star Over Bethlehem and Other Stories - Agatha Christie Mallowan, Agatha Christie

One of my christmas gifts last year-- a book of holiday-themed short stories and poems by Agatha Christie.


I particularly liked Agatha's short stories. She's a master of characterization and emotion, and it was good to escape the framework of finding a dead body in chapter 1 and having everything nicely wrapped up in 200 pages or so.


The Water Bus and The Island were my favorite of these. Obvs these stories are going to be Christian in setting and message, otherwise why are we talking about Christmas?


After the first third of the book, devoted to short stories, the rest is a collection of Agatha Christie poetry. While Agatha is not a bad poet, and certainly has a gift with words, she's also not a great poet, either. The poetry section of the book was dull and overlong, and I probably won't revisit it.


The prose, however, will probably be shared with family around the fireplace, as the kind of stories one shares with family around christmastime.

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

First, an explanation. It has been, according to my calculations, three-and-a-half years ("time, and twice time, and half a time"...) since I've posted last. I have to say it's easier going through life without having to write about the books I read, but I also find that I miss something tangible that I get from writing after I've finished a book. It's a little chunk of memory to hold on to, even if it's only a few words. So, I'm trying to get back into it. Hopefully it won't consume too much of my time.


..So.. A Wrinkle in Time... I read this many years ago, and I vaguely think I got into a sequel or two, but I don't remember much about the sequels.


This time, I had a dickens of a time starting the book. I've been playing Pokemon on the 3DS (pokemon X, for the record... I'm a bit behind), and I've been so absorbed in that story that it's hard for me to pick up a book. In my rather twisted view of the world, that's okay. To me, a good video game is equivalent to a good book. Both stretch the imagination in different ways, and a well-rounded person should do both, but not get so lost in either that they forget to live.


So, finally I started moving on this book. I forgot how familiar the setting was, and how quickly I could make it through the material.


My impression this time is that the main characters (Meg and her family) were a bit snobbish. A bit of the "we're so smart, nobody else who is less smart matters" type of attitude. Not to Ayn Rand levels, but just a little bit.


Other than that, the story was a pleasant adventure. I was gripped, and the vivid imagery of the suburban planet, the CENTRAL central intelligence building, the Beasts, etcetera was all familiar and good. I saw a trailer for the new movie and I'm excited. I don't know how this will adapt to the big screen, but I have high hopes.

A Wind in the Door - Madeleine L'Engle

I read this one in less than a day when home sick from work.


I was unimpressed. I don't know if I read this before or not, but I'm personally not a fan of metaphysics


...allow me to explain. I consider myself a scientist. I understand science. I consider myself a spiritual person. I understand spiritual questing. I do not, however, think that scientific principles can be applied (especially by non-scientists) to spiritual matters. What you get is nonsense and mumbo-jumbo.


And THIS book was mumbo-jumbo.


Neither the science nor the spiritual questing in this book was believable to me. L'Engle managed to miss on both accounts.


Anyways, I'm beating a dead horse. I found the story contrived, dense, and trippy for trippiness' sake.I'm reading the next book, though, because I'm no quitter... (=

The Last Threshold: Neverwinter Saga, Book IV (Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms: Neverwinter Saga) - R. A. Salvatore

Wow. OK. this book was it. It's worth reading through all the books to get here.


Tons of fun battle sequences. That thing on the cover of Drizzt fighting a 3-skulled skeleton? Totally happened. Totally awesome.


This book also finally included the return of Jarlaxle and Athrogate, and had the moment I'd been waiting for, when Jarlaxle rides in on his white horse and saves the day.

(show spoiler)


I could read a whole other 30 book series about Jarlaxle, Mr. Salvatore. That's a dare.


...and just when it seems like all the threads won't come together, this book has an unexpected end, with all the epicness and all the feels.


At the end, Salvatore writes an ambiguous end for Drizzt. Now, from what I know of RA Salvatore, he can't keep a good character dead, but if he did, this would be a fitting end for Mr. Do'Urden.

(show spoiler)


Anyway, I'm content... and I think I'm finally done.

Charon's Claw - R.A. Salvatore

It's starting to get good again.


I love the complex character of Barrabus/Artemis. I'm glad to get to know him a little better in this book.

Neverwinter - R.A. Salvatore

With the last book, Salvatore made a break from the old familiar characters to this new set. I'm sure at some point, I'll love these characters like I love the last batch, but it's taking more than one book.


Otherwise, this is a non-offensive battle romp. These books seem to be much more mature (in terms of themes and content) than the previous Salvatore books, but that's probably fine. Anyone who can manage to slog through 30+ novels to get here can handle it.

Gauntlgrym (Forgotten Realms: Neverwinter, #1; Legend of Drizzt, #20) - R.A. Salvatore

These books get better and better.


This is (should I count?) book #38 (at least the ones I've been reading). I've got my wife started on them (she's 4 books in, now).



You can tell that as an author, Salvatore wants to shake things up a bit-- he's breaking the mold that he made in the first dozen or so books, and nothing's the same.


With the last book chronologically (Ghost King) that managed to kill off 3 main characters, and this book starting decades after that, Salvatore's showing a willingness to leave the past behind and start something (somewhat) fresh.


I don't want to spoiler it, but this book has a death toll as well.


No big spoilers in here:

I'm intrigued to see where this series is going. I see that Drizzt is (for the umpteenth time) getting all moody about his life, but it's interesting to see the difference in the character arcs of Drizzt and Jarlaxle. Jarlaxle is now much more likable, and (if I got my wish) poised to be the new main character of the books. We've learned about Drizzt's struggle over and over with, and I feel like he's played out as a character. Certainly as someone to help other people out, etc, but he's kindof already done his thing, you know. Anyway, more Jarlaxle, plz.

(show spoiler)

OK, so my review: if you're willing to slog through all the previous books, by all means, keep going!

The Trumpet of the Swan (full color) - Fred Marcellino, E.B. White

So maybe I wasn't expecting this book to turn out like it did.


First five chapters were straight-up Jean Craighead George nature documentary. I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.


Chapter six: sudden, abrupt left turn into Danny and the Dinosaur territory. (or Sammy the Seal, if you will.. they're the same book.) It was such an awkward break, I never recovered from it.


The book was fine as it is... Trying to remind myself that this is the same guy that wrote Charlotte's web (you know, talking pigs, etc.), but the departure from the initial style was so jarring, I  just couldn't get over it.


The rest of the book was a fun meander. I do recognize that Mr. White is an absolute master of the english language. (and, I noticed, he employs an oxford comma. I'm a fan.)


I've never read or seen Stuart Little, and although I read Charlotte's Web as a kid, the only thing I remember is the movie. That being said, I wouldn't recommend this one... go read My Side of the Mountain or something.


For a far superior take on Trumpeter Swans, the band Bark Hide and Horn have created a lovely song on a lovely album that you should hear. Here's a link:


Bark, Hide and Horn - Trumpeter Swan

The Sentinels (Forgotten Realms: Stone of Tymora #3) - R.A. Salvatore, Geno Salvatore

Conclusion to this breezy trilogy set between THE HALFLING'S GEM and LEGACY...


Fun reading, although this book was a little heavy in the exposition-- It was laborious explaining all of the fantastic things that have happened so far, and getting to the twist ending.


Oh, did I say twist ending? Yeah, it's a small twist, but it's there.


A good fun read. For fans of RA Salvatore and The Ranger's Apprentice.