We still have company, so I am not able to get in front of the computer like I normally would, which means I’m way behind on my blogging and book reviews and everything else.  But that’s ok.  It’s more important to enjoy these moments with family than to get on the internets.

This is me, being in the moment here, like how a mindful person do.  That’s me. *deep breaths*

In related news, I ended the year having read 95 books!!  I really wanted to get over 100, but with family in town and lots of other obligations, I just couldn’t make it.  I did decide, though, that I would try to get over 100 in 2018, though.  It’s going to be REALLY hard, but I think I can do it if I really buckle down and work diligently on both my audiobook and text-book reading.  And my parental leave should provide some good opportunities to get a lot of progress made at the beginning of the year.

Anyway, I’m behind on book reviews.  Below are my five most recent, but before you read these, please consider this a spoiler warning. I will try not to be TOOOOOO spoilery as I write these, but I won’t avoid them at the expense of giving my feedback on the book.  So, if you’re worried about spoilers, don’t read this. Go look over on Good Reads for my comments there, which are usually very terse and do not contain spoilers.

American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle (3/5 Stars)
I can’t remember why this was on my reading list, but it’s been there a very long time. Maybe I thought it was a military fantasy book or something and I was curious about the subgenre?  I’m not sure.

It’s kind of a military fantasy novel, although the main protagonist leaves the military almost as soon as the book gets started.  But by virtue of the fact that he can do magic, he’s sort of inextricably associated with the military and US intelligence and magical stuff.

So, back up. The basic context of the story is that there are people with magical powers in the world and these powers are often passed down through families over time. The US has several magical families and they’ve enlisted them as part of the military.  Oh! And magic is referred to as “the craft” hence the name “American Craftsmen.”

Well, the main character is Dale Morton. He gets cursed during a secret mission and as a result has to drop out of the military.  But in the process of being cursed and trying to mind his own business but still getting pestered by the military and other magical people, he figures out that there’s some serious bad mojo happening and the Pentagon is even corrupted.  Blah blah. He meets a beautiful magical lady. Blah blah. Running. Blah blah. Explosions.  Blah blah. Cliffhangers.

I really like most of the characters in the book. And the background of American history is something I enjoyed quite a lot.  The magic system is kind of vague and sometimes seems unprincipled, but there is a sketch of a system in there that keeps it from getting too out of hand for me.  And it’s set in contemporary times, so if you get tired of horses and swords with your magic stories — as I often do — this is a nice change of pace. So, overall, I liked the essential elements of the book.

But the book covers entirely too much ground and the pacing made it feel like it was a lot longer than it really was. I think it probably could have been broken into three separate books.  I often felt like parts were going too fast when they should slow down and slow down when they were going too fast.

It’s good enough that I will definitely consider coming back to the series for book two if I find myself looking for something fun and exciting with a unique flavor.

Jade City by Fonda Lee (2/5 Stars)
This book is approximately seven hundred fifty-five billion pages long and it doesn’t get good until about halfway through. I don’t even know where to begin in describing what I like and don’t like about this book.

OK. Just to start, the story takes place in the fictional island nation of Kekon, which is home to a race of people who are born with the ability to harness magical abilities — usually enhanced physical powers like strength and speed, but there are some psychic capabilities as well — when they are in physical contact with jade.  So, their society is basically governed by gangs run by particular families.  The protagonists are the Kaul family, who have been weakened over time and find themselves in direct conflict with another gang run by a badass lady who gets entirely too little time in these pages.

I picked this up because the thought of magical ninjas sounded cool.  They are cool, but their story is not so much.

Most of the characters in this book are pretty boring to me.  As mentioned, I really like the badguy lady.  I also like goodguy lady who comes back from living abroad.  There’s a gay guy in the book who is somewhat interesting, but ends up being a crybaby, IMHO.  And there are some other guys in the book who are somewhat interesting, but mostly everyone is pretty flat and boring to me.

The majority of the book is spent analyzing the subtext of every word and gesture that each character makes.  I’m not usually critical of using adverbs because I love adverbs, but I felt like there are a lot of adverbs in this book. There’s a lot of times when I thought, “Why not SHOW me that this person is angry or conflicted rather than just telling me that they are?”  I also thought, “Now, is this person a mindreader? Are they seriously going to base major decisions on their imagined Sherlock Holmes ability to deduce someone else’s desires from a single raised eyebrow or offhand nod?”

I would politely describe this book as “cerebral,” but I don’t mean that it’s very sophisticated or anything like that. I just mean that a lot of the “action” in the book takes place in people’s heads as the reader watches them think about things.

So, I was bored for about three hundred years and then a dump truck of poo backs up to be fan like BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP.  Folks start dying unexpectedly and everything is terrible and the heroes are finally DOING things.  Granted, some of the things they do are really stupid, especially the dying, but it was exciting to see things actually happen.

I can’t recommend this book. It was too long and too boring for my taste, but I suspect that a major part of my disapproval is from the simple fact that this is not written in a style that I appreciate.

Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace by Jessica Bennett (4/5 Stars)
I somehow started reading a bunch of books with feminist themes and content. I don’t know how that happened, but it’s because of this that this turned up in my recommendations. I was looking for something fun and fast to read in order to beef up my 2017 book count and this fit the bill.

This book is about all the ways women get undermined at work and ways to push back against that.  I would say 80% of the things she describes actually happen to men as well, so the advice she gives for fighting back is very broadly applicable.  20% of what she describes are obnoxious things that I am pretty sure we’ve all seen or heard in the office.  Again, the advice for fighting back is pretty solid.

There’s a lot to be explored around the topic of gender bias in the workplace and I’m not going to get into any of that here. I’ll just say that there were a few points that gave me pause to think, “Really?” and I can only imagine that people who are more skeptical about the prevalence of sexism in the office will want to throw the whole book away long before those places because the author takes those claims at face value.  So, just know: this is not a book seeking to validate the claim that sexism is all over the place. It’s accepting that premise and looking at ways to combat it.

I think if you’re a dude and you’re wondering why so many women and people who love them are pissed off by how women are treated in the office, you could read this book and learn a little something about how to be a better friend to women at work.

I saw some reviews on Amazon in which the author’s voice is criticized.  The “voice” and “tone” of this book is very light, very young, and very contemporary.  If you hate pop culture references and the injection of slang and irreverence into your social commentary, well, you’re going to hate this.  I found the tone fun and amusing, but, as with all the homes on HGTV getting glass tile backsplashes, I have to wonder how well it will age.

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book by Dan Harris (5/5 Stars)
Great book! I can easily see myself coming back to this one to re-read parts or all of it in order to refine my meditation practice.

This is another one that I picked up because not only did it seem interesting, but it looked like a fast read that I could squeeze in before the end of 2017. I was not wrong. I actually thought that this was Harris’s 10% Happier book because I bought it while trying to soothe my angry infant in the middle of the night, but that’s a different book.  It’s OK, because I liked this one a lot.

Husby and I watch Good Morning America and so we knew about Dan Harris’s 10% Happier effort. But on GMA he comes off as very mild-mannered and even a little nerdy.  This book showed me a whole new side of him. He’s funny, irreverent, assertive, sarcastic, sensitive, and enthusiastic.  Emphasis on funny.  I never suspected.

Here’s my one criticism of any significance: I believe this book overstates the scientific evidence in support of meditation.  In the most pessimistic view, studies of meditation and its benefits are limited and not well-defined.  For a somewhat length discussion about the problems with these studies, I would recommend looking at past podcast episodes of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.  I would provide you with some links, but at the time of writing this, their website is throwing errors and not loading.

Nevertheless, I am convinced of the benefits of meditation for my life. I’ve found that it has facilitated greater introspection and calm.  It helps me think a little more before re/acting.  And I think it has been a significant contributor in shaking off a depressive episode I was having.

So, if you’re interested in meditation already, but you’re not interested in woo, this could be the book for you. They deliberately avoid the transcendental meditation schtick that talks about energies and crystals and chakras and whatnot. They focus on mindfulness, which is more grounded.

So, I would definitely recommend this book. It’s fun, funny, and interesting. It approaches meditation in a very clear and direct manner without getting bogged down in spiritualism.  And it includes a nice little narrative arc associated with the promotional tour that the 10% Happier team did.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (3/5 Stars)
The promotional tour for this book happened a while back and I heard interviews with the author on a couple of my podcasts at the time. I intended to read it, but just never really got around to it and didn’t put it on my lists.  But, thankfully, a friend of mine mentioned it on Facebook and I decided to pick it up.

My relatively low rating for this book is directly related to the fact that I listened to the audiobook.  The reader does a great job of embodying an introvert’s voice.  She speaks quietly and almost in monotone.  She sounds boring even to me, an introvert.  But the most grating thing was her tendency to over-pronounce foreign words and names.

But the actual content of this book is really interesting and I related to a lot of what she describes.  In fact, many of her descriptions helped me understand some of my own preferences and behaviors better.

The basic thrust of the book is that introverts have certain strengths that are undervalued in western culture, which places a premium on extroversion.

It seems to me that the author sometimes makes extroverts sound cartoonish in order to make introversion sound better.  I don’t believe that’s her intent and it’s probably a result of the simple fact that she is trying to focus on introversion, but she gives better treatment to extroverts later in the book rather than at the beginning when she talks about them like they’re crazy people.

I especially enjoy the parts of the book where she gives introverts strategies for maintaining their own sanity and relationships in a world of extroverts. I will definitely work on employing some of her ideas. I also appreciate her examination of different types of introverts as well as the cultural rise of extroversion in America.

OK. I’m tired of writing book reviews, so that’s all I’m going to say about this.  It’s a fine book. A little boring at points, but overall pretty insightful.