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Book 18: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials
Have I really been reading this book this long? This has been one of my two main 'Metro' commuting books this summer, with a few other interruptions for vacation and work travel.

Overall, a great piece. I wasn't sure what to expect. At times I found this book to be too mature for a children's book but not quite adult enough either.

The main character, Lyra, is an orphaned student left in the hands of elderly professors at a major English university. In this alternative world, 'magic', 'religion' and 'Christianity' all live together in a twisted and intertwined world. Each person has a daemon or a small magical creature attached to them that can read their thoughts, act out their emotions, and yet have small minds of their own. And there's something mysterious happening to all the children - the ones belonging to poor families are disappearing to the gobblers.

Lyra sets out on a journey to find her friends, her family and her future. She's a spunky young girl with a mission. I particularly liked that the main character was female, especially given how rare that is in fantasy books. She's not without fault but manages to wiggle her way out of some close calls.

I did find some parts of this book slow going, especially in the beginning when there seemed to be more detail then story. In fact, I think this book could have been 50 pages shorter if they had reduced some of the redundant descriptions.

It's piqued my interested to continue reading the series although I don't feel desperate to do so. I might string in some faster moving books from Terry Pratchett before picking up the sequel.

Book 17: Olympic Games by Leslie What

Olympic Games

I'll admit it, I picked up this book due to the rather interesting graphic art on the cover and because of the title. I was even more intrigued when I read the author had won awards for their short stories and this was their first attempt at a full novel.

Overall, I think What was successful. The story felt a bit jumbled at first but then ended very nice (with me crying to boot!). For anyone who has seen the movie 'Love Actually' this book was written along the same lines; a group of characters all living their separate story lines end up meeting in the very end in a single conclusion.

Generally this book is about Zeus and Hera, the Greek King and Queen gods, who have managed to make their way to present time New York City. They separated at some earlier point in history and watched as their contemporaries slowly disappeared through time.

Hera and Zeus have wandered through life separately only to randomly meet on a dating web site. Hera decides it's time to make Zeus jealous and attempts to seduce him, but accidentally ends up pregnant by other means. She manages to guilt Zeus into thinking it was his child but Zeus one-ups her by leaving before the birth.

The bulk of the book is about Hera's attempt to track down her wayward husband, the recovery of a former Zeus lover from her 2,500 year entrapment, the transfer of the duty of Oracle from the current generation to the next, and Zeus's attempt to reignite his place as King of the Gods.

While this book features the two gods as the main characters they are not the heroes. While there is no definitive 'villain' the Gods occupy the dark end of the gray spectrum. This book has a wide range of personalities and characters and I found the juxtaposition with the 'sophisticated' Gods to be very interesting. The reader will find it hard to have sympathy for either Zeus or Hera - both are greedy and selfish. The author took the flaws of both Gods from Greek mythology to the extreme and made them almost despicable. This was my first time reading a book where the main characters are not sympathetic - and it was an interesting experience.

The only hangup with this book was that at time it felt like the descriptions were longer and more repetitive then necessary. The author would describe certain characters multiple times with similar language, hammering home really easy to grasp concepts to the point where the horse's skin was falling off. I fault poor editing and because this was the first outing for the author. It appears she has stuck to short stories since then.
I have seen this series of 'The Little Book of' for years at various bookstores and decided to start reading through them. The first one was somewhat disappointing in that it seemed highly repetitive, self promoting and somewhat superficial ( I reviewed that book earlier in the year. While I didn't count the second one I read as I more scanned it, the Ben Stein one was much more informative and well written. So I decided to give a third one a try.

Third verse, same as the first.

This book is written by John Bogle an investment honcho best known for creating the first stock market index fund, one that eventually became known as the Vanguard Index fund. His premise is that pretty much the only investment worth while is a low-cost, no load index mutual fund. He does briefly touch on the topic of index based ETF's but considering the book's age (2006) there wasn't much detail on it.

His book, while valid in its point, is highly repetitive. I think this could have easily been rewritten into a ten page business article in a magazine or academic journal, relevant graphs and all. His graphs are very helpful actually. But really, in the end, the message is simple and didn't require 200 pages (although a small book, so many 125 of a regular paperback).


Picked this book up from a library book sale in like new condition. I recognized the title from a few recommendations I had received on Amazon. I've been on a kick lately reading 'behavioral economics' style books and this was a suggestion.

I have to say as a behavior economics book it missed the mark entirely. In fact, I'm not quite sure why Amazon had suggested it. It was a semi-interesting read, but there was alot of repetition and meandering along with copious amounts of self congratulations and a possible case of man crush.

The book is about networks. It was written by a physics professor at Notre Dame that did research in the late 90s and early 2000's on things that, quite frankly, weren't really 'new' back then but apparently being the first one to submit an article means you are now an expert in what others took for granted.

He dives into a history of graph theory and early network analysis. He spends the first quarter of the book talking quite a bit about two 20th century mathematicians, one I swear he has a man crush on. He then goes into other articles and research that were presented in the 20th century on various aspects of networks, links, nodes, and growth models.

While the geek side of me found much of this interesting, I can't recommend this book overall. I enjoyed the beginning of each chapter but then found the second half, where he would relate the topic back to the web or his work, highly repetitious. I think I would have preferred a book where he talked about all the history and research up front in a more cohesive fashion. He could then spend the last few chapters on his research and contributions, giving the reader a single version of his story rather than many shorter similar ones.

Not sure where this book will land, may have to wait for the nonfiction table at a book festival. Not exactly wild release fodder unless there is a tech convention in town.

Book # 13: Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

I have been working on this book on and off for almost two years now. The length of time isn't a sign of poor writing - it's more that a short story anthology works well when I'm riding to and from work on the train. And is something that can be picked up and put back down again when the mood disappears. The fact that I finished this is a testament to how well the stories are written, as the last three short story anthologies never got finished.

Neil Gaiman's collection has a little bit of everything included. Fantasy, mystery, spookiness, crass, a little gore but mostly that sense of 'what will happen next?'

My boyfriend picked it up and quickly returned it as he thought it was too much horror. I didn't find it so much as horror but a few stories were creepy. A few I thought were rather gory or frat-boyish and I ended up skipping those. The story about the magician did give me the willies. A few made me cry. Most are sarcastic in nature or point out holes in modern philosophy. A few were twists on classic tales.

PS : Picked this up at the bookthing in Baltimore, MD.

I gave this a B+/A-.

Book # 9 - A Time for Trolls

I have been reading this book off and on again for about two years. While it isn't a tiny book, I managed to misplace it twice, find it, and then lose it again. I recently found it a third time when I moved. I took it on the metro and finally polished it off.

In the past I have read fairy tales and myths from Egypt, Greece, Rome and medieval Europe (mainly German and English). This is the first time I've read anything centered in Norway or scandanavia and it was interesting to peek into their culture. Much as western Europeaners were fascinated by princesses in towers and dragons and knights, the Norweigan fairy tales had strong themes throughout. They were concentrated on peasant farmers looking to earn glory or in some cases just to get by. In a climate as cold as Norway, finding a new farm or herd to tend can be hitting the jackpot.

Many of the tales had Trolls as the villain. What was surprising is that they aren't the under the bridge trolls but rather multi-headed demons and giants. Many lived with their Troll mothers in large huts or caves. Many stories references 'kings' but more like local land vassals who could grant land or wealth or both. Many enchantments were broken by tearing the heads off of animals - to find the animals were in fact people who had been cursed.

Overall I enjoyed the book and the stories were quick reads. B. I'll bring it by the next BC in DC meeting - if it doesn't go then I will wild release.

A Time for Trolls
The last collection of Gary Larson Far Side Cartoons. I picked this up at BookOFF, a used book store in Manhattan near Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave). It's a great little store with used books, games, DVD's and a whole floor of Japanese manga and anime. I picked this book off the clearance shelves for $1.

Sadly, I can see why he finally retired. Some of these cartoons are really forcing the joke or just plain not funny. I do like his final two which I had never seen before. They were both befitting his career with the audience filled with his creatures and characters.

It's worth flipping through and reading the cartoons, but this one is not a keeper. I'll bring it to the next BC in DC meetup and if there are no takers then I will wild release.

Book # 8: The Outsiders : S.E. Hinton

It's about time I read a good book...

Picked up The Outsiders used at the BookOff store near Avenue of the Americas and 45th (I believe). It's a used book store with games, DVD's and an entire floor of japanese manga and other anime related finds. *drool*. While the manga wasn't priced as low as I'd like, and really wish I could read Japanese, I did find upstairs in the clearance section this book.

Why did I pick it up? My boyfriend recently joked that since I didn't understand his reference to 'Ponygirl' that I must be illiterate. Now, he was entirely kidding, but I was going to prove him wrong. So only three weeks later I spot this book and grab it. Plus it was only a $1.

I started reading this book on the train ride home and was pleasantly surprised. It started off a bit rough with too much 'street' talk but eased into a more traditional prose. The story was somewhat predictable, but still held enough interest to keep reading to see exactly what happened and how. It is a bit of a sad story but not the tear jerker kind, just more of a social commentary on life's twists and turns depending upon which side of the track you happen to be born near.

Great book, definitely glad I picked it up. I'm going to register and offer to the BC in DC crew. If no one takes it then I will wild release. Possibly at the National Book Festival, not sure.
I've been on a financial reading kick lately. Maybe because I got my 1099's for taxes and realized how miserable the interest rate is on my accounts while my 401K's have been kicking butt.

I don't remember when I got this book, but it was on a list of must reads and I picked it up at some point from Borders (could be when they went out of business). It's part of a 'The Little Book' series by several well known financial authors. I'm not entirely sure it's worthy of it's name.

I have noticed a trend with business books. They seem to all be written with the goal that they are approachable by 'anyone'. But most business authors seem to think that means you have to talk to your audience like they are simpletons. The book uses a 10 year old's gum business as the main example in explaining how companies work. Other than the entire child labor thing, it's overly simplistic and doesn't help much later in the book when he needs to talk about more sophisticated accounting topics.

Basically, the author, who ran his own investment fund, is espousing the use of a 'magic formula' for picking and holding stocks. He uses the term magic formula so often, I felt like I was being sold a handful of magic beans in exchange for Bessy. It takes seven chapters before he *tada* reveals what the formula is. And it's basically using two alternative measures to the P/E ratio and ROA.

Sadly, the only real substance to the book is crammed into the four page appendix where he has a technical discussion of why his preferred measures (Return on capital and earnings yield) are better than the traditional P/E and ROA ratios. The technical discussion is the only saving grace in this book and it's at the very end. Also at the end is an update - an addendum to this 2006 book with updated magic formula testing through 2010. Surprisingly enough (or not), his formula did pretty poorly during the 2008 downturn.

Really, if you want to know the concept of this book, buy good companies with cheap stock prices -- buy low sell high. While I would consider using both of his formulas as a possible tie breaker between two stocks, I would not do what he suggests - simply rank all stocks by these two measures and blindly choose from the top.

This book was originally in my permanent collection. Something tells me it won't be staying there much longer.

B for reading, unsure about the investing philosophy


Rhodey Girl, AKA, Ixion

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October 2014


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