The Lightning Thief

The Lightning ThiefThe Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1) by Rick Riordan
Published by Disney Hyperion Books on March 1st 2006
Pages: 375
My Rating: three-stars

Alternate Cover Edition can be found here.
Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can't seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse—Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy's mom finds out, she knows it's time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he'll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena—Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

I started and stopped this book a few times before finishing it. It’s YA and loved by a lot of people, my youngest niece included.

I had seen the movie at some point in the past and knew what was going to happen. That didn’t help reading the story which was enjoyable, but would have been predictable without knowing the general plot.

Even though I didn’t enjoy the book that much, I am excited for my kids to read it as they are coming into the age range this book is perfect for.

This was book number 20 of 52 for 2017.

The 12 Week Year

The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran, Michael Lennington
on February 17, 2009
My Rating: two-stars

The guide to shortening your execution cycle down from one year to 12 weeks

Most organizations and individuals work in the context of annual goals and plans; a 12-month execution cycle. Instead, The 12 Week Year avoids the pitfalls and low productivity of annualized thinking. This book redefines your "year" to be 12 weeks long. In 12 weeks, there just isn't enough time to get complacent, and urgency increases and intensifies. The 12 Week Year creates focus and clarity on what matters most and a sense of urgency to do it now. In the end more of the important stuff gets done and the impact on results is profound.Explains how to leverage the power of a 12-week year to drive improved results in any area of your lifeOffers a how-to book for both individuals and organizations seeking to improve their execution effectivenessAuthors are leading experts on execution and implementation

Turn your organization's idea of a year on its head, and speed your journey to success.

Other than the point of “redefine your ‘year’ to be 12 weeks” this book doesn’t have a lot to offer. It’s playing word games to try to make you more productive.

I tried two “12 week years” this year and it really didn’t work. I might not have applied what was taught in the book, but I’m okay with that.

I’ll stick to what’s working for me.

This was book number 23 of 52 for 2017.


NeuromancerNeuromancer (Sprawl, #1) by William Gibson
Published by Ace Books on July 1st 1984
Pages: 271
My Rating: four-stars

The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace . . .
Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employers crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century's most potent visions of the future.

I don’t know why I waited so long to read this book. I’ve been a fan of cyberpunk for years, but hadn’t read one of it’s first hits. Terrible.

I read this around the same time as my wife so we got to have couples book club to discuss it when we were done. She wrote a review here.

This is one of those books that have a “that just happened” stun during and directly after reading it, but then follow with a few weeks/months of the story and characters popping back into your thoughts. We went to see Blade Runner 2049 a week after reading so we were steeped in visuals of futuristic cities crawling with genetically modified humans, androids, and future tech.

I’ve always had technophile tendencies which is what got me into computer programming at a young age so dystopian and bleak futures predicted by cyberpunk don’t bother me as long as there is a helping of tech to cover the harshness.

I can’t wait to read the rest of the Sprawl series and some of the other books in the genre.

This was book number 44 of 52 for 2017.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

A Knight of the Seven KingdomsA Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (The Tales of Dunk and Egg, #1-3) by George R.R. Martin, Gary Gianni
Published by Bantam on October 6th 2015
Pages: 355
My Rating: five-stars

Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R. R. Martin’s ongoing masterwork, A Song of Ice and Fire. These never-before-collected adventures recount an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness.
Illustrated by the amazing Gary Gianni who is known for his work on PRINCE VALIANT, the Wandering Star limited editions of SOLOMON KANE and BRAN MAK MORN, and of course for his stunning 2014 ICE & FIRE calendar.

After finishing the available books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series a few years ago, and in the time between seasons of the Game of Thrones television series this book was the perfect extra helping of Westeros that I needed.

The two main characters are extremely likable and I enjoyed following along with their adventures. If you’ve read any other ASOIAF books or even only watched the tv show you’ll slide right in with the world of Westeros with all the heraldry, geography, and social classes.

George R. R. Martin is an excellent storyteller. Don’t miss this fun and short trio of stories.

This was book number 11 of 52 for 2017.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsDavid and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
on October 1st 2013
Pages: 305
My Rating: four-stars

In his #1 bestselling books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell has explored the ways we understand and change our world. Now he looks at the complex and surprising ways the weak can defeat the strong, the small can match up against the giant, and how our goals (often culturally determined) can make a huge difference in our ultimate sense of success. Drawing upon examples from the world of business, sports, culture, cutting-edge psychology, and an array of unforgettable characters around the world, David and Goliath is in many ways the most practical and provocative book Malcolm Gladwell has ever written.

I’ve already talked about a Gladwell book, Outliers, so read that to hear what I think about his books and his podcast.

The book starts with a description of the biblical battle of David and Goliath that I had never heard before even after being a weekly church-goer for over 20 years. Funny enough, I heard the same description in a sermon a few months after reading this book!

This book is more of the same and is enjoyable if you enjoy this style.

This was book number 22 of 52 for 2017.

Mexico: Stories

Mexico: StoriesMexico: Stories by Josh Barkan
Published by Hogarth on January 24th 2017
Pages: 256

The unforgettable characters in Josh Barkan’s astonishing and beautiful story collection—chef, architect, nurse, high school teacher, painter, beauty queen, classical bass player, plastic surgeon, businessman, mime—are simply trying to lead their lives and steer clear of violence. Yet, inevitably, crime has a way of intruding on their lives all the same. A surgeon finds himself forced into performing a risky procedure on a narco killer. A teacher struggles to protect lovestruck students whose forbidden romance has put them in mortal peril. A painter’s freewheeling ways land him in the back of a kidnapper’s car. Again and again, the walls between “ordinary life” and cartel violence are shown to be paper thin, and when they collapse the consequences are life-changing.
These are stories about transformation and danger, passion and heartbreak, terror and triumph. They are funny, deeply moving, and stunningly well-crafted, and they tap into the most universal and enduring human experiences: love even in the face of danger and loss, the struggle to grow and keep faith amid hardship and conflict, and the pursuit of authenticity and courage over apathy and oppression. With unflinching honesty and exquisite tenderness, Josh Barkan masterfully introduces us to characters that are full of life, marking the arrival of a new and essential voice in American fiction.

This book was brutal to read.

This year I went through a phase of being interested in reading/watching stuff about Mexico that included seeing an installation on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at The University of Texas and continued through the heartbreaking tragedy of the earthquake in September.

During that time I noticed this book on my library’s New shelf and grabbed it. It’s a book of short stories all written by the same author and all about Mexico. What I didn’t know was that although the stories cover a wide variety of people in Mexico they all hold one thing in common: violence.

Every story has some bits of normalcy: someone working at a restaurant, someone taking their kids to the park, two teens in love. But that normalcy is taken over by violence every time.

I watched Netflix’s Narcos this year and although I that series showed how brutal cartels can be these stories were still shocking and unsettling.

Mexico is the closest foreign country to my home city and my traveler’s heart yearns to visit and explore. Through exploring I want to find out what real life is like there. This book does very little in feeding wanderlust though. It sticks with growing stories out of stereotypes and feeding a perception that is already very available. There is little hope in these pages and I refuse to believe that defines an entire country.

This was book number 40 of 52 for 201.

Adventures in Raspberry Pi

Adventures in Raspberry Pi (Adventures In ...) by Carrie Anne Philbin
on January 16, 2015
My Rating: four-stars

Coding for kids is cool with Raspberry Pi and this elementary guideEven if your kids don't have an ounce of computer geek in them, they can learn to code with Raspberry Pi and this wonderful book. Written for 11- to 15-year-olds and assuming no prior computing knowledge, this book uses the wildly successful, low-cost, credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi computer to explain fundamental computing concepts. Young people will enjoy going through the book's nine fun projects while they learn basic programming and system administration skills, starting with the very basics of how to plug in the board and turn it on.
Each project includes a lively and informative video to reinforce the lessons. It's perfect for young, eager self-learners--your kids can jump in, set up their Raspberry Pi, and go through the lessons on their own.Written by Carrie Anne Philbin, a high school teacher of computing who advises the U.K. government on the revised ICT CurriculumTeaches 11- to 15-year-olds programming and system administration skills using Raspberry PiFeatures 9 fun projects accompanied by lively and helpful videosRaspberry Pi is a $35/25 credit-card-sized computer created by the non-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation; over a million have been sold
Help your children have fun and learn computing skills at the same time with "Adventures in Raspberry Pi."

This was a fun book. My library had a copy of it and Amanda grabbed it on one of her weekly trips.

We had seen one of the author’s tutorials on YouTube covering the Raspberry Pi Sense HAT so we were confident she knows her stuff. Here’s the video.

The book has several fun projects and progresses at a pace appropriate for kids 11-15 years old (as stated by the book description. My kids are younger and they could complete the projects with some help.

This was book number 7 of 52 for 2017.

The Lost Symbol

The Lost SymbolThe Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon, #3) by Dan Brown
Published by Doubleday on September 15, 2009
Pages: 509
My Rating: three-stars

In this stunning follow-up to the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown demonstrates once again why he is the world's most popular thriller writer. The Lost Symbol is a masterstroke of storytelling - a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths...all under the watchful eye of Brown's most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, DC., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward an unthinkable finale.
As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object - artfully encoded with five symbols - is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.
When Langdon's beloved mentor, Peter Solomon - a prominent Mason and philanthropist - is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations - all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.
As the world discovered in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Dan Brown's novels are brilliant tapestries of veiled histories, arcane symbols, and enigmatic codes. In this new novel, he again challenges readers with an intelligent, lightning-paced story that offers surprises at every turn. The Lost Symbol is exactly what Brown's fans have been waiting for...his most thrilling novel yet.

I’ve read several Dan Brown novels and they are all very predictable. They are crafted with a bunch of interchangeable parts: a secret society, Robert Langdon gets involved, a young brilliant woman, and a threat to the world.

I’m not sure why I expected anything different from the third installment of the Robert Langdon series. I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.

Read this book if you’re into Brown’s script. If not try something else.

This was book number 5 of 52 for 2017.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Their Lives and Ideas

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Their Lives and IdeasFrida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Their Lives and Ideas, 24 Activities by Carol Sabbeth
Published by Chicago Review Press on August 1st 2005
Pages: 160
My Rating: four-stars

Children will find artistic inspiration as they learn about iconic artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in these imaginative and colorful activities. The art and ideas of Kahlo and Rivera are explored through projects that include painting a self-portrait Kahlo-style, creating a mural with a social message like Rivera, making a Day of the Dead ofrenda, and crafting an Olmec head carving. Vibrant illustrations throughout the book include Rivera's murals and paintings, Kahlo's dreamscapes and self-portraits, pre-Columbian art and Mexican folk art, as well as many photographs of the two artists. Children will learn that art is more than just pretty pictures; it can be a way to express the artist's innermost feelings, a source of everyday joy and fun, an outlet for political ideas, and an expression of hope for a better world. Sidebars will introduce children to other Mexican artists and other notable female artists. A time line, listings of art museums and places where Kahlo and Rivera's art can be viewed, and a list of relevant websites complete this cross-cultural art experience.

For some reason this year I’ve been interested in Mexico City, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera. It partly started because there was a local Frida festival and art exhibit, and partly because of a story on a local news site where the editor-in-chief talked about his vacation to Mexico City with his son.

Next thing I knew I was researching flights and AirBnbs. Turns out both were super affordable. I also checked out this book to read and learn about the lives of two of Mexico’s most famous artists. I enjoyed reading this book to learn more about their lives and liked that it was aimed at kids and included art projects.

The book is a great read if you want some facts about Frida and Diego’s lives, their work, and the times they lived in, but want a PG version of it.

I did a YouTube search for vlogs of people visiting Mexico City (or CDMX) in the past 4-6 months to get an idea of what the city looks like now. I found Eileen Aldis’s channel and her wonderful videos about her time in CDMX and a few other locations in Mexico.

Here’s a great video about a Frida Tour.

A few months after reading the book I accompanied my niece on a visit of The University of Texas at Austin and we got to see an exhibition titled “Mexico Modern: 1920-1945 Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange”. The exhibition “explores two decades of dynamic cultural exchange between Mexico and the United States”. There were several works by Kahlo and Rivera, along with photographs of them. It was a lot of fun to see knowing what I learned from this book!

This was book number 34 of 52 for 2017.

Dark Matter

Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch
Published by Crown on July 26th 2016
Pages: 342
My Rating: four-stars

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

My wife suggested this book after Knox and Jamie at the Popcast gave it their Green Light.

This book was a very quick read/listen. Once I got half way through I couldn’t put it down. I recommended it to a friend and he finished it in one day. I listened to the audio book version of this book mostly while walking around my neighborhood. I still associate certain parts of a street or the view of a neighbor’s house with parts of the story!

***Spoilers Ahead***

The book is a really good thriller, but the part that resonated with me most is the main character’s drive to restore his life with his wife and son. Even when presented with alternate versions of his wife he knew that the woman and life he loved weren’t just the physical representation of that person, it was much more. The life he loved was the physical person along with the sum of the shared history. And he was willing to do whatever it took to get back to that life.

My wife and I will be celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary this year and as each year passes I realize how precious our time is to me. The value of those 14 years together (16 counting our dating and courtship) greatly outweigh the sum of the time. This might be an odd conclusion to reach from this book, but it’s where I landed.

If you’re looking for a techno-thriller with some soul, give this book a read.

This was book number 3 of 52 for 2017.