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Some books are impossible to put down. Some books make you call in sick to work because you simply can’t stop reading. Some books change your life forever. Max Wirestone’s “The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss” is not one of those books.

The premise is fairly interesting: a broke, unemployed geeky girl gets hired to investigate the theft of a certain unique item that went missing in an MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Pretty soon, however, a real-life crime occurs, and our hapless heroine gets to investigate it too.

There’s a wide variety of wacky characters, a strange online game world and, well, not a whole lot else. Our protagonist, Dahlia Moss, is described in the vaguest possible terms: chronically unemployed, still recovering from a bad breakup over a year ago, suffering from body image issues. That doesn’t stop her from body-shaming other female characters, however (“exceedingly flat. Not just her chest – everything”). I found it hard to feel sympathy for the protagonist when she uses such language against other women, goes to job interviews without any idea what she’s interviewing for, criticizes her charitable roommate who lets her live in the apartment for free, etc.

I’ve seen this book compared to “Scott Pilgrim vs the World,” and it looks like Wirestone had deliberately set out to write a gender-reversed homage. The fact that every character addresses the protagonist by her full name (“Dahlia Moss!”) almost every time they meet her is a rather strong giveaway.

The book tries to be funny, but it didn’t get more than a few chuckles out of me. The in-book continuity is odd: the narrative takes place over the course of about a week, with every day described in detail, yet at one point Dahlia mentions all the detective books she’d read since she started the case. A bad cop shows up for one scene, never to return again, while a good (and secretly geeky) cop inexplicably puts his job on the line by providing Dahlia with very thinly veiled clues about the case.

Normally, I’d give a book like this only 2 stars, but some parts of it were well written and rather quotable. (“My refrigerator is best described in terms of stark minimalism.”)

I wish Max Wirestone better luck with his future (and hopefully less ambitious) endeavors.

Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: October 20, 2015)

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Beauty. Ignorance. Seascapes.

On wanderlust

In five days, I shall embark on a cross-continental journey, driving from Tampa to Seattle, stopping everywhere and nowhere, feeding my wanderlust. Over the past year, I’ve visited Dallas, New York, New Orleans, Omaha, Tampa, Charlotte, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington and Seattle, as well as Mexico and Grand Cayman. In the past four years, I’ve lived in Reno and Vegas and rural Nevadan towns you’d never heard of; in Dallas and Tampa and a few places in between.

The sensation of traveling, of moving and experiencing entirely new parts of the world, is indescribable. It’s confusing and mesmerizing and intoxicating, thought-provoking and inspiring, tinged with the bittersweet taste of nostalgia and vuja de. I have no doubt that within the next decade or so, wanderlust will become listed in the DSM as yet another suspicious condition, another sacrifice on the altar of the Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex.

Throughout history, wanderers and adventures (or misadventurers, as fate would have it) spread ideas and innovations throughout the world, assisting civilization and feeding their own wanderlust. Here and now, in the middle of the second decade of the twenty-first century, traveling is easier and cheaper than ever before. Strange foreign lands can be accessed with a swipe of a credit card and several hours in a flying metal vessel.

The full allure of it is hard to put in words. It’s a desire to explore, to see new places and to try new things, to not grow roots in boring little towns, to find something new. Something better. Something else. After all, even Frodo moved on and left his old digs for the Undying Lands when his grand adventure was over.

I spend my last days in Florida packing and reminiscing and enjoying the most of what this state has to offer. It saddens me to leave it all behind, but the exchange will be more than worth it, for there’s a new journey to be had, new city to explore, new land to wander.

Florida – pros and cons

no snow
hot weather
nice roads

George Zimmerman within 100 miles of my house
brain-eating amoeba
skin cancer risk
blinding rain

Hellooooooo, everyone!

It’s been a while since I published an e-book, but now there’s a new addition to my growing e-book empire. Ladies and gentlemen and all the conscientious objectors to the binary gender code, I humbly present to you my latest (and greatest!) e-book: Buffett’s Biggest Blunders: The Greatest Investor’s Greatest Mistakes.

Warren Buffett is without a doubt the greatest investor of our time. A humble, down-to-earth man with a talent for mathematics and analysis, he’s managed to build a $350 billion empire known as Berkshire Hathaway in 50 years. He’s a voice of reason, a paragon of patience, the living proof that one can attain wealth without day-trading or memorizing arcane formulas.

His successful trades, business purchases and arbitrage maneuvers have been analyzed time and again. Most Buffett fans know about his brilliant investment in See’s Candies or his lifelong love affair with Geico insurance. At the same time, however, there’s relatively little focus on the investments and business deals where he ended up losing.

It’s impossible to truly understand one’s investing strategy without examining one’s mistakes alongside the successes. They are two sides of the same coin. Both must be studied in order to get a full picture. Instead, even though Buffett has been remarkably open and candid about the mistakes he’s made along the way, very few pay attention to them and learn by analyzing his actions.

Did you know, for example, that once upon a time Warren Buffett paid his shareholders a dividend? That he briefly invested in Disney but then changed his mind? That he tried and failed to corner the market on stamps – and chose not to become a car collector? Those are just a few of the 30 investing blunders contained within this book.

This book collects 30 summaries of Warren Buffett’s investments that went awry. With summaries, charts and commentary from Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger themselves, “Buffest Biggest Blunders” provides an excellent opportunity to learn from the greatest investor’s greatest mistakes – and to become better investors by learning about the missteps of the Oracle of Omaha.

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about his investing methods and foibles, this is the book for you. (Or, if you’re more of a 1,000-page book person, I highly recommend Buffett’s biography “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life” by Alice Schroeder.) If you’re new to investing and don’t want to lose your hard-earned cash, “Buffett’s Biggest Blunders” might just save you from making egregious investing mistakes. Or, if you’re going to join me at this year’s 50th annual shareholder convention in Omaha (also known as “Woodstock for capitalists”) and don’t want to be lost when Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger start reminiscing about their mistakes, you’ll probably want to skim my book and learn all about it.

And did I mention that it’d make an excellent present for your business-oriented loved ones? If they don’t have a Kindle, they can still read the book on a Kindle app. I have it on good authority that it works on any device that has a screen and an Internet connection. (And pretty soon, the screen will be optional!)

I’m always interested in hearing from my readers, so if you buy my book and love it, I would enjoy getting a 5-star review from you on my book’s Amazon page. I hope you enjoy reading my book every bit as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Happy reading!

“Writers of the Future Volume 31” is this year’s collection of 13 best sci-fi stories by new writers. The stories (most of which are quite enjoyable) are interspersed with occasional essays on writing by L. Ron Hubbard, Orson Scott Card, etc. Overall, the collection had some nice gems and should give every sci-fi fan hours of enjoyment. (Or days, if you’d like to stretch it out!) Each story has an amazing illustration to go with it. The artists are featured alongside the authors, so who knows – maybe this book will be the big break they need.

Brief reviews:
“Switch” by David Farland – a cop using mental performance-enhancing drug is on the case to find the drug’s manufacturer after a series of violent crimes. Interesting if you’re into police stories and action movies.

“The God Whisperer” by Daniel J. Davis – what if people had minor gods as pets? Funny and creative story – shame it was so short, because there’s definitely enough potential for a book.

“Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light by Sharon Joss – a teenage girl from a space colony of genetically modified humans discovers an intelligent lifeform in her backyard. The story has a Young Adult feel to it and it’s beautifully written.

“When Shadows Fall” by L. Ron Hubbard – a 1948 story about three men’s attempts to save a dying, suffocating Earth in the distant future. An enjoyable yet unusual story written more like a parable.

“A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” by Auston Habershaw – a teenager acquires a magical book to, well, learn magic and right the wrongs in his society (and his gang). Creative and entertaining, with a great twist at the end.

“Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang” by Tim Napper – a deal between a Vietnamese gangster and a young woman who wants to smuggle some people through the border suddenly gets very complicated. Short and sweet, with a badass heroine but not a lot of action or plot development.

“Planar Ghosts” by Krystal Claxton – a kid wanders the scorched steppes of the futuristic, post-global-warming world, with a strange purple ghost of a girl as his companion. Interesting idea, but the execution could be slightly better.

“Rough Draft” by Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta – a bestselling sci-fi writer who stopped writing receives a novel written by himself – from a parallel universe. The story deals with practical applications of milking the multiverse for new content by artists and writers – and how it affects the creators who are still alive in this universe.

“Between Screens” by Zach Chapman – a gang of teenagers livng on a space station teleport around the universe and hijack telescopes to watch other worlds get destroyed by natural disasters. Gloomy and disturbing, if you’re into that kind of thing.

“Unrefined” by Martin L. Shoemaker – a metal refining station in deep space gets destroyed. Told from the point of view of the station creator’s bodyguard, the story is mostly about flying around and trying to save a collapsing station, followed by a story of the employees pulling themselves up by bootstraps. If you’re an Ayn Rand-loving engineer, you might enjoy it.

“Half Past” by Samantha Murray – a magician’s daughter who creates “echoes” of herself during emotional outbursts learns something very disturbing when she decides to move out on her own. An interesting slow-paced tale of emotion, magic and different stages of growing up.

“Purposes Made for Alien Minds” by Scott R. Parkin – a malfunctioning android who can only speak and think in 5-word sentences is sent to an alien world to discover why the aliens are killing off human colonists. Strange but overall enjoyable story.

“Inconstant Moon” by Larry Niven – late at night, a freelance writer suddenly realizes that the ridiculously bright moon means something really, really bad is coming. A fun story about a guy and his girlfriend enjoying their last night on earth.

“The Graver” by Amy M. Hughes – in a world where super-powered people can suck out your soul, a widower is trying to protect his teenage daughter. Dark but creative.

“Wisteria Melancholy” by Michael T. Banker – a man who gets as heavy as lead when he feels sad moves into a clinic for other psychomorphically unstable people (mostly kids). Interesting concept, well written, contains some great quotable stuff.

“Poseidon’s Eyes” by Kary English – something about a struggling artist, her magical redneck friend who lives on the beach, some ghosts, etc… If you enjoy very slowly developing stories, this might be the one for you – I ended up skipping to the end when I was halfway through.

Score: 4 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: May 4, 2015)

Peter Clines’s books are always addictive, unpredictable and beautifully crafted. His latest novel, “The Fold,” follows that pattern and may be his greatest book yet.

Meet Leland Erikson. He goes by “Mike,” which is a nickname for a nickname, and he’s one of the smartest people in the world. In addition to having sky-high IQ, he also has perfect recall. Instead of developing his talents, however, he teaches English in a small high school, choosing to lead a normal life instead of that of a dissatisfied genius. His well-established routine changes when an old friend from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) pays a visit and asks for a favor… A team of scientists developed a teleportation device that works perfectly fine, but something might be off about the scientists themselves.

The premise appears to be fairly simple. After all, teleportation is one of science fiction’s most popular tropes. (Who among us hasn’t heard “Beam me up, Scotty”?) In his usual manner, however, Clines takes that concept, turns it inside out and changes it into something completely novel and unrecognizable. Writing anything about the “how” behind his teleportation machine would bring spoilers, so suffice to say that it doesn’t quite work the way you (or any of the characters) would expect. The seemingly benign technology has a strange origin, stranger implications, and it just might destroy the world as we know it – and it’s up to Mike Erikson to save the day.

Each of the Fold’s characters is well developed and given their own personality, which, unfortunately, isn’t something one can see in every sci-fi book. From grumpy scientists to Star Trek-obsessed technicians, by the end of the book you feel like you’ve known each of them for ages. The dialogue sounds unforced and natural, with regular, everyday interactions interspersed between mysteries and action scenes. (Which are amazingly well written, by the way.)

Perhaps the main challenge was writing the protagonist in a way that would be easy to relate to and show just how brilliant he is. That’s not always an easy task: after all, we all remember the cringe-worthy, chipmunk-like character of Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: TNG. Mike (short for “Mycroft,” for obvious reasons) is written in a way that makes him easy to follow and understand. The metaphor he uses for his prodigious brain is ants: tiny memory ants carrying pieces of information back and forth. He’s not always right, and his flashed of insight are well explained as he goes about saving the day using mostly his brain, not brawn.

In order to make this an objective review, I tried to find some negatives or things that could use improvement, but I haven’t been able to think of any. The Fold is a straight-up, shoot-from-the-hip sci-fi masterpiece, with mad scientists, reclusive geniuses, bizarre technology, doomsday threats and plot twists you’ll never be able to predict.

(Full disclaimer: I received a free advance review copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Score: 5 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: June 2, 2015)

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Most self-help books are notoriously vague and wishy-washy, with one-size-fits-all recommendations and generic assurance that everything will be okay.

“Superproductive” by Chobi Grace is not one of those books. Unlike most other works in that genre, it gives plenty of practical advice (throw your TV remote in a drawer!), psychological insights into why you do the things you do, and nifty ways to hack your daily routine to make it more productive without using up too much of your resources.

At just 50 pages, the book contains all the useful information without the fluff that one usually finds in self-help books. The stories and parables in the book are short, sweet and to the point (the parable about angels was particularly amusing). The book’s illustrations and design make it a lot more appealing than most self-published books on Kindle, which makes it both a visual and an intellectual treat.

If you’ve ever wondered where all your free time goes, or if you’ve always dreamed of writing that Great American Novel, you should give “Superproductive” a chance – it will not disappoint you.

Score: five stars

Buy it now on Amazon


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