Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reflections: Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark

Brad Howes opines on Ridley Pearson's Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark:

"It is true that a book written for middle school-aged children could give a (mostly) grown man nightmares. Kingdom Keepers provides a unique journey through the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, specifically after the turnstiles stop, well, turning. In Toy Story-esque fashion, the rides come to life once the lights go down. And once the lights go down, it is a classic story of good versus evil. The evil witch Maleficent is part of a group that call themselves the Overtakers, who plan to take over not only the Magic Kingdom and Disney World, but the entire globe. Of course, she calls upon the Pirates from the famous ride, and pulls some dirty tricks on other not-so-scary rides in her efforts.

It’s up to Finn, a middle-school student who is a hologram by night, along with other holograms to defeat the Undertakers. The highest level of intrigue comes when Kingdom Keepers meets National Treasure as Finn and his buddies seek to find secret clues throughout the park left by Walt himself that will help good reign victorious.

Let it be known, this review is not exactly an endorsement as I wonder to myself whether I will continue the ride through three other sequels (and another due out Spring 2013) or take an emergency exit. It’s true, I couldn’t put the book down. However, it was the intricate descriptions of the park itself, as well as the hidden mysteries that kept me involved, not the plot itself. References to the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, the Ticket and Transportation Center, and the underground tunnels make me want more, not the little creepy children from It’s a Small World coming to life and attacking the riders. That’s what gave me the nightmares."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Reflections: A War of Gifts: An Ender Story

Adam C. Zern opines on Orson Scott Card's A War of Gifts:

"What does Christmas look like in the Ender universe?  I wasn't quite sure what I was getting when I bought A War of Gifts: An Ender Story (not to be confused with 'A Christmas Story'), but when I finally realized that it was actually a Christmas story set in the Ender universe I was quite pleased.  A War of Gifts is really a glorified short story, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Someone could actually enjoy the book if they had only read Ender's Game since it takes place during Ender's time at Battle School.  Like the other stories presented in Ender's universe, there are some interesting ideas to grapple with and ponder.  I thought it was a creative way of exploring the 'true meaning' of Christmas.  And, as always in Card's Ender books, I was eager to get to know and understand the characters presented.

Is A War of Gifts a cheap cash-in on Card's part?  I don't think so.  I think Orson Scott Card really loves his Ender universe and the characters that inhabit it, but so do I.  I keep coming back to the Ender universe, even for its one-off Christmas stories, because I'm consistently entertained and every now and again enlightened."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reflections: The Wisdom of Teams

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on John R. Katzenbach's and Douglas K. Smith's The Wisdom of Teams:

"My current occupation is as a Business Analyst for a specialty pharmacy.  It has been a wonderful learning experience as I've acclimated to the role and its requirements.  Just like with other areas of my life, I dislike not knowing what can be known.  Generally, my non-fiction reading list is packed full of political science and historical books since I have such a passion for both.  Yet, especially over the last several months, I have felt a desire to increase my understanding of business and practices related to it.  Mostly by accident, I started this new intellectual journey by reading The Wisdom of Teams by John R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith.  I hope the journey gets better from here.

The Wisdom of Teams has plenty of good to provide, but it only needed about 150 pages to provide it.  Although it's not a very long book, the epilogue is all finished up by 265 pages, it feels long.  It feels repetitive and redundant.  On so many occasions I could hear myself saying internally: "I know, I know, teams are good."  The book lacked a feeling of importance, even though the authors mentioned on multiple occasions how important their ideas really are.

I did learn a handful of valuable things, but I wish it didn't take 265 pages to learn them.  (Keep in mind, I don't shy away from reading some pretty hefty books; they just better be good).  I think there are plenty of people, professionals, who go from day to day in their careers without ever thinking all that critically regarding their job performance, the organization they operate in, and how a few really good ideas could make things better.  That's where I think a book like The Wisdom of Teams could have a positive impact on a professional's career.  It can provide those ideas that a professional has never considered before.  Alas, in the case of The Wisdom of Teams, a few good ideas were buried by a clunky book.

I freely admit my issue may be less with The Wisdom of Teams and more with the entire genre of business books.  I hope that's not the case because I do plan on reading more business-related books in hopes of finding some more great ideas.  I just hope they're presented in a more reasonable, enjoyable, and affecting way."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What You Don't Know is the Reason

Adam C. Zern expresses his conviction on why we should read:

"A Lost Lady was my 300th book.  At times, I am immensely pleased at that number and other times it causes me little pride.  I've been on this earth for 27 years.  How could I have read only 300 books?  My insecurity in what I haven't read comes from my own intimate knowledge of my deeply felt ignorance.  However, considering the reading habits of most people, I can't help but feel justified in a little self-congratulation since I've made reading a priority in my life.

And why isn't reading a priority for so many others?  I was recently speaking with a co-worker and she expressed the common refrains of why someone doesn't read, such as: it's boring, I can't remember what I've read, I don't have any time, etc.  Yet, as is almost always the case, she expressed her wish that she did read and her personal conviction that she should read but doesn't.  I gave some encouragement, told her getting into a reading habit is similar to establishing any other kind of habit, and provided a title of a book (it happened to be The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom) I guessed she might find interesting, based on her admitted interests.  I hope she reads it, and I hope the act becomes habitual.

What we don't know—that's what should drive us to read.  And that shouldn't limit us to reading non-fiction.  The little-p prophets of literature have provided insights into mankind, society, and philosophy (among other things) in a more poignant fashion than most non-fiction books I have read.  (I just wish more contemporary authors actually wrote literature and not the self-absorbed and dank nonsense they do).  I talk to so many who don't read and subsequently don't know so much.  Reading fills you up, not with useless facts and figures (although I suppose it could if you limit your reading to only the useless books variety), but with ideas, perspectives, and thoughts.  You have something to talk about when you read and that something is usually pretty important.

When so many don't know or can't talk about it, whatever 'it' happens to be at the moment, and I'm not referring to our mostly barren pop culture, I hope more people would take the time to read.  I don't remember a single person who has ever said: 'I really regret taking the time to read.'  On the other hand, I've heard plenty of people say in plenty of ways how they regret not reading or taking so much time doing things that aren't reading.  What you don't know, which is, oh, so very much, should drive you to read.  That is exactly what has driven me, and with 300 books clattering around in my brain I'm convinced I've got a long, long way to go."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reflections: Jane Austen In Scarsdale: Or Love, Death, and the SATs

Cortney Howes shares her thoughts on  Paula Marantz Cohen's Jane Austen In Scarsdale: Or Love, Death, and the SATs:

"At the library I came across Jane Austen in Scarsdale: Or Love, Death, and the SATs. Since I am a huge Jane Austen fan I felt that I had to read this book since her name was in the title

Anne Ehrlich is a high-school guidance counselor who dedicates her life to helping the students in her care get into the college of their dreams. She was raised in a very wealthy family and attended Columbia University. As a young college student she fell in love with a man that did not live up to her family's financial expectations. When it came time for them to take the next step her family convinced her that he was not right for her. Now, thirteen years later, her family has lost their fortune, she is single and he is back in town. This book takes the reader on her journey on figuring out if they were really meant to be or if she is just holding onto something that is no longer hers.

This book is an easy, light read. There are a lot of references to things that go on in a school workplace and will be found very entertaining to those who are familiar with these settings. I would recommend it if you are looking for something to help clear your mind. I plan on reading Paula Cohens other book, Jane Austen in Boca, in the near future."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Reflections: A Lost Lady

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Willa Cather's A Lost Lady:

"In terms of entertainment, subtlety is mostly a vestige of the past.  I have pondered before on what a film like Citizen Kane would look like if it were made today.  A Lost Lady by Willa Cather is a book that would have a hard time being written today.  It is indeed subtle.  In fact, during the initial introduction of the characters, one needs to pay especially close attention to the subtleties exhibited in order to enjoy the conclusion and pay-off the book offers.

As the title of the book suggests, the focus of the book is the main female character—Marian Forrester.  She is, however, not the protagonist through which the audience witnesses the narrative.  Niel Herbert is the main character through which the audience experiences most of the story; although, there are some interesting breaks from his point of view.  This point of view helps the narrative a great deal, in my opinion, since this gives the audience more latitude to examine and even judge Mrs. Forrester for what they think she is and is not.  Readers of the book will come to slightly different conclusions regarding Mrs. Forrester and her character or lack thereof.

The biggest problem with A Lost Lady is its finding an audience.  I'm not sure too many people would be too interested to read it.  It's an obscure book from an obscure author.  (I'm told Willa Cather is supposedly well-known in literary circles; obviously I'm not a part of those circles).  Yet, the longer I've thought about A Lost Lady the more I've liked it.  I hope it finds an audience, even if it's a small one.

A Lost Lady is a good book.  It's not an exhibition of staggering genius, but it does provide enough to chew on and debate.  I was very unsure of the book's quality when I initially started reading, but I quickly found myself enjoying it.  It's worth reading."