Featured New Release Of The Week: What’s Worth Keeping by Kaya McLaren

This week we’re looking at a strong tale of often under-explored topics. This week we’re looking at What’s Worth Keeping by Kaya McLaren.

And here’s what I had to say about the book on Goodreads:

Strong Look At Often Unexplored Topics. Glancing through the other reviews (as I generally do before writing my own, fwiw), it seems that so many people miss what I happen to see as the overall point of the book: Exploring how individuals can find themselves again and discover what they feel is worth keeping in the face of overwhelming tragedy. Here, McLaren uses three primary characters: A mother who has “survived” cancer, including a mastectomy and radical hysterectomy, only to have to piece back together her sense of self and whether she is still attractive. (A battle, it seems, that the author herself went through in real life.) A father who began working as a cop in order to provide for his then-young family, and who was one of the first responders shifting through the rubble behind Timothy McVeigh trying to save as many people as possible after the bombing of the Alfred P Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City – a tragedy that still haunts him all these decades later, at the end of his career. And a daughter who learns that her mother’s cancer is to some degree hereditary, causing her to question any future she may have even as she graduates high school.

In these situations, McLaren points to tragedies and situations that are relatable to many of us, and paints a story that even across roughly 500 books read in under three years, I’ve rarely if ever seen. A story of survival (which is common, in and of itself) and of finding love (also common), but these particular wrinkles of the overall story have often been overshadowed in the stories by other, “flashier” topics.

While I am genuinely sorry that the author lived through at least some of this, I am exceedingly happy that she was able to use those real life experiences to craft this tale in this way. It is a story that needed to be told, and it is a story that needs to be read by far too many. And for that reason, it is a story that is very much recommended.

#BookReview: The Way Out by Peter Coleman

Conflicts as Advanced Mathematics and Theoretical Astrophysics. I gotta admit, as a more “hard” science / numbers guy, when I saw that Coleman’s solution here was based in the realms of advanced mathematics and theoretical astrophysics – gravity wells, complexity theory, etc – I was astonished to see someone put into words ideas I’d long thought of in conflicts in my own life. Though the way Coleman is much more systematic and systemic about them is simply phenomenal bordering on the profound. Yes, the man is an admitted progressive and yes, some of his throw away level comments are solidly from that perspective, but if you’re of a type who would normally throw a book down in disgust just over those points alone (or if you’re the type who would do those if he were an admitted conservative making similar comments)… you’re pretty well exactly who needs to read this book anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Pretty spectacular, and a *needed* read pretty well right this second – I write this review at the beginning of US Presidential Inauguration Week 2021, nearly six full months before the book’s scheduled publication at the beginning of June. Something tells me the book will be at least as relevant as it currently is at that point, and you should absolutely read and strongly consider Coleman’s points as soon as you can. Very much recommended.

This review of The Way Out by Peter Coleman was originally written on January 17, 2021.

#BookReview: The Seat Filler by Sariah Wilson

Fun and Funny. This was a fun, funny read featuring a role I’d heard of but had never considered in depth – seat fillers at awards shows. This book gives some interesting looks at some things that people don’t often consider, but does it in ways such that a joke or some other hilarity is never far away. And for some reason I kept imagining Noah as Josh Brolin, even though that totally does NOT match the actual physical characterization of the character. But it was so prevalent in my mind that it had to get into the review. Truly an excellent book, and a world I wouldn’t mind coming back to. Very much recommended.

This review of The Seat Filler by Sariah Wilson was originally written on January 17, 2021.

#BookReview: Doom by Niall Ferguson

Complete And Well Documented Examination of Disaster. This is a book that looks not just at one disaster or one type of disaster, but at all of them. It doesn’t look to one threat or another threat or a third threat, but moves between types of threats and shows how they, really, are all interrelated by a common element: the human, and in particular the governmental, response to them. From ancient plagues and volcanoes to hot-off-the-press (at the time of writing a few months prior to even my own seeming first public review level early read) details of the current global catastrophes. While docking a star for Ferguson’s high praise of John Maynard Keynes (suffice it to say I tend to hold economists such as Hayak, Bastiat, and Von Mises to levels Ferguson holds Keynes), that isn’t really my style since those are more a couple of aside level comments randomly in this near 500 page volume. But also, don’t let the near 500 page count deter you – in my copy, 48% of that text (or nearly 200 pages) was bibliography, making this one of the more well documented books I’ve read in the last few years. Truly a book that needs to be considered by at minimum policy makers but really the public at large, at times it doesn’t really go far enough to point out that voluntary community based disaster preparedness can often do more good than government top down approaches (even as he continually points out that the failures most often happen at middle management levels). Very much recommended.

This review of Doom by Niall Ferguson was originally written on January 17, 2021.

#BookReview: Faith After Doubt by Brian McLaren

Too Much Faith, Not Enough Doubt. I’ve read McLaren for a few years and knew him to be of the more “progressive Christian” bent, so I knew what I was getting myself in for in picking up this book. But as always, he does have at least a few good points in here, making the book absolutely worthy of reading and contemplating. However, he also proof texts a fair amount, and any at all of this particular sin is enough for me to dock *any* book that utilizes the practice a star in my own personal war with the practice. (Though I *do* note that he isn’t as bad as other writers in this.) The other star removal comes from the title of this review, which is really my core criticism here. As is so often in his previous books as well as so many other authors, McLaren has good points about the need for doubt and how to live in harmony… but then insists on praising cult figures on both sides of the aisle such as Greta Thurnberg and David Grossman. In encouraging evaneglicals to doubt their beliefs, he seems rather sure of his own beliefs in the religions of science and government – seemingly more comfortable worshipping these religions than the Christ he claims. Overall, much of the discussion here truly is strong. It simply needed to be applied in far more areas than McLaren was… comfortable… in doing. Recommended.

This review of Faith After Doubt by Brian McLaren was originally written on January 17, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Troubled by Kenneth R Rosen

This week we’re looking at a troubling – yet anecdotal – tale that bears further research. This week we are looking at Troubled by Kenneth R Rosen.

Here’s what I had to say about the book on Goodreads, and below that I’ll have a confession about a degree of a personal connection. ๐Ÿ™‚

Tragic. Rosen uses case studies of four particular people and their experiences with wilderness re-education camps (and residential, boarding school style similar institutions) to paint a truly tragic picture. On an anecdotal basis, these camps seem horrifying in an Orange Is The New Black kind of way – an in depth look at the what really happens to some individuals. For what it is – these anecdotal experiences with a few claims backed up with the barest of bibliographies – it really is a strong read and a needed one. However, I would welcome a much more comprehensive, and cited, further examination along the lines of Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Because this particular topic, based on the strengths of these particular anecdotes, seems to warrant such an investigation. Very much recommended.

And here’s my personal connection to the book, such as it is:

Back during my personally-infamous “Year of Failure”, when virtually nothing was going right in my life, I actually worked at a Wilderness Education Camp for a month. In the middle of summer. In the mountains of North Georgia. (And, in my final week with that long-defunct company, the tidelands of the Big Bend area of Florida.) I thought, based on my own history, I might be able to make a difference in this type of environment, working with these types of kids. I quickly learned otherwise, but the overall experience – over 15 years ago now – was remarkably memorable in many ways, and indeed some of the lessons I learned there prodded me in directions that came to dominate at least some of my thinking for the past 15 years and, possibly, for the remainder of my life. So I personally look back on my own time in such a camp with a degree of fondness, and yet I can very much understand the tragedy of what these camps did to at least some kids. (To be perfectly clear, in my month there I never personally witnessed anything remotely like what Rosen describes in this book. One situation I personally witnessed involved a kid storming off on his own through the woods, and a counselor having to track him and try to talk him into rejoining the group. Another I learned about from the person it happened to after the fact was when a kid brought a copperhead into camp, proud to show it off. The counselor – who was originally telling me this story when I found him in the counselors’ cabin after having been to the Emergency Room over this – told the kid to bring the snake to him. The counselor got the snake from the kid, “calmly” walked over to a nearby cliff, and proceeded to try to toss the snake out of camp and off the cliff. Whereupon the snake wrapped down and bit him on the leg – resulting in the ER trip. But these are the only two incidents I remember of my time there that are even remotely similar to what Rosen describes.)

#BookReview: A Barefoot Tide by Grace Greene

Sometimes All It Takes Is A Break. This was a remarkable tale of a woman who was down on her luck being given a chance to take a break… who comes to realize all that she does have, and, perhaps, all that she needs to change. The book-within-a-book was a great technique that is sure to grab the attention of the literati types, but overall Lilliane’s story was a great crossover between Greene’s mountain based Cub Creek series and beach based Emerald Isle series, one full of heart and… well, grace. ๐Ÿ˜€ The ending left this particular reader hoping for at least one more book with these characters, though the two sentence description of that book is quite clear of where it needs to go. So y’all need to go buy this book and give Greene a reason to come back to these particular characters. ๐Ÿ˜€ Very much recommended.

This review of A Barefoot Tide by Grace Greene was originally written on January 11, 2021.

#BookReview: Electric City by Thomas Hager

Those That Do Not Know History… The time period is (basically) a century ago. Most of the action is taking place within about 3 years either side of 1920. And you have a nationally popular and very rich business tycoon running in an election that ends with allegations of fraud and demands for recounts. Sound familiar? This is only *part* of the story of a piece of American history that despite having a tangential connection to (my step-grandfather – the only second grandfather I ever knew – was from the Muscle Shoals region and was born there during the period discussed in this text), I had never heard about before seeing this book. I’ve known of the TVA, I’ve even considering applying for jobs there in my professional career. But this story of how they began – really nearly a decade *before* the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal – is quite fascinating on so many levels. Hager does a tremendous job of showing the breadth of what was happening and why as it relates to his central thesis, and people would do well to learn the lessons of this particular episode of American history. While the Bibliography was a bit lacking (at roughly 9% of this text vs a more common 20-30% or so), the author explains that much of his research was from original records and correspondences not captured in any previous volume, so that makes a fair amount of sense. On the whole, this seems well done and well balanced, and is very much recommended.

This review of Electric City by Thomas Hager was originally written on January 11, 2021.

#BookReview: CyberSpace by Matthew Mather

CyberSpace by Matthew Mather 5*

Interesting Time To Read These Stories. I read CyberStorm nearly a year ago, in February 2020. Right as the COVID issue was beginning to cause global panic. But at least that story *mostly* focused on New York City, so while it was uncomfortable due to being all-TOO-realistic, it was at least possible to tell myself (as a Southern man who has only rarely even been through or over NYC) that it wouldn’t happen here.

This book kept that all-too-realistic nature going (though with perhaps a few too many shots at billionaires who are legitimately trying to save humanity at the front), but this time went from New Orleans to Virginia Beach via Mississippi, Kentucky, and Ohio. Much harder to tune out as “it can’t happen here”, particularly since I stared down the face of Irma less than a month after moving to Florida and this book features just such a storm bearing down on Virginia. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Overall truly a remarkable work of near-future science fiction, one that primarily uses tech that is already available to tell a tale that will hopefully never come to fruition.

And that ending! Let’s just say I’m glad I read this book in January 2021, knowing CyberWar – the next book – is slated to be released in just a few months. ๐Ÿ˜€ Very much recommended.

This review of CyberSpace by Matthew Mather was originally written on January 9, 2021.

Which Kindle Should I Buy?

I have them all. Seriously, every new model Amazon currently sells. 😃

And ultimately it comes down to personal preference and economics. 🙂

If you don’t mind the same glare/ eye strain you get from your phone and want something that can do… well, pretty much everything your phone can do without a cell connection… you want a Fire. Those come in 7, 8, and 10” sizes, with about a $100 price swing from smallest to biggest. They all pretty well do the same things in the same ways, and are pretty interchangeable.

On the eReader side, you get devices that are basically dedicated readers. They have Audible support via bluetooth, but the text to speech reader is horrible. (If you want a text to speech reader, go with Fire. Fire’s T2S capabilities are pretty damn awesome.) They all now have a front lighting capability that is different from the back lighting of your phone/ Fire and that is generally easier on the eyes.

The Kindle (base) is the cheapest option with the least features and no add on capabilities. You get a device that can hold a few hundred text based books or a few dozen Audible books at once, but you can swap on and off from your Cloud anywhere you can get a wifi connection. If economics are a prime concern, you’re really not going to get a bad device here, the next ones just have a few more bells and whistles. But again: this one is perfectly fine.

The Paperwhite adds splash proofing. (Amazon calls it waterproofing, but DO NOT SUBMERGE these devices. Learned that one the hard way. It also comes with about 4x more memory, and even in the base model Paperwhite (roughly 50% more expensive than the base model Kindle above) you’re going to be able to hold low 4 digit text based books on the device at once, or low triple digit Audible books on the device at once. This one has add on capabilities (up front, you can’t add these on later) to increase the memory to 16x that of the base model Kindle and to add “Free3G” capabilities (4G in most of the US) that allow you to swap from the cloud anywhere you can get a (AT&T) cell signal. Both of these add ons combined will raise the price of the Paperwhite by roughly double its base model, up to right at the price of an Oasis at $250.

The Oasis adds on to the Paperwhite base model a “warm light” feature that allows you to customize the lighting from the white/ blue light of the base model Kindle and Paperwhite to a brown/ orange hue – or anywhere in between. It also adds physical page turn buttons – the only device Amazon makes with this feature. And it adds an “ergonomic back” that basically means that one side of the device (away from the page turn buttons) is so thin it is little more than device casing and screen, while the “guts” of the device + the page turn buttons are on the other side. Note that some cases can negate this effect, so if you get this device be *very careful* of any cases you buy for it if this is a primary benefit for you. Oasis base model starts at about $250 and has the same add-on capabilities as the Paperwhite, but here those add ons will increase the price to around $375.

NOTE: As best I can tell, the Free3G upgrades are not currently available on either the Paperwhite or Oasis as of this writing on January 9, 2021. Due to notices on the Amazon site noting that they will be available in 6-9 months, my best guess – and it is purely a (somewhat educated) guess – is that this is due to supply chain/ manufacturing issues due to the COVID-19 debacle.

I have them all and regularly use them all. I don’t really have an actual preference, though I will note that my Fire 7 seems to drain battery faster than the others, even in similar usage conditions. Ultimately, it really does come down to personal preferences and economics, so just take the above and make the best decision for you. 🙂