I read this book on a recommendation because I was momentarily overwhelmed with a project list and life events. I was remarkably un-impressed.
A caveaI read this book on a recommendation because I was momentarily overwhelmed with a project list and life events. I was remarkably un-impressed.
A caveat: There are two types of books for which I have no use. Those are business books, and self-help books. This is a business self-help book, so...there was little chance that I would receive it well.
That said, there are objective reasons for my dislike. First of all, this is a sluggish read. Allen's style is difficult to follow, and extremely repetitive. I found my own organizational system to already include several of his more practical components (not difficult considering how simple those components are), only in different forms or combinations. That, I think, is one of the primary detractors for me: Adopting someone else's organizational system has never been met with success in my own experience. I've spent a good amount of time honing my own system through college, grad school, and professional life, and I've found two things: 1. It's dependent on my personality and understanding how my own brain works, and 2. It fluctuates depending on life circumstances (i.e.: everything that worked in undergrad doesn't work the same now, and the system needs to be changed periodically).
Allen's system is incredibly prescriptive and, despite his claims as to its flexibility, remarkably inflexible.
My second profound disagreement with Allen is a philosophical one. He writes with the assumption that no time should ever be spent with nothing to do. He contends that one's system should include something that can be done whenever there is a free moment waiting in line, waiting for someone else to show up...whenever. Granted, his target audience is the stereotypical executive who is driven by numbers and for whom being constantly busy is seen as some sort of achievement. Creatives, though, understand that time spent doing nothing and not focusing on any task is often when the best inspiration for something new arrives, or when the problem that's been nagging on a project is suddenly solved because your brain has had time to process things. This says nothing of research showing how un-healthy and detrimental to one's attention span it is to never permit one's mind to wander aimlessly.
I also find it a bit counter-productive to invest the time in struggling to finish this book when I, in fact, have many other projects that require my attention.
I'm very much in favor of having a good system of organization. I understand competing priorities, and how easy it is for anything not recorded in the proper place to get lost. I also recognize that not everyone can necessarily formulate their own system, and may need some coaching. Allen's system, though, isn't it. This book promises much and delivers little. It's a waste of time that you likely can't afford if you're considering reading. ...more
While I respect the genre of YA, it's generally not my flavor of fiction. I could the number of YA novels that I've read on one hand. This one grabbedWhile I respect the genre of YA, it's generally not my flavor of fiction. I could the number of YA novels that I've read on one hand. This one grabbed my attention, however, because I am a long-time fan and reader of the Black Widow. She's simply one of my favorite characters in comic book literature, and, for that reason, I thought that this novel just could be the first YA piece that I've ever really liked.
I'll say up front that, having read very little (almost no) YA in the past, I really can't speak to its genre conventions. To that end, I'm not certain how much of what bothered me about this book falls within those conventions. The romantic sub-plot, the strong teenage characters coming of age to grab their own destiny...all felt forced to me, but I suspect that this is simply because I am not familiar with how YA works, so I really can't speak against them based on my limited knowledge.
What was certainly disappointing to me was the fact that Natasha's character is really never permitted to shine in the way that she has the potential to do. To the contrary, the character feels flat and stereotypical throughout. There's a danger of this anytime a major character is written exclusively through the eyes of a different protagonist, so, to Stohl's credit, she was attempting a task that can be nearly insurmountable (I'm not sure I've seen it done well since Ian Fleming wrote the "Spy Who Loved Me"). Still, more care could have been taken.
That care likely could have began with not weaving a such a wildly adventurous and non-canonical integration of our protagonist, Ava, into the Black Widow's life. Her relationship to Natasha Romanoff is so different as to almost feel like a retcon, or at least is connected to a part of the Black Widow's history that I have never read (and I've read a lot). Part of this has to do with weaving in characters from the Avengers films, and I'm not really certain if Stohl was attempting to capture the film universe of the comic book universe. Perhaps a retcon was exactly the intention here, but, if so, I missed it.
Stohl's prose is succinct, at times too staccato, especially when there is action or combat. Of course, this is both a superhero adventure and a spy thriller, so there is plenty of action and combat, and those moments are difficult to digest, spinning out of control in my mind's eye as I attempt to follow what's occurring. Again, there's no easy way to write these sequences, but, when done well, they're normally more cohesive than this.
Overall, I was very underwhelmed by this book, primarily because I feel like more care was taken with Ava than with Natasha Romanoff, when both characters deserved equally considerate handling. The idea is a really good one, and I would be fascinated to see Natasha Romanoff through another character's eyes, if only the idea were executed better.
Or, perhaps not in the YA genre. But that's just me. ...more
Everyone seems to have left glowing reviews for this, but I found it to be quite underwhelming, especially considering the level of writing we're usedEveryone seems to have left glowing reviews for this, but I found it to be quite underwhelming, especially considering the level of writing we're used to seeing from Geoff Johns. Aquaman's ridicule by the public seems like a forced plot point, almost incidental even though it is meant to drive the story. We're introduced to a nameless, generic foe that is no real test for any hero, and are to believe that Aquaman is incredible for facing it. The explanations of Aquaman's past should leave us with a sense of who he is, but I feel as though I've barely been introduced to the character at the conclusion of this volume. Mera could have added a great deal to the story, but her character falls flat and feels like a pressured new version of Wonder Woman.
I wanted to be impressed by this, and the first few pages seemed to hold much promise. The potential was never realized. I wonder if perhaps poor editorial decisions squashed Johns craft? In any case, this is the least compelling offering from the first New 52 story arcs. ...more
This graphic novel collects the first 7 issues of this story arc, which is one that I haven't managed to follow in the New 52. I knew of it's implicatThis graphic novel collects the first 7 issues of this story arc, which is one that I haven't managed to follow in the New 52. I knew of it's implications, of course...it's difficult to read anything current in the DC Universe and not know of this romance of titans, but I wanted to finally delve into the story and see for myself.
First, I'll say that I've read reviews and heard strong opinions on whether or not this is sensationalist storytelling on DC's part to put Superman and Wonder Woman together as a couple. I also have reservations about this, but I'm not reviewing that editorial decision. That is what it is, and there's no point in reading any review of this collection if you disagree with the plot so entirely.
That said, the writing in these issues is strong. I really haven't read Soule's work until this, and I'm impressed with the way he crafts his dialogue. These are two of the most primary characters in the DC Universe...no small undertaking to handle on the page, and he does so deftly. What is actually quite fascinating about the romantic concept here is how both characters are developed in ways that we didn't see coming. Superman's desire to maintain a dual identity is as much for the protection of his emotional well being as it is for the protection of those he loves here...and Wonder Woman sees this as a weakness that she has difficulty reconciling. Both struggle to balance the selflessness of their role to protect their world with the very human selfishness of wanting to be happy with someone else. In doing so, Soule is wrestling with the role of the hero, the failings that come from the humanity of the heroes viewed by the public as gods among us, and the heightened repercussions of their choices. As Wonder Woman frets over the tragedy that inevitably befalls the hero, Batman chastises Superman:
"You two have a spat, and the world burns? How can you not be aware of the stakes of what you're doing?"
I appreciate how Wonder Woman, particularly, is handled in this collection. After her strong start in the New 52, I was worried that she would be overly romanticized or weakened here. I'm glad that quite the opposite is true. We feel her trepidation and insecurities surrounding their relationship...the vulnerabilities that any of us have when being involved with someone. Yet, she is still the adept warrior who needs no help from Superman, and in fact arrives to save him in a critical moment. Both are recognized as the most powerful heroes on the planet, a just due that is all too easily missed when writing Wonder Woman.
I can also say that, for the first time, I felt that I truly heard Diana's voice in Soule's writing.
Unfortunately, what Soule does so beautifully with dialogue and character development, he misses in overall plot. The storyline of battling escaped Kryptonians bent of world destruction is merely a forgettable vehicle with which to convey the larger issues presented here, and the climactic fight scene feels dismissive and bordering on unbelievable.
I was a fan of Daniel's artwork in the Justice League, and he performs just as well here for the most part. He's a bit more inconsistent in these pages, however, particularly in facial expressions, which leave especially our protagonists looking oddly unfamiliar in several panels.
I respect what DC's trying to do here, and the way in which they are exploring the characters. There is quite a bit within these pages that is thought provoking, and indicative of the angst with which we see heroes in the "real world" today. I wish that a more thorough plot had been used to convey this adventure, as the final pages fell quite flat and were disappointing. Overall, this concept is off to a good start, but has much room to improve....more
The Black Widow has long been one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe. Before the world at large was introduced to her in Iron Man 2, I wThe Black Widow has long been one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe. Before the world at large was introduced to her in Iron Man 2, I was reading her adventures. I was thrilled to have her introduced into the cinematic canon because she's a strong female character, a hero of tragic origin with a darkness that brings an enormous amount of depth to her stories. Natasha Romanoff has been involved in many adventures within Marvel comics through the decades, playing an important part in various continuities. I hadn't read the Deadly Origin issues, though, and I was looking forward, as I always do, to reading anything Black Widow when I picked this collection up at my local bookstore.
This story alternates between a plot called the "Icepick Protocol" to kill everyone that Romanoff loves and hinging around the man who was a father figure to her, Ivan...and flashbacks to her past, from her origins as part of the Red Room through her involvement in the Civil War story arc. This is the retconned history for the Black Widow, in which biotechnological enhancements prolong her life substantially, and thus she has lived through a great deal. We see her husband, the Red Guardian, and other interesting glimpses into the Widow's past that has crafted her into the strong and fractured character that she is. The flashbacks seemed to be well-paced within the context of the rest of the story to me, but the dialogue seemed out of character in both present and past on many occasions. The sweep of the story is too broad for so confined a collection...we're simply covering too much of Romanoff's life because we have to see how it collides with present events. The present events are then reduced to a cacophony of violent confrontations that don't leave room for the sort of character evolution that I would hope to see in an origin story.
Then, there's the art.
Two different artists draw this collection: one the modern events, another the flashbacks. The flashback art by Leon is brilliant. The emotions of the characters carry far past the dialogue, and there are moments where I feel I know the Black Widow's character better based only on her facial expression or posture in tableau from these flashback sequences. Comparing this to the majority of the collection...the current events...is striking enough to be painful. In modern day, Romanoff looks as though she's seventeen rather than the woman she is, her apparent age completely incongruous with the skills she evidences in the fighting sequences. Which is sort of noticeable, as fighting sequences are really all we see in the present events.
Overall, I also find the events of the story a bit too steeped in the "off-camera" sex. Yes, the Widow is a product of the Red Room, but she has become so much more as a hero, and this just doesn't do her justice. I think the motivation of the writer was to paint Romanoff as the woman she's become, but this missed the mark entirely.
Deadly Origin's writing is, unfortunately, a lot of failing to do the character of the Black Widow justice. Combined with profoundly disappointing artwork for more than half of the collection, and this is a book that will likely gather dust on my shelf without ever being re-read. If you love the Black Widow, you'll want better....more
I knew next to nothing about steampunk, other than the fact that it attracts a devoted following and looks like a really interesting genre. I wasn't eI knew next to nothing about steampunk, other than the fact that it attracts a devoted following and looks like a really interesting genre. I wasn't even completely certain how attracted I would be once I truly explored it, but, finding the visual aesthetic appealing in the handful of films I've watched, and the conventions that some friends attend, I wanted to explore what steampunk was like on the printed page, how it played out in deeper story-telling. The Clockwork Dagger seemed a popular choice, so I decided to make it my entry point.
This is Beth Cato's first full-length novel, and we all know that first novels deserve a certain understanding in some areas. Many authors are still finding their voice with that first publication, and so some faults are to be expected. That said, I was impressed with how strongly our protagonist, Octavia Leander’s, voice came through. I could hear this character speaking clearly on the first page, the cadences and tone of her voice clear in my perception, and growing clearer with each chapter. I'm quite impressed with how Cato developed Leander through the course of these 200 + pages, and I felt that I had met a character that I truly knew by the time I closed the book. The other primary characters receive an equally just treatment..all are developed thoroughly and carefully. Occasionally, a piece of reflective or introspective dialogue felt forced, but this was rare, and ultimately never broke my suspension of disbelief. The greatest strength of Cato's writing in this debut is the care with which she permits her characters to come to life. This is accomplished in no small regard due to her handling of the language, which is clever and inventive, merging well a period piece and modern language as seems a requirement for this genre.
Second would be the world-building. This novel is as steampunk as they come. We're introduced to a nice balance of Victorian dialogue, whirring machinations and inventions, magical spells and curses, and a mystery playing out aboard a dirigible. I was surprised by the magical components of the book...surprised in a good way. It's just that I hadn't really known how much a part of steampunk that magic is, but there you have it...this was a part of my education. I’m actually surprised with the depth of complexity that Cato captures in this world, given that the novel is relatively concise in length, but every nuance of the political structure, the economic issues between nations, and an industrial revolution run amok in war are designed with each detail considered and completely working. The warring nations and corrupt leadership form a fascinating backdrop to the story, without becoming overly didactic in their metaphor.
What Cato tackles head-on in this work is the seeming conflict between faith and science.
Octavia Leander, you see, is a medician...a healer who understands the natural ways to heal that the earth provides, as well as possessing magical means of mending broken people. More than this, these magical abilities are derived from a religious faith, a faith in the Lady and her Tree. Legend holds that the Lady received her power after asking God for the ability to heal more people, and the medicians follower her order. Octavia is ridiculed by many who trust in the rapid new technological developments of the age, yet her abilities cannot be questioned. She is a gifted healer, perhaps the most gifted known in recent memory, and it is for this reason that she is hunted. Most simply end up accepting her abilities with some awe, while concluding that such a path is not for them, thus walking away and attempting to reconcile the visible effects of an unseen faith with the measurable, quantifiable and tactile world of technological advances around them. That reconciliation seems to occur on mostly a surface level, never delved into too deeply...just as in our culture today. I think that this faith in a more ancient knowledge is the thesis of the novel, and what I especially appreciate is that Cato handles it adeptly without ever leaving the reader groaning or resentful. She never develops this into any sort of theology. She is content with the imagery that she is presenting, and it does its job well.
There's a romantic sub-plot that the book could simply live without. Each development in this regard feels forced and un-natural, and, on the rare occasions in which I did feel that something was out of place, it was in those moments. That said, I have no interest (and barely any tolerance) for the romantic genre, so this could just be my own clouded perceptions, and I'm willing to own that.
The ending feels a bit...stretched...but not to a point in which I feel anything is lost. Simply, proportions of things seem to become very large and epic very quickly, an abrupt step from the heavily interpersonal plot that Cato has developed up to that point. I think that it would have worked better with a bit more transition, but, while trying to avoid spoilers, I’ll say that this could also be seen as a device to further her emphasis on the power of faith.
I expected steampunk to be a bit of escapism, as it has always felt a bit whimsical in my previous (brief) experiences. I certainly didn’t expect it to deal with something deeper and thought-provoking, but I was pleasantly surprised here. I’m certain that, if you’re already a fan, this is already on your list or on your shelf. If, like me, you’re just exploring what this whole thing is all about, then this is a good first read…the kind of novel that stays with for a bit after you’ve finished. I think Cato’s future works will get better, but I’m glad that I’ve met Octavia Leander....more
This is great book to keep your skills sharp. It assumes that you have a working knowledge of back-end development, so it's going to be over your headThis is great book to keep your skills sharp. It assumes that you have a working knowledge of back-end development, so it's going to be over your head if you're new to PHP. I particularly enjoyed the work with various MySQL techniques (prepared statements, etc.). Ullman provides great discussion of security considerations in e-commerce, and there's hands-on experience with PayPal, Authorize.net and (best of all) Stripe.
I disagree with some of Ullman's coding practices (personal preferences). My biggest complaint is that the template he uses for the second site built in the book is not web standards compliant. However, since the purpose of the book is not the front-end development, something needed to supplied, so this is a minor issue.
This is a worthwhile read for any developer working in the e-commerce space....more
This is an excellent primer on basic and intermediate functionality in Git. I found it especially useful, having worked first in Subversion and then fThis is an excellent primer on basic and intermediate functionality in Git. I found it especially useful, having worked first in Subversion and then finding myself in a collaborative environment that used Git, and needing to get up to speed quickly. ...more
I wasn't familiar with Stephanie Vaughn prior to hearing her story, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" on the New Yorker fiction podcast. The experience wasI wasn't familiar with Stephanie Vaughn prior to hearing her story, "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" on the New Yorker fiction podcast. The experience was one in which I remember where I was during the story, one in which I sat in my car after the commute from the office, unable to move until the story had completed. I remember sitting there, in that car, as Gemma looked out over the icy river after her father. "I was his eldest child, and he taught me what he knew," one of the closing lines of the story, still echoes around my head. I searched out the story that same evening, and purchased this collection simply because of it.
I think the reason that "Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog" caught me so by surprise, struck me so where I live, is because of the intricate, fragile relationship between father and daughter that the story portrays. I read it shortly after the birth of our daughter, and in the midst of attempting to imagine our future and the care with which I was attempting to craft my relationship with her from the beginning, this story was...shaking...to me as Vaughn so clearly painted each character through the other's eyes.
This collection is filled with just that...moments that are familiar to each of us in some capacity, not in their setting but in their events, capturing the one through the eyes of the other. I found myself examining many of the moments through which I have already traveled, and anticipating those through which I still must, looking to the other individuals that inhabit my own narrative with fresh perspective. The events that Vaughn captures are astounding in their normalcy, familiar in their commonality. There are no moments here in which I found myself closing the book to examine what the author meant. What Vaughn is doing, and what she is doing well, is placing each of us, either retroactively or predictively, into these situations through her characters and giving us the opportunity to explore ourselves.
Vaughn is following the same cast of characters here through various settings and stages of life. I immediately equated this with Salinger's Nine Stories, but don't, because, while parallels are easily drawn to the approach, there is nothing nearly as metaphysical going on in Vaughn's collection. It's absence is in no way a detractor. Vaughn's stories are complex but never overwhelming. The timbre of her language resonates with a uniqueness, her prose is concise but never succinct, and always original. Her wit is quick, leaving the reader with a smile but never quite laughing aloud. This is not a lengthy read at just under 200 pages, but you may find yourself spacing it out into a story per evening as I did for over a week. This is because, what I did find myself pondering after each...the relationships in my own life...was worth the time to digest.
I wasn't aware of Vaughn prior to that podcast. I'm certainly glad that has changed. Sweet Talk is a touching and sincere addition to your shelf that you will find quite necessary. ...more
That is perhaps what rings in my ears the most at the conclusion of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a heavy novel at just nThis is a bad land for gods.
That is perhaps what rings in my ears the most at the conclusion of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a heavy novel at just north of 400 pages that alternatively was either difficult to pick up or difficult to put down.
I had never experienced Gaiman in literary form before this book. I knew him from his comics writing, most notably The Sandman, and was curious as to his other writing. The title of this one arrested my attention, and it took me a bit to decipher what's going on within the pages.
I'll set the stage: Our protagonist, Shadow, is released from prison days early because his wife has been killed. He encounters a gentleman who wants to hire him as a sort of bodyguard while traveling to the funeral, and he agrees. He is then caught up in a brewing war...a war between the old gods, those of Norse, Roman, Greek pantheons as well as from various other traditions and countries...and the new gods, the gods of technology, of media, of all the things that America holds dear. Those are the gods that Americans have come to worship, and leave the old gods are fighting for their survival.
Yet...this is a bad land for gods.
It sounds gripping, right? And certainly, at the end, you're drawn into the climactic conflicts in true graphic novel style. The book takes a while to pick up momentum...I was over 150 pages in before I felt like I was really moving, and after that point it was very start-and-stop. I found the novel outright difficult to continue at times, and, at around 250 pages or so, I was forcing my way through only because I refuse, on principle, to stop reading a book that I have started. Now, while that sounds bad, I'll say also that the pacing is my only complaint about Gaiman's craft here. His narrative is clear and imaginative, his dialogue nothing short of brilliant at times. I'm perfectly willing to concede that the pacing problem was me, not the author, and his craft at painting these gods...these gods in our country...is original, resourceful, and thought-provoking. Gaiman weaves in ancient religious traditions throughout the novel that I found myself wishing I knew more of, and I'm left with the feeling that these were frequently over my head.
So, my disappointment in the novel has nothing to do with Gaiman's skill as a writer. What gives me pause is the discontinuity is what the novel says, the commentary (if I may over-use that word) that it makes. America is, in fact, a bad land for gods, as Gaiman states. It is a country of mis-matched origins, of disconnected histories woven into one, each bringing with it its own beliefs and traditions that have melded in a collision with a lack of history. Thus, traditions have been forgotten, and, in the rush of modern life, former religions are left by the wayside, discarded as futile and ancient, while new religions of business and technology replace them. Yet, even these religions hold little power, and are quickly forgotten as new religions are spun to take their places. And so, we reap the fruits of a shallow existence, of one without history or tradition or belief in anything other than what is most convenient. This is the world that Gaiman gives us in American Gods, and this is the critique that I find most true and lasting. And, in fact, had it been left there, I think that this would have been an outstanding novel because, agree with the statement or not, it is a powerful statement to make.
This, however, is merely (if I can apply that descriptor) the foundation for Gaiman to explore the concept and power of worship. The gods are left with power only when they are worshipped. The gods worshipped the most have the most power. As the protagonist tells us, human beings believe...it's what we do, and thus we will believe in something, however shallow that something is as the former things fade into the background.
Is it, then this scattershot belief that makes this such a bad land for gods?
Again, that question is worth unpacking, and is enough for two novels. I applaud Gaiman for letting this circulate through his story.
Then, however...then comes the excessively didactic proclamation that the gods are, in fact, created by man, and only have power when man worships them...that man has not accepted responsibility for his inventions of belief, which now run amok and do damage while left unattended, eventually withering and dying away, impotent and powerless when forgotten. The breadth of Gaiman's closure here seems to sweep all religions into this net, no faiths excluded, thus diminishing the very metaphysical statement that he makes earlier. Man, then, is the being with all the power, here, and the only true worship is self-worship...a remarkably shallow statement that leaves the reader empty after so much promise.
And yet...Gaiman hints at surprisingly redemptive moments through human belief. Shadow's relating of the account of the thieves hanging on either side of Christ during the crucifixion, and reminding that the thieves should perhaps be remembered because perhaps they know spiritual realities more than many others, is quick, simple, and wants to be powerful. Later, the gods tell Shadow that it didn't matter that he didn't believe in them, because they believed in him...both stories of faith in something larger that ourselves that can salvage us despite our inability to do anything in our own favor. Is this fundamental state of the human condition also manufactured, left empty as it relies only on gods that we have created and are thus less than are we? Perhaps then, we are sacrifical to ourselves, or to our own creations, as would seem to be the case when Shadow hangs on the tree in the final chapters, an attempt at a Christological metaphor so obvious and so dysfunctional that I couldn't have handled anything more glaring and in our face than it was.
I had read and heard much praise about this novel and, while certainly well-written, it left me profoundly disappointed in it's lack of coherency and connectivity. Gaiman's prose adeptly proclaims one thing, only to contradict it later. Perhaps that's the point, and I'm missing something larger here, but I expected more of Gaiman. This novel is worth exploring...sort of. If your curiosity isn't nagging you to read it, though, I can't say that you'll be happy it's on your shelf....more