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message 1: by Mike (last edited Jan 01, 2013 01:18PM) (new)

Mike (erasmus) Goals: By the end of 2012, I will have met all of my reading goals listed below. In addition to fulfilling the list of goals, I must post a short review on each book I complete. Also in 2012, I am only allowed to be reading one fiction book and one non-fiction book at any one time.

100 Total Books in 2012

50 Fiction Books (30 that I own as of January 1st) - Must Include:
-10 Books on 1001 Before You Die Book List
-5 Books on Modern Library Top 100
-5 Rereads from my favorites list
-6 Series to Finish or Catch Up
-6 Epic Reads (800 Page Minimum)

50 Non-Fiction Books (30 that I own as of January 1st) - Must Include:
-10 History Books on European History
-4 History Books on the American Colonial Era
-6 History Books on the American Revolutionary Era
-4 History Books on the American Antebellum Era
-4 History Books on the American Civil War Era
-4 History Books on the American Gilded Age Era
-4 History Books on the World War Era
-4 History Books on the Cold War Era

100 Book Challenge (* After Author's Name Indicates Ownership as of January 1st)

1. The Confessor by Daniel Silva* (Fiction - 1/2/12)
2. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad* (Fiction - 1/5/12)
3. Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne* (Non-Fiction - 1/6/12)
4. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde* (Fiction - 1/12/12)
5. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde* (Fiction - 1/15/12)
6. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings* (Non-Fiction - 2/11/12)
7. Death in the Haymarket by James Green* (Non-Fiction - 2/12/12)
8. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson * (Fiction - 2/15/12)
9. Washington's Secret War by Thomas Fleming* (Non-Fiction - 2/18/12)
10. Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll* (Non-Fiction - 3/1/12)
11. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (Non-Fiction - 3/15/12)
12. The Confusion by Neal Stephenson* (Fiction - 3/17/12)
13. Iron Lake by William Kent Kreuger* (Fiction - 3/19/12)
14. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok* (Fiction 4/1/12)
15. A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin* (Fiction 4/20/12)
16. Catilina's Riddle by Steven Saylor* (Fiction 4/28/12)
17. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks* (Fiction 5/5/12)
18. The Art of War by Sun Tzu* (Non-Fiction 5/25/12)
19. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow* (Non-Fiction 5/26/12)
20. The Greatest Day in History by Nicholas Best* (Non-Fiction 6/1/12)
21. Napoleon's Pyramids by William Dietrich* (Fiction 6/3/12)
22. Crescent Dawn by Clive Cussler (Fiction 6/10/12)
23. The Sun Over Breda by Arturo Perez-Reverte* (Fiction 6/13/12)
24. The King's Gold by Arturo Perez-Reverte* (Fiction 6/16/12)
25. Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris* (Non-Fiction 6/22/12)
26. The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol 1 by Edward Gibbon (Non-Fiction 6/23/12)
27. Vagabond by Bernard Cornwell* (Fiction 6/25/12)
28. Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian Toll (Non-Fiction 6/27/12)
29. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley* (Fiction 6/29/12)
30. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglas* (Non-Fiction 6/30/12)
31. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse* (Fiction 7/1/12)
32. A Death In Vienna by Daniel Silva (Fiction 7/3/12)
33. The Desert Spear by Peter Brett* (Fiction 7/19/12)
34. Almost a Miracle by John Ferling* (Non-Fiction 7/28/12)
35. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (Non-Fiction 7/29/12)
36. Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century by Tony Judt (Non-Fiction 8/6/12)
37. London Bridges by James Patterson (Fiction 8/9/12)
38. Mary, Mary by James Patterson (Fiction 8/10/12)
39. Cross by James Patterson (Fiction 8/11/12)
40. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte* (Fiction 8/13/12)
41. Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris* (Non-Fiction 8/24/12)
42. The First World War by John Keegan* (Non-Fiction 9/1/12)
43. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America by Gary Wills (Non-Fiction 9/2/12)
44. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (Fiction 9/8/12)
45. Prince Of Fire by Daniel Silva (Fiction 9/15/12)
46. Boundary Waters by William Kent Kreuger (Fiction 9/22/12)
47. Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg* (Non-Fiction 10/30/12)
48. For a Few Demons More by Kim Harrison* (Fiction 11/4/12)
49. The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman (Non-Fiction 11/10/12)
50. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson (Fiction 11/17/12)
51. Legend by David Gemmell* (Fiction 11/23/12)
52. The Messenger by Daniel Silva (Fiction 11/26/12)
53. The Man Who Saved the Union by H.W. Brands (Non-Fiction 12/10/12)
54. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (Fiction - 12/15/12)
55. My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira* (Fiction 12/21/12)
56. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Fischer * (Non-Ficion - 12/23/12)
57. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy* (Fiction 12/30/12)
58. 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart (Non-Fiction - 12/31/12)

1001 Before You Die

1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
4. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
6. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
7. Legend by David Gemmell
8. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
9. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Modern Library Top 100

1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Personal Rereads of Favorites

1. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

Series to Finish or Catch Up (Title will be crossed out when finished)

1. Return of the King by Tolkien (Lord of the Rings)
2. Dance of Dragons by Martin (Game of Thrones)
3. The Confusion by Stephenson (Baroque Cycle)
4. The System of the World by Stephenson (Baroque Cycle)
5. The Glorious Cause by Shaara (Revolution)
6. The Wise Man's Fear by Rothfuss (Kingkiller Chronicles)

Epic Books

1. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
2. The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
3. A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin
4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

European History

1. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
2. The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol 1 by Edward Gibbon
3. Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century by Tony Judt
4. The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman

American Colonial Period

1. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer

American Revolutionary Period

1. Washington's Secret War by Thomas Fleming
2. Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll
3. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
4. Almost a Miracle by John Ferling
5. Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg

American Antebellum Period

1. Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne
2. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

American Civil War Period

1. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America by Gary Wills
2. The Man Who Saved the Union by H.W. Brands
3. 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart

American Gilded Age Period

1. Death in the Haymarket by James Green
2. Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
3. Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

World Wars Period

1. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings
2. The Greatest Day in History by Nicholas Best
3. Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian Toll
4. The First World War by John Keegan

Cold War Period


Running Tally Owned (as of January 1, 2012)

Fiction: 23
Non-Fiction: 15

Total: 38

Running Tally Read

Fiction: 34
Non-Fiction: 24

Total: 58

message 2: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) The Confessor by Daniel Silva
Completed on January 2, 2012
Rating 4/5

Review: This was the third book I have read in the Gabriel Allon series and it was easily my favorite. The story was a page-turner and kept me wanting to find out what was coming next. This particular story involves the Catholic Church and its relationship with Germany during the Holocaust period in WWII. Rather than just portray the Church as full of bad guys, Silva did a good job of creating characters both good and bad throughout the novel.

I am now hooked on this series and look forward to future books.

message 3: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Completed on January 5, 2012
Rating 2/5

Review: One word to describe this book - woof. It isn't a story as much as an author's attempt to use metaphors and colorful language to make a point in 100 pages that could have been made in half of that. The basics of the book is that a man is telling his story of a trip to Africa for a company and he meets a white man who is kind of worshiped by the ignorant black people.

This is not a page turner, but I am glad I read it because it is a classic due to the time period in which it was written. Will I read it again? Probably not. But as a person who studies and teaches history, it was important to get through at least once. As literature, I was not fan.

message 4: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne
Completed on January 6, 2012
Rating 3/5

Review: Solid book of history that details the history of the Comanche Indian Tribe. The cover of the book is a bit deceiving as the reader is led to believe that the story will focus on Quanah Parker. The story covers the entire history of the Comanche people, and the story of Parker is only discusses at length more than two-thirds of the way through the book.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book that trace the culture of the Comanche and the influence that geography had on their lifestyle. Fascinating information about their use of horses, buffalo, and the environment they lived in. As a history teacher, I will be using much of the information I learned in my classes.

My issues with the book focus on two areas. First, the middle third of the book, while tracing the history chronologically, seems to cover the same story over and over again of fighting, retreating, and horrific stories of torture and killings. Second, the author seems to try and both excuse and persecute the torture and killings of both the Comanche and the white settlers. I am not sure how else the author could have played the controversy, but I felt like he hedged his bets one too many times.

message 5: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
Completed on January 12, 2012
Rating 3/5

Review: A fun escapist read that continues the story of Thursday Next. Like in the first book of the series, Thursday jumps in and out of books, in and out of the past, and is never stressed out by any of the incredibly random events. This book is meant to be fun and there is a lot of random humor from the names of characters (Schitt-Hawse) to the actions of favorite classic literary characters like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. I enjoyed the book and will certainly be reading the final two in the series.

message 6: by Mike (last edited Jan 16, 2012 09:01AM) (new)

Mike (erasmus) The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Completed on January 15, 2012
Rating 4/5

Review: Surprisingly good read of a classic that I had known little about. The only thing I knew about the story came from the terrible movie "A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" where Dorian Gray is one of the characters. I had higher hopes for the book and I was happy by the time I finished.

The language used by Wilde in telling this story is beautiful. I enjoyed his writing style and his ability to create characters that expound on life and its virtues and flaws. To see the personal character of Gray go from purely good to evil is a fascinating experience. To read about the influence of both good and evil characters on his development is also fun.

Like many classics, I found that the story itself moved along at a very slow pace. It was more about the conversations and thoughts of the characters than moving the plot along. However, I enjoyed the read and recommend it to all fans of literature.

message 7: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings
Completed on February 11, 2012
Rating 5/5

Review: A fantastic book outlining the events of World War II from 1939-1945! What makes this book different from other surveys of the War was that it told through the perspective of the participants. We read endless quotes and thoughts from leaders, soldiers, civilians; everyone and anyone who was impacted by the war. Hastings has an exciting writing style and I thought he presented the important details of the war in a way that was necessary and informative, but not overwhelming. I particularly enjoyed the parts of the book that dealt with the Asian theater of the war.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys history. Be prepared for a long read, but one that you should enjoy from start to finish.

message 8: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Death in the Haymarket by James Green
Completed on February 12, 2012
Rating 3/5

Review: A decent book about the labor movement in Chicago in the 1870s and 1880s. The main story focuses on the famous Haymarket incident where dynamite (or was it?) was thrown into a crowd of policemen who were trying to break up what had been a peaceful crowd of demonstrators. The last 100 pages of the book that focus on the incident and resulting court case were the most interesting by far. I felt like the book could have been cut in half and told this story. The first half of the book traces the labor movement in the years leading up to the bombing. Some of this was interesting, but it seemed to be a whole history of rinse and repeat and it was tough reading after a while. I don't think it helped that labor history is probably what I am least interest in.

Overall I am glad I read the book because it is a period of history I know the least about. I would recommend the book to history lovers, but only if you enjoy this time period or labor history.

message 9: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
Completed on February 15, 2012
Rating 5/5

Review: This is the third time I have read this book, and it has become one of my favorites. As most other reviewers have noted, this is a very difficult book to review and categorize. I will keep this review short to say that I see it as a work of historical fiction, with a focus on the politics of England and France of the 1680s and the science/natural philosophy of the later stages of the Scientific Revolution. I think I enjoyed this book much more than the first two times I read it because at this point, I have a much great knowledge of the historical characters involved. I am going to continue on and read the next two books in order as most reviews say this only gets better.

I will close by saying that although this is a personal favorite, I could see how people might hate the book, and I would have a hard time recommending this to anyone who did not have a familiarity with the time period, and who did not like getting bogged down in details that do not move the plot forward in a story. I enjoyed these parts of the story, but could see how many may not.

message 10: by Mike (last edited Feb 19, 2012 04:28AM) (new)

Mike (erasmus) Washington's Secret War by Thomas Fleming
Completed on February 18, 2012
Rating 3/5

Review: I read almost all of this book in one day and I enjoyed reading about the events of Valley Forge that I was not terribly familiar with. The parts on Baron Von Steuben were my favorite. I knew that he was not what he presented himself to be when he arrived here, but I did not realize how impressed everyone, even those outside of Valley Forge, was with the work that Von Steuben did with the Continental Army.

A majority of the book focuses on the political intrigues between Generals (Washington, Gates, Lee) and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia/York. I have read a lot about the Revolutionary War, and I had heard about Conway and how Gates wanted a greater position of power, but this book had the feeling that the author was reaching a bit. He seemed to put much greater emphasis on specific quotes and writings of some of the historical figures than other serious historians have done. One part of the writing style that irked me a bit that the author used repeatedly was, "this historian believes..." For some reason it bothered me and said to me, the reader, that while the author felt he was taking a stand, I felt that he was trying to make a place for himself in the historical scholarship.

message 11: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll
Completed on March 1, 2012
Rating 2.5/5

Review: I would give this book 2.5 stars if possible. The book was what I would call a very general overview of the the life of Sam Adams. I enjoyed parts of it, especially the latter parts of the book that covered Adams' life in the Continental Congress and his role in the Legislature and Executive branches of the Massachusetts Government.

My problems with this book were a few:

1. The author references too many other historians when making historical points. It felt like more of a research paper at times than the writings of an historian making his own judgements and reflections.

2. There were too many quotes. I enjoy a narrative history with quotes mixed in, but there were far too many quotes from Adams about his religious views for example.

3. It was too short. There were many places, especially the post Revolutionary War period, where we learn about what is going on in history with little of Adams' role or thoughts on the matter. The author admits toward the end of the book that there is very little writing of Adams compared to the other founders, but I still expected more from this book considering how much has been written on this period.

message 12: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
Completed on March 15, 2012
Rating 5/5

Review: Instant classic! What a fantastic book about the life of Catherine the Great. Massie is an historical writer of the highest order and this book truly meets the cliche that it reads like a novel. Massie is a master story-teller and this really was a book that was hard to put down. He manages the feat of examining, in detail (but not bogging the story down in it) Catherine's dealings with love, war, art, economics, politics, philosophy, etc... all aspects of her life are discussed. I also really enjoy how Massie takes the time to give a detailed yet concise background of the major characters that come in and out of Catherine's life. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in Russian history or simply a great read.

message 13: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
Completed on March 17, 2012
Rating 5/5

Review: A captivating follow up to Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. I greatly enjoyed this book and the entire world created by Stephenson. This book continues the story of Jack Shaftoe and Eliza, but introduces many more characters from places all over the world. The plot moves forward quite a bit more than the first novel, and takes us on an adventure literally around the world. I particularly enjoy putting myself in the various cultures of the late 17th century and there were many times I was lost in my thoughts about what it was like to live at that time.

As always, the writing is clever, witty, and humorous and I enjoy the conversations between characters. As I said after reviewing the first book in the series, I would still have a hard time recommending this book to anyone who does not have a love of the historical period. This is not historical fiction in the traditional sense. If you do not have an understanding of the political happenings of the time, I do not see how you could follow the story.

Looking forward to the third and final book. Great stuff!

message 14: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
Completed on March 19, 2012
Rating 4/5

Review: Surpisingly good book that traces murders and goings-on in a small town in upper Minnesota. I very much enjoyed the main character of Cork who was a former sheriff going through a separation and divorce from his wife. I enjoyed the character development and felt the pains and joys he went through.

The plot is typical of mystery novels and it was pretty easy to figure out who the bad guy was. I enjoyed this more for how the story was told than any surprise type of ending.

There were a couple of places where you had suspend belief as a reader. Nothing fantastical, but the fact that characters keep going back and sneaking around in places and keep getting away with it stretches the imagination. But I didn't care - this was not mean to be great literature.

Good stuff - want to read the next one in the series.

message 15: by Mike (last edited Apr 20, 2012 09:38AM) (new)

Mike (erasmus) Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Completed on April 1, 2012
Rating 4/5

Review: I read this book in one day for my Teaching American History Grant Program. I very much enjoyed this read - much more so than I thought I would. The book tells the story about Kim Chang and her Ma who come to New York City from Hong Kong in the 1970s. Kim was in the 6th grade and the story talks about her trials and successes adapting to her new country socially, culturally, and economically. This is the type of book I would want my Republican friends to read as it tells the real story of immigration. It is impossible to imagine what it must be like to come to a brand new country, work as hard as you possibly can just to survive, and have little to no hope of moving up in the world. This book challenges the American dream myth and does so in a realistic way. I could not help but root for Kim at all parts of the story.

What makes the book really work for me is that it does not just follow the "everything comes out ok in the end" philosophy that most books follow. The story was raw and realistic. Recommended to all.

message 16: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Completed on April 20, 2012
Rating 5/5

Review: Well - that took a long time. Well worth the time put into it, and I am loving the entire series. There is not much that can be said about this book that hasn't already been said by hundreds of others. The things I liked were the same things in the previous books. The characters are varied, they each make hard decisions that are not always black and white, and the story moves along (although at a slow pace considering that most of this book mirrored the timeline of the previous book).

My only issue with this book at all is that it really is difficult to keep up with all of the characters. If my wife was not as far along as me with this series, I would be lost with no one to ask about "who is this character again?" I think it would have been easier to keep up with it if it hadn't been so long between the books.

Looking forward to the next book.

message 17: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Catilina's Riddle by Steven Saylor
Completed on April 28, 2012
Rating 4/5

Review: Another solid read in the Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor. This book tells the story of the rebellion of Catilina during the age of Cicero. Like the first two books in the series, this one involved Gordianus the Finder and a mystery involving dead people. The difference from previous books is that the mystery is sort of the story created to tell the real story of Catilina's rebellion. Must of the middle part of the book is speeches given by Cicero and by Catilina, and Saylor explains in his note at the end that he took the speeches from history.

In terms of the plot and the story, it did seem to slow down at times because of the long texts of the speeches. As a history person, I enjoyed them immensely. However, it a person is coming to this as more of a fan of literature and mystery novels, I imagine they would not enjoy the story as much as the first two in the series.

I will be reading the rest of this series over time. Great stuff!

message 18: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Completed on May 5, 2012
Rating: 3.5/5

Review: A fun read about what the world might look like following a massive zombie outbreak that is eventually controlled. I enjoyed reading about the various challenges and possibilities of what the world would have faced in a zombie outbreak. It was written in a serious way, but not too serious and that kept it fun.

The story was told as a series of interviews, which made it possible to tell the story from places around the world, but took away from the story for me as there was no character development. I know this was done by the author as a way to tell the story, but for me it made things drag on a bit more than I thought they needed to.

3.5 stars if I could do that. A fun read and I am interested to see how the movie will be put together when it comes out in a couple of years.

message 19: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Completed on May 25, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Review: A very quick read of a classic. I had always been meaning to get around to this book, and I did not realize how short it was. The version I have contains more commentary than the actual writing, and I did not bother with the commentary.

The book is basically a series of maxims that describe how to lead as a general at war. I think its appeal is universal, and many of the ideas can be applied as strategic thinking in other aspects of life. I don't think it was all that profound, but then again, its ideas have been used for centuries. It was nice to be able to read where a lot of them came from. ]

message 20: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Completed on May 27, 2012
Rating: 5/5

Review: Another top book from Ron Chernow. This has joined my favorites list alongside Chernow's Hamilton and McCullough's Adams. Outstanding book about the Father of our nation, George Washington.

I love Chernow's writing style. He does such a great job of blending the primary source material with the history of the time, all the while mixing in his own take on things without being overbearing. I like how he does not excuse the flaws of his subjects. He rightly takes Washington to task for his views and behaviors in areas like slavery and the treatment of his employees. However, he brings to life the marble figure of Washington and shows us the man behind the legend. There is not much I can say that has not already been said, but overall I enjoyed this book from start to finish. It is hard not to love what Washington did for this country after reading this book. Great time to finish it - during Memorial Day Weekend.

message 21: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) The Greatest Day in History by Nicholas Best
Completed on June 1, 2012
Rating: 2/5

Review: A quick read that takes us through the final week of World War I. Off the top, that statement feels odd since the title of the book would make you believe that that book would be about the find day and not the final week of the Great War.

The book is written in a way that I never warmed to. It tells the story through the eyes of dozens of people from every country involved. However, each person gets a page or two, a simple glimpse in time during the particular day the chapter represents. The story never gained any traction for me since it was set up in such a choppy manner. I wasn't sure I would like it at all, except that I did find some of the stories interesting and I really enjoyed the brief sections on the Kaiser and how he spent the final days of the war. However, I would have loved entire chapter on just this fact.

My final complaint is that there are no end notes used in this book. There is only a bibliography. That bugs me because there are many quotes used throughout the story. I do not think that the author took any liberties and I am confident that his research was superb, but it feels like that this book could have gone more in depth at every level.

message 22: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Napoleon's Pyramids by William Dietrich
Completed on June 3, 2012
Rating: 2/5

Review: This book just did not grab me like I thought it would. The story follows the American Ethan Gage from France to Egypt during the Napoleonic Wars where he meets all the important people from Napoleon to Nelson. I thought the story tried to be too many different things. It tried to be smart with mathematics and historical conspiracy, it tried to be funny, it tried to be suspenseful, and it tried to be an adventure story all at the same time. I never really warmed up to any parts of it.

I simply felt that the story had too many convenient happenings, and that the main character's ability to get into and out of tough spots was simply beyond belief. Also, the main point of the story is Gage's chasing down the myster of a medallion he obtains in the opening chapter, but I didn't feel that the reader could connect with the mystery in the way that say Dan Brown is able to do. Anyway, disappointing, but not a terrible book. I imagine others may enjoy it more than I did.

message 23: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Crescent Dawn by Clive Cussler
Completed on June 10, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: Another solid Dirk Pitt book by Clive Cussler. Every one of is books is pretty much exactly the same thing, but I enjoy them even knowing that. It is not great literature, and the characters are very much stereotypes, but to me, that is what makes it enjoyable. One of my favorite lines goes something like this - "For most men, this situation would lead to panic. But Dirk Pitt is not like most men." I mean, come on. But, again, these types of good guys win and are cool under press stories is what I am looking for in Cussler and he delivered.

I also want to mention how I always enjoy the history dimension to each of the novels. I like how his books open up with a mystery from history, and even though it is usually farfetched, I still like the historical references.

message 24: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) The Sun Over Breda by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Completed on June 13, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: Another solid offering from Perez-Reverte. This is the third in the series about Captain Alatriste. This book tells the story of the battle at Breda, and it is very simple in its telling. There is no real drama, and we know the outcome for the main characters and the Spanish. What makes the story interesting is to read about the soldiers and Spanish army of the time. How they dressed, how they talked, how they placed a high importance on honor, and all the things that go along with the history of the period are what make the story interesting. It was not a page turner, and I do not think anyone that does not have an interest in 17th century European history would enjoy this.

I will continue the series because I enjoy the writing style for the most part. I think I would like to try another Perez-Reverte book outside of the series sometimes soon.

message 25: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) The King's Gold by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Completed on June 16, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: Another quick read in the Captain Alatriste series. This story revolves around our main character being hired to put together a crew to board a ship and steal its gold. I felt the same way about this book as I did about the last couple in the series. The actual plot of the novel is very short and there is no dramatic anticipation whatsoever. The history and the descriptions of the time are great for a person who enjoys history. If I could break it down, I would give the story itself 2 stars because of the lack of excitement, and give the history of the time period 4 stars. The 3 star rating splits the difference.

message 26: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
Completed on June 22, 2012
Rating: 5/5

Review: Really, really great book. I enjoyed this as much as the first in the trilogy by Morris about the life of Teddy Roosevelt. What a fascinating figure in history. I very much admire TR's ability to plow ahead with what he felt was right no matter what. His ability to convince others to take his side on issues was amazing. His personality is one I feel we need back in politics today. While he was not a perfect human being by any stretch, I feel that he certainly performed with the moral high ground as President.

I am excited to read the third and final book about TR in this series. He has easily become one of my favorite historical people, and I would recommend this book to any lover of history or anyone who wants to read a really great narrative.

message 27: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol 1 by Edward Gibbon
Completed on June 23, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: That was a beast of a book. I had always wanted to read this book and the other volumes because I think it is the type of book that educated people should read. I read it in chunks throughout the spring school year and finished it after a couple of hours of heavy reading at the start of summer vacation.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book much better than the later chapters. It is very in depth, and seemed to go back and forth a lot when talking about people. I consider myself to be a serious reader, but I had a very hard time staying focused while reading this book. I found my mind wandering often and I had to make a conscious effort to return my thoughts to the material.

I think I would have enjoyed this more if I had a better background in Roman history. I am trying to read more widely in Roman history, but this was likely not the best place to start. I will be reading the other six volumes in the series, but probably not for some time.

message 28: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Vagabond by Bernard Cornwell
Completed on June 25, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: Another solid book by Cornwell. This is Cornwell's classic style of good guys who do bad things (but it doesn't bother you), fall in love with the pretty girls, and bad guys who are really bad and who are easy to hate. What prevented this book from the four stars for me was that I felt it dragged big time in the middle. Also, as this is the Grail Quest Series, I would expect a bit more of the focus to truly be on the Grail. It is talked about quite a bit, but never in a way that, for me at least, it could truly be a magical item. It is always just understood that it is a chase for something that couldn't possibly be the miracle everyone wants or hopes it to be. Anyway - will read the third and final installment in the series at some point.

message 29: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 by Ian Toll
Completed on June 27, 2012
Rating: 5/5

Review: This is exactly how all history books should be written. I was a big fan of Ian Toll's earlier book Six Frigates, and was very excited to read his new offering. This book covers the first two years of the War in the Pacific, but it is so much more than that. Outside of the military history, Toll goes in depth to look at the attitudes toward war, politics, colonialism, the Navy, etc... for both sides. I found the entire read fascinating. The last great chapter of the book covers the battle at Midway, and I found it to be detailed yet written by an exceptional storyteller. He wrote the story in a way that made following the battle easy and understanding the decisions possible. I cannot rave enough about this book.

I had read rumors that this would be the first of two or three books by Toll on the Pacific War. I hope that is true and am excited to read any future books by the author.

message 30: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Completed on June 29, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Review: This book was not what I expected at all. I have seen various television and movie productions of Frankenstein, and none of them are accurate to the story at all outside of the creation of a "monster" out of dead human parts. The course of the story was very unexpected, and there is not nearly as much sympathy for the monster as I would have expected going into the book. The intellectual side of me very much enjoyed this book as it brings up many good philosophical questions about the meaning of life. It also even has a hint of science fiction in the sense that it looks the question of how would a creature such as this develop into an intelligent being.

I am glad I read this and am surprised that it took me so long to get to it. Recommended for all.

message 31: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Completed on June 30, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Review: This is one of those books I should have read years ago as a history teacher. I have read excerpts of this and many other slave narratives like it, but I enjoyed this read. Having a good background in the history of the time period, there is nothing new here for me and his story mirrors those of many others. The obvious exception to that would be how he spent his life after he gained his freedom, but this story does not cover that time period.

I imagine that this book had a great impact at the time it was published. Douglass was such a large presence in American politics and abolitionist circles. This book is a great introduction to his story and I would recommend it to any students of history.

message 32: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Completed on July 1, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: I am not really sure how to rate this book. As a story or novel, it was really nothing special at all. It was more of a parable than anything else. I did enjoy the message, but as a reader, I knew exactly how it was going to work out. Simply put, I am glad I read it because it did make me think about how I view myself and the things that I value. However, it did not have any "wow" factor and overall I would say - meh.

message 33: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) A Death In Vienna by Daniel Silva
Completed on July 3, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Review: A great book by Daniel Silva. Easily my favorite so far in the Gabriel Allon series. This book is basically about hunting down a Nazi SS officer who is alive and thriving in Austria in our current day. The parts of the book that really stick out to the reader are the flashbacks to the World War II period and the suffering that some of the Jewish people had to go through as a part of the "Final Solution." Very well done. I enjoyed it so much I am going to read more on World War II and will likely not wait to buy the next book in the series.

message 34: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) The Desert Spear by Peter Brett
Completed on July 19, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Review: This was a solid sequel to The Warded Man - both books I really enjoyed. This book is a bit of a surprise as it opens by going back in time and telling some of the story of the world through the eyes of what was a secondary character in they first book. There is even a good section of it that covers the same part of the story, but through the eyes of Jardir rather than of Arlen, the hero of the first book. The rest of the book alternates between a handful of major characters and moves the story along.

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as the first one. The world-building was one of my favorite parts of the first book, and this second book is more character driven. That is not a criticism really, more of an observation. I did enjoy this book, and am looking forward to what the author said will be three more in the series.

message 35: by Mike (last edited Jul 29, 2012 05:41AM) (new)

Mike (erasmus) Almost a Miracle by John Ferling
Completed on July 28, 2012
Rating: 5/5

Review: Another fantastic history book about the American Revolution. I could read about this time period all day. Ferling does an outstanding job covering the entire military history of the Revolutionary War. He presents both sides with the positives and negatives, and he does not shy away from giving his opinion and the opinion of historians in general on the action of the decision makers during the war. He mixes in chapters he titles "choices" for each year of the war that looks at the military strategic decisions that had to be made, but also keeps us up to date on the political happenings that impacted the war. I could recommend this book enough and it has become an instant favorite.

message 36: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Completed on July 29, 2012
Rating: 5/5

Review: This was a really great little book that I never saw coming. On a whim, I grabbed this at the library after seeing it highly rated on a Goodreads list dealing with books about books. This book is a collection of essays by Anne Fadiman dealing with her lifelong love of books. Each essay has a different topic, but each touch upon her life and how books have impacted it. There are written with great humor and language, and you cannot help but want to read more by her (and read the books she references).

A great find for me. I will have to purchase this book at some point, and will absolutely search for her other collections of essays as well.

message 37: by Mike (last edited Aug 06, 2012 06:37AM) (new)

Mike (erasmus) Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century by Tony Judt
Completed on August 6, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Review: I rate this book 3.5 stars. The first half I would give 3 stars, and the second half I would give 4 stars. The book is basically a collection of extended book review written by Judt dealing with 20th century European issues (with a healthy dose of the United States and Israel mixed in). The first half of the essays deal with 20th century thinkers, many of them socialist/communist that I had honestly never heard of. I think that is a failing of my reading/education more than a failing of the book. The second half dealt with more historical and cultural issues, and I found most of these to be fascinating. I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I had more of a background in 20th century European thought. My one major criticism of the book that I feel worthy enough to give is that I found Judt to come across as incredibly arrogant. He certainly seems to know what he is talking about, but he strikes me as a guy who would scoff at an opposing argument rather than politely engage in it. I suppose as a critic and historian, he is entitled to his opinions, but sometimes it made me uncomfortable.

message 38: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) London Bridges by James Patterson
Completed on August 9, 2012
Rating: 2.5/5

Review: I had not read a James Patterson book in years. This is the 10th installment of the Alex Cross series out of something like 20 books. The last book I read of his was #9, and at that point I was caught up in the series.

This was another classic James Patterson book. Each chapter is like 200 words, there is constant action, and very little character development. I would rate this a 2.5 if Goodreads allowed it. I give it 3 stars only because it is such an easy read and suspenseful enough where I kept turning the pages.

My problem is that there is very little character or even scene development. It is impossible to know who the bad guy is, and when you finally find out, it doesn't strike home at all anyway. It also has Star Trek syndrome in the sense that if a minor character is introduced in the book, the odds are very good that that person is involved in some way.

I will read the next book in the series because I can read these books in a single day and I might as well soldier on.

message 39: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Mary, Mary by James Patterson
Completed on August 10, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: Well this was a really, really fast read and the second Alex Cross novel I have finished in the last half day. I liked this book better than the last - London Bridges - because it was back to basics with Cross trying to figure out a serial killer instead of attempting to stop bombings all over the world.

I enjoyed the chapters dealing with Cross and his family issues more than the actual mystery. I still don't think Patterson is great literature, but it certainly makes for quick reading and is suspenseful enough to keep going. I wish there was a bit more of a chance for the reader to figure out who the killer is, and I wish there was more time spent on character development. I will keep going in the series.

As a side note, these books certainly help when trying to catch up on my reading goals for the year!

message 40: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Cross by James Patterson
Completed on August 11, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: Three Alex Cross books in three days. Yikes! This was probably my favorite of the three, but that is not saying a whole heck of a lot. This book tells the story about Cross finding out about who killed his wife all those years ago. This book was different in the sense that for most of it, Alex Cross was doing his own thing and the killer was doing his own thing. There was not a lot where Cross was on the trail of the killer until the very end. Like the other books, it is enough of a page turner to enjoy, but Patterson does not write books (excepting his earliest Cross novels) that stay with you as good literature after you have finished.

message 41: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Completed on August 13, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: I am stunned to say that I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as I had anticipated I would. It has great reviews, and is obviously considered one of the great classics. To my surprise, I could not warm up to the characters.

What I liked - I enjoyed the first part of the book when Jane was a child and she has her first experiences at her boarding school. I liked some of the plot twists, especially involving the surprise appearances of mysterious characters.

What I did not like - I found the two men in Jane's life to be whiny. I never bought either one of them to be sincere. I found Jane falling for Mr. Rochester so quickly to be annoying, and her undying love for the man was too much for me to swallow. This could be because I am a man who is not necessarily a big reader of romance, but Jane never seemed to show anger at any of the actions or omissions of Mr. Rochester and that seemed ridiculous to me. Jane was just too perfect in her temperament.

Anyway, I am glad I read it and feel better for it. I wish I had liked it more.

message 42: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Completed on August 24, 2012
Rating: 5/5

Review: The third and final book in the three-part biography of Theodore Roosevelt lived up to the previous two. These three books are three of the best books about a historical figure I have ever read. The only thing to take away from the third book is that the story is perhaps not as exciting as the rise and presidency of TR. It is sad to see him lost his influence during his post-presidency, and it is sad to see how he physically degenerated in the last years of his life. To his credit, he never stopped living and pushing himself and to this reader, all these years later, his story is still inspirational in many ways. TR was not perfect by any stretch, but he lived life to the fullest and I am sad to see him go with the end of this book.

message 43: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) The First World War by John Keegan
Completed on September 1, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Review: A very detailed book dealing primarily with the military history of World War I. I enjoyed reading this book and learned a lot. I had trouble with some of it (and this probably all on me as it is the end of the summer and my concentration level is low) as the author gives great details dealing with geography, leadership, and the number of specific armies and reserves fighting in battles. For me, having more detailed maps throughout the book would have been much more helpful as my limited knowledge of the geography made it tough to follow at times. With that said, it was not too hard to get past this, and I found the book to be comprehensive and fair to all sides. A recommended read to anyone looking for a military survey of the Great War.

message 44: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America by Gary Wills
Completed on September 2, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Review: An interesting, yet difficult book to get through. I found the author of this book to be very intelligent and well educated. He knew his stuff in such tremendous detail that it was astounding. However, I found the book to be a let-down for me. The book was an academic book that seemed to be more of a criticism of other historians views of Lincoln and his writings than it was about the actual Gettysburg Address. There were parts of the book I greatly enjoyed that dealt with the creation and set-up of cemeteries and the actual thought and word play Lincoln used in the Address. However, as a whole, I thought that all of the Greek references and things of the like were a bit too dry. This might be on me more than it is on the author, but that is my take. I have read so many great books dealing with Lincoln that I thought this one lacked any excitement at all.

message 45: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Completed on September 8, 2012
Rating: 4.5/5

Review: The Cider House Rules is one of my favorite books and I thought it well past time that I read another John Irving novel. I thought Meany was a very, very good book that I would give 4.5 stars. I just didn't think it was great like Cider House. I was going to give it 4 stars but the ending wrapped up everything in such a neat way that it made it better for me. I just thought that there was no real build up throughout most of the book. Owen Meany is quite the character, but, without giving up any spoilers, you know how the story will end, just not the details. Therefore, for me at least, the novel sort of just plodded along for too long. I love the writing and I loved the characters, but there was never a point where I remember thinking, "I can't wait to see what happens next."

With all of that said, this was still a fantastic read. I will certainly look to read more by Irving and do think he is one of the better writers out there.

message 46: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Prince Of Fire by Daniel Silva
Completed on September 15, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Review: Another great read from the Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva. I really love the mix of history and the spy chase that Silva manages to put together in each novel. What I think I like best is the fact that the hero is not perfect, on a personal level or as a super-spy. Things always work out in the end (which is why we read these books), but the way they get there is always interesting.

message 47: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Boundary Waters by William Kent Kreuger
Completed on September 22, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Review: Another solid book about Cork O'Connor solving mysteries in the North Country. This is the second in the series, and I enjoyed the first enough to shell out $12 for this ebook. I like the series and I like the characters in the books. I have to say that I enjoyed the first book more because it seemed that the characters had actual flaws. This time around, the personal issues of the characters in the first book seem to either be cured or diminished. However, it was a fast-paced story and I am hooked for the series.

message 48: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg
Completed on October 30, 2012
Rating: 2/5

Review: My first thought after finishing this book is that it is good to know that there have been two perfect human beings in history - Jesus Christ and Aaron Burr.

Ok, so that might be a bit of hyperbole. This book was basically written in a way that tells the reader that all of the Founding Fathers, and all historians since, are wrong about Aaron Burr and that he is actually the victim of a political conspiracy by people both in and against his political party. This attitude applies to all of the famous events of his life; including the duel with Hamilton and his conspiracy to take an army out west to conquer Mexico.

I obviously had a very hard time with this book and feel the need to be critical even though it usually bothers me to write negative reviews. I imagine that if I were to write a biography on a historical figure, I would need to fall in love with that figure. How else could you spend years of your life researching and writing about someone unless you truly enjoy that person? I just think it would have helped the author if she had more easily recognized the flaws of Burr rather than defend him at every opportunity.

Three more criticisms:

1. The first 60% of this book spends half its words ripping on Alexander Hamilton. I get that these two were rivals, and I get that the author's position is pro-Burr, but it was way over the top.

2. Something about the writing style bugged me. I tell my students that when writing essays about history, never use rhetorical questions. I always tell them to make their points clearly. Also, I tell them to never use exclamation points! It is the sign of a writer too anxious to make the reader believe they are correct. The author uses both of these techniques throughout the book and I just could not get past it.

3. Most narrative biographies use the subject's own words throughout the story. I felt that Burr was almost missing throughout most of this book. He seems like an altruistic bystander during much of the story. The author points out that there are only two volumes of Burr's letters available for historians, but I would like to have seen more to get a better sense of Burr.

In closing, I did learn a lot about the life of Burr that I did not know. His life usually ends with the Hamilton duel in most history books I read and I enjoyed learning about his travels and activities later in life. I would still recommend this to readers of the time period, but I would recommend it with reservations due to the obvious agenda of the author.

message 49: by Mike (new)

Mike (erasmus) October 30th Update:

It has been six weeks since I last finished a book. I did what I always do and promised myself I would not do this year. I have started reading multiple books (up to 6 at one point) at the same time. It happened when school started and I have trouble moving past it. I am obviously not going to meet my reading goal for the year, but I will keep plugging along.

message 50: by DelGal (new)

DelGal | 92 comments Mod
Hey Mike -

Maybe you need a "reading friend" who can get you motivated to read again, or virtually poke you back into gear and get you to continue with your goal.

What's helped me get to my reading goals is to add an easier/lighter/even silly read in with more serious ones to get variety. I'm also a big proponent of reading a book only if you're enjoying it - I'm never afraid to ditch a book if I'm not into it. There are way too many books and not enough time out there to torture yourself over a book, just to say you read it. Have fun reading!

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