How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

This is a really interesting book by Scott Adams, who is mostly known for being the creator of Dilbert.  I’m a big fan of the Dilbert comics, and I’ve read several of Adams non-fiction books before, and this one was a lot of fun.  I think that Adams style of writing is very entertaining, humorous without always going for the easiest jokes, and very informative.  I’m not going to talk about everything that he writes about in the book, but I am going to give some of my general thoughts.

Book StatsHow to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

231 pages

Non-Fiction, Psychology


This book is one part humor, one part biography, and one part self-help book.  If that makes it sound like something fairly boring, well, you’re probably not familiar with Adams work, because I read this book in about 2 days and loved every minute of it.  I was familiar with some of the topics that he discussed in this book from reading one of his previous books – Stick to Drawing Comics Monkey Brain! – but it was still interesting to read them again.

Adams has had an interesting life, one that went from being a kid growing up in the semi-rural northeastern part of the country, to failing in multiple jobs out in California, to being a well known cartoonist, author, and public speaker.  He’s also overcome some potentially debilitating things throughout his life, most notably Spasmodic Dysphonia, and if you’ve never heard of that condition, don’t be too worried, you could probably ask everyone you know about the condition and nobody else will have heard of it either.

Throughout the entirety of the book Adams discusses a process that he has used throughout his life to try and find success.  The basic idea is that instead of trying to set a goal for what you want, set up a system that will help you reach a goal.  It’s a subtle difference, but it is there.  He also describes how it can be used for anything from trying to lose weight, to becoming successful in a new job, to being more popular with other people.

There are a couple of things in my life I want to change, and what reading this book has done is giving me a couple of different ideas for how to go about creating those changes.  Thinking about it in hindsight, I had already started to do a couple of those things, but I’m going to continue to work on more in the future, and maybe in 6 or 8 months I’ll do a post updating what I was thinking about doing and seeing how well the results work out.

I already said that I’m a big fan of Adams work, so it shouldn’t com as any surprise that I enjoyed this book.  If you’re looking to try and improve anything in your life, this book might give you a few ideas for what you can change, and at the very least, it’ll give you a few hours of entertainment.

Overall Grade

An interesting book that provides a very different way of looking at life, I really enjoyed it.


The Traitor Queen

So we once again come to the end of a trilogy, although rather than simply being the end of a trilogy, it’s the end of a trilogy that was itself a sequel to another trilogy set in the same world.  Catch all that?  I hope so, because I’m starting my review now.

Book StatsThe Traitor Queen

539 pages


3rd book in the Traitor Spy Trilogy


By the time you reach the sixth book set in the same world based around the same characters, you’re going to know everyone pretty well.  All of the same characters from the previous books are here, and they’re as wonderfully written as ever.


Same as the previous 5 books.


The plot of this book brings conclusions to the two main story arcs that had been running through the trilogy, the search for the rogue magician Skellin throughout the criminal underworld, and Lorkin and Dannyl’s actions in Sachaka as they observe a civil war coming to a head.


Both of the stories in this book are enjoyable, but they don’t mesh together very well to me.  And now that you’ve read that, you’ve read pretty much my only complaint about the book.  The pacing was very well done, the stories were interesting, and the world is richly built and populated with very good characters.  One of the things that I’ve really come to enjoy about Canavan’s writing is how real her characters feel.  It’s easy to see that a character is worried about the war that they’re about to take part in, but at the same time she’s able to show that they have a lot of personal concerns as well.  She also does an excellent job of showing multiple sides of the situations characters are in, and it really gives a lot of depth to the world.

Overall Grade

A pleasing ending to a wonderful series set in a very deep world.  These books have definitely turned me into a fan of Canavan’s writing for the foreseeable future.


The Rogue

We now come to my first book review of the year, for the second book in a trilogy that is itself a sequel to another trilogy.  Not sure what any of that means, but either way the first book review of the year is for The Rogue by Trudi Canavan.

Book StatsThe Rogue

523 pages


Second book in the Traitor Spy Trilogy


As before, this book focuses on the same characters that the other books in this world have.  But this book also introduces two new novices who start up a fair amount of trouble.  Lilia and  Naki are young students who end up getting in a little more trouble than they bargained for at the beginning of the story.  As always, Canavan’s characters are well written and their actions are always very believable.


The same world as the previous books in the series, although larger parts of this book take place in the Traitor Sanctuary where Lorkin is living at the beginning of the book.


The plot of this book largely follows what happened in the first book of this trilogy, with Sonea searching for Skellin, Dannyl living in Sachaka as Ambassador and trying to research the history of magic, and Lorkin living and working with the Traitors, trying to gain their trust so they can eventually work with the guild.  There is also the subplot of Lilia and Naki, which is interesting, and I won’t spoil what goes on there for those who haven’t read the book.


While there is a long going on in this book, at the same time it felt like it was really just treading water compared to the other books by Canavan that I’ve read.  Canavan’s other books came to a stronger character conclusion if not a plot conclusion.  The biggest subplot resolved in this book was also one that was introduced in this book, otherwise we’re largely in the same place we were at the beginning of the book.  Even from just reading a few of her books, I trust Canavan enough as an author to not be worried about this and I’m still greatly looking forward to the third book in this trilogy.

Overall Grade

Probably the weakest book of the 5 in this world by Canavan, but it still has solid characters and an interesting world that have me very intrigued in the final book.


The Ambassador’s Mission

The Ambassador’s Mission is the first book in the Traitor Spy trilogy by Trudi Canavan.  After finishing her Black Magician trilogy I was really interested in this series which is set in the same world as that series, just 20 years later.

Book StatsThe Ambassador's Mission

523 pages


First book in it’s series.  This series is a sequel to the Black Magician trilogy, and I would recommend reading those books first, although it’s not completely necessary to read it before these books.


All of the characters from the first trilogy have returned in this book, but there is also the addition of another major character, Lorkin, who is the son of Sonea and Akkarin.  In the first series as well as this book, I appreciate that Canavan does an excellent job of making her characters feel very real.  The heroes aren’t all paragons of virtue, nor are the villains all completely evil.  It’s interesting to see characters – some of them in very high positions in their society – who are in some ways indifferent to some of their responsibilities.  It’s not that they aren’t working on their tasks, but they think about how little they actually care about it.  I find it to be a very human reaction to many of the things that we have to do every day that we often don’t want to.


The same world as the previous series, but a larger part of this book takes place in Sachaka.


There are two main plots going on in this book, the first is that there have been many deaths among the Thieves in the city, and Cery believes that these deaths are from a rogue magician.  The second major plot of this book is that Dannyl is sent off to be the new Guild Ambassador and he takes Lorkin as his assistant.


This book is definitely the start of a new trilogy, and while it does have an ending, it’s really more of an intermission before you start the next book.  I don’t mind because I already have the rest of the trilogy, but if you had to wait for the second book after reading this one it wouldn’t be a fun wait.  That said I did really enjoy this book.

I already talked about how much I like Canavan’s characters, but she also does some interesting things with the plot.  While there are the two main plots going on, there are also smaller plots for each character, and oftentimes there are both internal and external conflicts for each major character in the book.  Considering that there are 4 major viewpoint characters in this book, that’s a lot of juggling going on, but Canavan does an excellent job of keeping everything in order and moving at a steady pace.

This book also does a good job of explaining some of the smaller elements from the first book that were included to give more depth to the world.  There is definitely a lot going on in the world that Canavan has created, and I’m glad to be able to read more in the world.

Overall Grade

I really enjoyed the first trilogy, and I’m glad to be able to see more from the same characters and world.  If you liked Canavan’s other books I’m sure you’d enjoy this one as well.


2013 Year In Review

As we’re nearing the end of the year it’s time to go back and review some of my reading from the past year.  This was a bad year reading for me, especially compared to the past 2 or 3 years where I had been averaging well over 80-90 books a year.  But while the quantity of books that I read this year was down, I have to say that overall the quality of books that I read this year was very high.

So here we go with the disappointing numbers, as of writing this post I’ve finished 30 books this year.  To be fair, I’m about 3/4 of the way through The Ambassador’s Mission by Trudi Canavan, and it’s very likely that I’ll be able to finish both this book and the second book in the trilogy before the end of the year, but at this point I’ll just include those books for next years year in review.

The past couple of years that I’ve done this I’ve gone through and listed both my favorite books of the year as well as my favorite new author that I read in the past year.  But looking through my list of books that I read this past year, I actually only read 4 or 5 new authors this past year, and everything else was either a continuation of a series by an author I’d read before (i.e. The Wheel of Time) or a new series by an author I’d read before (Jim C. Hines Princess series for example).  So it’s kind of unfair to list a favorite new author, because of the very small pool of candidates, so we skip it for this year, and make a resolution to read more new authors in the coming year.

Favorite book however, that is an infinitely more difficult question.  There are three books this year that are up for consideration here.  Two of the books I gave a 10/10 rating (the only two books that got a 10/10 from me this year) and the third book was unrated because it was the final book of The Wheel of Time, and I didn’t give individual book ratings to any of the books in that series.  The three books that I’m talking about of course are A Memory of Light, Flowers for Algernon, and The Willow Tree.

Ultimately here’s the problem with trying to choose any of those books over the other two.  I love all three of the books, but I love them all for different reasons.  A Memory of Light was a perfect conclusion to a fantastic series that I’ve been reading for over 10 years now.  Flowers for Algernon was a book I loved because of the way that it analyzed several different aspects of our culture, and how it does an excellent job of showing what out culture thinks is important.  Lastly, The Willow Tree is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, and how easy it can be to change another persons life.  Often times all you have to do is be there for the other person.

Alas, I once again cheat and say that I won’t decide between the three books, and I’ll simply suggest all three of the books.

So having crapped out on the first two categories, time to go through some of the quick questions that I’ve asked the past two years.

  • Longest book – A Memory of Light – 909 pages
  • Shortest book – The shortest actual novel that I read was The Island of Dr. Moreau at 140 pages, but Legion (which is a novella) was shorter at only 86 pages
  • Best series – I finished The Wheel of Time this year, so that automatically wins here, for another pick I would probably say The Black Magician trilogy by Trudi Canavan

As always, I’ll take any other questions about books that I read this year, anything from characters, to the authors, to whatever else you can think of.  As always my one caveat is that I would prefer to avoid any negative questions, so no questions about the worst book of the year please.

The Willow Tree

I talked in my post yesterday about how much I love this book, and I said that I wanted to do a more in depth analysis of the book.  This is probably the longest single book review that I have, and it somehow seems fitting to me that this should be the book for it.

Book StatsThe Willow Tree

282 pages



The Willow Tree takes place in New York City sometime in probably the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s.  Selby never says the exact year that the story takes place, but one of the main characters is a Holocaust survivor, so assuming he was in his early 20’s when he was sent to the camp, he’s probably in his 60’s or 70’s when the story takes place.

One of the things that Selby gains from setting the story in NYC is that he can safely assume that the reader is at least going to have a basic vision of the city.  Whether you like or dislike the fact that NYC is very prominent in media, you can’t deny that most people have at least an idea of what the city is like.  This lets him jump immediately into the story, and that’s exactly what he does.  One of the things that Selby does as well or better than most other authors that I’ve read is his willingness to be mean to his characters.  This book is a perfect example of that because he literally kicks his main character in the teeth on the fourth page of the book.  While a Latino gang attacks Bobby, his girlfriend Maria actually gets the worst out of the exchange as she has lye thrown in her face while she is trying to break up the fight.

But even as Selby shows the negative side of people, he also quickly shows the positive side as a couple of guys who are hanging out at a local bar see Bobby as he stumbles past.  They give him a little bit of alcohol to help ease his pain as they also bandage a couple of his wounds.  Bobby leaves the bar after a short time and goes to a deserted area of the city where Moishe finds him.

Moishe is an elderly man who largely keeps to himself, but when he finds Bobby in an abandoned building Moishe decides to help Bobby.  We’re not told early in the book exactly why Moishe decides to help Bobby, but as the story unfolds we’re slowly shown more of Moishe’s past and why he decides to help Bobby.

From this point on the book follows Bobby as he continues his quest for revenge against the gang that assaulted him and Maria, and Moishe as he tries to teach Bobby that the hate he feels for those who wronged him will end up destroying him.


Willow Trees

The single biggest part of this story is following Bobby as he seeks his revenge.  Once again Selby does a fantastic job of showing just how far you can push a character.  Bobby is 13 when the novel starts, and he quickly gets beaten to the brink of death.  When he finally recovers enough to go back to his old neighborhood he talks to his younger brother only to find out that Maria has killed herself because of the pain from being burned by the lye as well as what she hears and how she is treated in the hospital while the doctors try to help her recover as much as they can.

On a side note, Selby also does a fantastic job of showing the pain that Maria feels, as well as showing the pain that her family feels.  Many times in fiction there are reasons why everything happens, and you could argue that what happens to Maria mostly takes place to push Bobby along his arc.  But by showing the viewpoints of Maria – as well as her mother and grandmother – he also shows us one of the most painful facts of life; that bad things can happen to good people for no reason.

Bobby has had a very rough life; he is being raised in a rough neighborhood by a single mother who is trying to raise Bobby as well as his younger siblings.  There are just a few short sections where Selby talks about Bobby’s mother, but you learn that she doesn’t really like the situation that she’s in, and that she became a mother at a very young age, well before she was ever ready to really be a parent.

From everything that he’s been exposed to in his young life, Bobby thinks that the only way to move forward after being attacked is to seek revenge.  He constantly tells Moishe that he is going to get his revenge, and specifically that he is planning on killing Raul, the leader of the gang that attacked him.

Into Bobby’s chaotic life, Selby introduces the stabilizing force of Moishe.  The juxtaposition of the two characters way of looking at life is what makes this novel work.  Bobby doesn’t have an easy life, but everything that he’s been through seems like nothing at all when you compare it to the struggles that Moishe has gone through in his life.

Reading the novel for a second time, I picked up a few things about Moishe’s life that I didn’t remember from my first read through.  And the things that I picked up made it even more amazing that he is able to forgive those who have wronged him.

Prior to World War 2, Moishe – who was going by his given name of Werner Schultz at the time – was working as a handyman with his business partner Klaus.  He had a loving family with his wife Gertrude and son Karl-Heinz.  However, Klaus was greedy and saw a perfect opportunity to get rid of Moishe and take over the business completely.  He convinces several members of the Nazi party that Moishe is Jewish and gets him sent to a concentration camp for 4 years.  After finally being freed from the camp, Moishe and his family move to America, where his son is drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam, where he is killed.  After this, Moishe’s wife dies, leaving him alone.

Despite all of this, Moishe is still an optimistic person who does everything that he can to help Bobby overcome his feelings of hatred.


Willow Trees4The central theme of the story is Bobby’s redemption, and how Moishe continuously tries to help Bobby realize that his hate will only destroy him.  One of the things that I love about this book is that Moishe never tries to stop Bobby from seeking his revenge, but instead tells Bobby about his own life.  In some ways, Moishe actually helps Bobby in his quest for revenge by buying him weights and teaching him how to work out to make him stronger.  And when Bobby uses his new strength to attack the members of Raul’s gang, Moishe never reprimands him, instead continuing to tell Bobby that his hate will end up killing him as well as his enemies.

Moishe is arguably the best mentor character that I’ve ever seen in fiction.  He has unceasing patience, and rather than trying to force Bobby to abandon his quest for revenge, he simply tells his story and gives Bobby the tools to make his own decisions.  One of my favorite quotes from the book describes Moishe’s strategy perfectly:

What is it you are going to do Werner????  Nothing, just hope.  Maybe my tongue will be guided?  Yes, what other hope is there, only that my tongue will be silent so my heart can speak.

Later in the book, Bobby begins to realize the strength that Moishe shows in being able to forgive his enemies.  (I haven’t mentioned it to this point, but from Bobby’s viewpoint, he consistently refers to Moishe as Mushie.)

an somehow he be seein Mushie different, like how he see those old beat up buildins.  Used to be he see them like tumbling down bricks, but now he see they be strong muthafuckas stayin up there like that even when everybody tryin to tear their asses down…yeah, they be righteous the way they still standin…an Mushie righteous the way he keep standin up.  Sheeit, he like some muthafuckin mountain, or that river out there, cant be nothing stopping it or Mush.

Overall Grade

This book is easily one of the top 3 or 4 books that I have ever read.  If you’ve never read Selby’s work, this book is a perfect example of why he should be one of the more celebrated writers from the latter half of the 20th century.


The Willow Tree

I know that several times on my blog I’ve mentioned Hubert Selby Jr. both as one of my favorite authors as well as one of the authors that I really wish people would read more often.  Today I finished re-reading one of Selby’s books that I truly enjoy.  The Willow Tree is probably one of the three or four best books that I’ve ever read and I think that Selby is easily one of the most under-appreciated authors of recent years.

I’m not posting a review of the book in this post, rather I’m using this post to say that I’m going to do something a little different with this book, I’m going to do a more in depth analysis of the book, both in hopes that my writing about it will interest more people in reading it, as well as the fact that I simply want to look into the book a lot more.

Selby was a fantastic writer, one who was willing to take a look at the darker side of humanity.  In some ways this makes his books extremely dark and often disturbing.  I find many of his books refreshing simply because they are so different from other novels.  Selby was not afraid to show people failing, to show their lives falling apart.  In many ways that is what makes this novel so different from his others, and at the same time better.  Selby crafts a story where the protagonist has every reason to extract his revenge, to be another example of a person whose life went from having potential to being just another person in prison for life.  But the protagonist is following the path towards darkness, Selby introduces a guiding influence who has had even more reason to hate everyone, but who has instead learned to love.  This leads to the story becoming one of redemption rather than damnation.  And Selby shows that he is equally capable of writing both types of stories.

I’m going to be digging into this story more over the next week or so, and if nothing else I hope that I have at the very least gotten you interested in the book with this post.

In the end I suppose this is sort of a review, and I’ll tell you now that I give the book a perfect 10/10 rating.  This is one of my favorite books by one of the most under-appreciated authors that I know of.  I hope that you consider reading this book, as it is a fantastic look at so many things that our society needs to be looking at.

Willow Trees2

David and Goliath

David and Goliath is the biblical story of a young man who is able to defeat an awe inspiring warrior in single combat despite seemingly having no chance, it’s the story of the greatest upset of all time.

Or is it?

That’s the question that Malcolm Gladwell raises in his most recent book, titled David and Goliath.  Similar to the rest of his books, Gladwell uses psychological research and anecdotal stories to explain exactly what happened with many upsets throughout history.

Book StatsDavid and Goliath

275 pages



This book is very similar to Gladwell’s other books in that it will force you to change the way that you think about some things.  The basic premise of this book is about underdogs and how they can defeat those who are greatly favored above them, but overall I’d say that the central point of the book is how many times what we think of as advantages can often be disadvantages, and vice versa.

Starting with the titular story, look at the battle of David vs Goliath.  In the story, Goliath is described as a huge man who is heavily clad in armor and carrying multiple heavy weapons.  In comparison, David is a young boy wearing very light clothing who is going to fight Goliath with a sling.  Obviously Goliath should be favored, except he shouldn’t be.

Gladwell discusses what a sling actually was in biblical times, it was a weapon used to fire a rock at another person from a distance, and according to some modern day research, a person well trained and accustomed to using a sling as a weapon can be deadly accurate from from a range of up to 200 yards.

So in the battle, you have a slow, but very powerful close range fighter, and an attacker who has less defense, but more maneuverability and a greater range.  Goliath was expecting a fighter similar to him to fight, but instead he was up against a ranged attacker that he had no chance of beating, because he was dead before David was anywhere near close enough to strike him.

This book is entirely about changing the way you look at the world, how can an underdog beat a goliath?  By playing a different game.  There are always ways in life to turn a disadvantage to an advantage, and if you take the time to carefully analyze the situation, you’ll see ways it could be done.

I enjoyed the book, but I don’t think that it’s Gladwell’s best effort (The Tipping Point is probably still his best book).  All of the ideas were solid and backed up with research (that he cites all of, so if you wanted to you could easily follow his steps and check up on anything you don’t agree with), and he shows a variety of different examples to make his point.  My biggest qualm with the book is that to me the last section didn’t tie in very well with the first two.  It was still interesting, and definitely worth reading, but it felt a little out of place for me.

Overall Grade

Another solid book by Gladwell that really makes you analyze some things that we take for granted every day.


The High Lord

It’s been far too long since I stayed up late into the night to finish a book, but The High Lord by Trudi Canavan kept me up till about 1:30 last night so that I could finish it before the work week started.  (I don’t have all that much time to read during the week between work and bowling.)  That said, I enjoyed the series and it’s time for the review.

Book StatsThe High Lord

526 pages


Third book in the Black Magician trilogy, sequel to The Magician’s Guild and The Novice.


Once again I believe that all of the characters in this book appeared in the first two books, although Akkarin plays a much larger role in this book than in the first two books.  We’re also introduced to Savara, a mage of sorts from Sachaka, who works with Ceryni for a while.  And you also see several other mages from Sachaka.


Same as the first two books.


After the events of the first two books, Sonea is still Akkarin’s novice and she is still very distrustful of him.  Early on in this book, she learns how and why he originally learned black magic, and why he still practices it.  After finding out about Akkarin’s past, Sonea decides to join his cause and work to protect the kingdom.


There’s a lot going on in this book, but there are three major things that I want to comment on about this books strengths.  The first is how much bigger the world is than what Canavan applies to this story.  There are a lot of elements that are part of this novel that really take a backseat to the main story, the biggest one is Savara.  She appears early in this book and works with Cery, but when the main conflict of the book arrives, she steps to the side, showing up for a very brief moment that plays almost no part in the overall conflict resolution.  There are other elements similar to this spread throughout the book, and it shows that the world is a much larger place than this story requires, which in some ways leads me to think that Canavan might eventually write more stories in this universe (I wouldn’t mind seeing a book or series based on Cery, there’s definitely enough set up for it).  (After checking Wikipedia I found that there is another trilogy in this world, set 20 years after the end of this book, I’m definitely going to check it out.)

The second thing that Canavan does very well is to punish the main characters, whether doing something mean to the characters themselves, or making them witness something awful, or simply showing them that they aren’t nearly as powerful as they thought they were.  The final act of this book really left me wondering exactly how the characters were actually going to survive, and if there was going to be anything left for them if they did survive.

The last big thing about the book is that Canavan really shows her characters being clever.  The people in this story, both the mages as well as the normal people, are all very creative in how they use what they have at hand.

There are a few things about the book that didn’t quite work for me, but they’re small in the grand scheme of things.  For one, there was a romantic subplot that didn’t quite work for me as well as it could have, but even that wasn’t enough to take away from how much I really enjoyed this novel.


A solid end to an interesting and unique Fantasy series, I’ll definitely be checking out more of Canavan’s books in the future.


The Novice

The Novice is the second book in Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy.  It continues the story of the first book with Sonea going to the Magician’s Guild to learn to use her magical powers.  On with the review.

Book StatsThe Novice

460 pages


Second book in the series, sequel to The Magician’s Guild


Most of the main characters in this book were in the first book as well, and they’re all executed very well.  The biggest character who was added to this book was Regin, another novice magician who spends the entirety of the book making Sonea’s life a living hell.  He was a very obnoxious, yet very well written character, and I completely hated him throughout the course of the book, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do.


Same as the first book.


This book follows Sonea as she starts her education in the Magician’s Guild, and how she struggles to fit in with all of the novices from the noble houses while at the same time hiding Akkarin’s secret of using black magic.  At the same time, Dannyl is adjusting to his new position as ambassador and using his time to retrace Akkarin’s past and to try and figure out where he learned the black magic that he uses, although he doesn’t know exactly what he’s looking for, just that he’s retracing Akkarin’s steps.


There were large parts of this book that irritated me as I watched Regin mercilessly pick on Sonea, and I wondered why the teachers and other magician’s never stopped it, until Akkarin finally gives an explanation later in the book.  I won’t spoil it but this is probably the only time that I’ve ever seen an explanation for the amount of bullying that is allowed in a magical school, and it worked really well for me.  I think that the plot in this book is a little stronger than it was in the first in the series, but the primary focus of these books is definitely on the characters, and especially watching Sonea as she grows.

Overall Grade

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m excited to read the third book in the series as well as looking into anything and everything else Canavan has written.