Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Mad Enchantment by Ross King

There was another surprise waiting for us under the door at One Book Two headquarters today! The Phantom reviewed Mad Enchantment, a focused look at Claude Monet and his series of Water Lilies paintings.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Mad EnchantmentTitle: Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
Author: Ross King
Series: stand alone
Publish Date: September 6, 2016
Genre: Art History
Source: From the publisher at BEA 16

Publisher’s DescriptionClaude Monet is perhaps the world’s most beloved artist, and among all his creations, the paintings of the water lilies in his garden at Giverny are most famous. Seeing them in museums around the world, viewers are transported by the power of Monet’s brush into a peaceful world of harmonious nature. Monet himself intended them to provide “an asylum of peaceful meditation.†? Yet, as Ross King reveals in his magisterial chronicle of both artist and masterpiece, these beautiful canvases belie the intense frustration Monet experienced at the difficulties of capturing the fugitive effects of light, water, and color. They also reflect the terrible personal torments Monet suffered in the last dozen years of his life.

Mad Enchantment tells the full story behind the creation of the Water Lilies, as the horrors of World War I came ever closer to Paris and Giverny, and a new generation of younger artists, led by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, were challenging the achievements of Impressionism. By early 1914, French newspapers were reporting that Monet, by then 73 and one of the world’s wealthiest, most celebrated painters, had retired his brushes. He had lost his beloved wife, Alice, and his eldest son, Jean. His famously acute vision–what Paul Cezanne called “the most prodigious eye in the history of painting”–was threatened by cataracts. And yet, despite ill health, self-doubt, and advancing age, Monet began painting again on a more ambitious scale than ever before. Linking great artistic achievement to the personal and historical dramas unfolding around it, Ross King presents the most intimate and revealing portrait of an iconic figure in world culture–from his lavish lifestyle and tempestuous personality to his close friendship with the fiery war leader Georges Clemenceau, who regarded the Water Lilies as one of the highest expressions of the human spirit.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

The_Phantom_100The Phantom says…

Very detailed story about the end of Monet’s long life in Giverney, his gardens and lily pond. Also about the friendships with other painters, particularly Clemenceau.

It seems too much and too dry for any but the most ardent Monet fan. I found it boring, but I think Monet fans will find every bit of this book fascinating. It is a big book about a very small part of Monet’s life.

However, the painting, Water Lilies, is the most important and well-known painting of his art. The author doesn’t go into much about the technique. He talks a lot about the size of the canvas, but not about the technique, so I don’t think I would even look at this painting differently. I did learn that Monet ruined at least as many canvases as he kept while creating the final masterpiece. He took a knife to them, put his foot through them, or burned them. The final painting is 800 feet long on 20 canvases and is displayed across 2 rooms which was custom built to display the painting.

badge3v4If you are an art history major with an emphasis on Monet, this is the book for you. The author, Ross King, also wrote Brunelleschi’s Dome which I would recommend over Mad Enchantment for other readers because it moved faster and had more characters involved, along with scientific/engineering problems that needed to be solved, which made for a more interesting read.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Bullet Riddled by Grant M. Whitus

An autobiography by Grant Whitus (with Thom Vines). Grant was a SWAT member in Colorado and one of the responders at Columbine, as well as numerous other incidents that happened in his district. Bullet Riddled is what he learned, not only as a SWAT member but also its leader. The author also has some good insights into what it takes to fight crime in the US right now.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Bullet riddledTitleBullet Riddled
AuthorGrant M. Whitus
Series: stand alone
Publish Date: September 1, 2016
Genre: Memoir
Source: From the publisher at BEA 16

Publisher’s Description: Grant Whitus joined the Colorado S.W.A.T in 1992. His seventeen year career was one of constant headlines. Among leading countless drug raids and hostage situations, he was on the front lines of the Columbine Massacre, The Platte County Tragedy, the Albert Petrosky shooting, and the Granby tank rampage.

Speaking for the first time, Whitus gives the unvarnished truth of those, and many other, major S.W.A.T operations. Now retired, he opens up about his time behind the shield. Bullet Riddled is the full unabridged disclosure of what happened during his storied career; including the brutal morning of the Columbine Massacre.

More than just a retelling, Bullet-Riddled is an in-depth look at the day-to-day of S.W.A.T and focuses on the men and women who inherit so much pain to keep us safe. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy. The following days saw major changes within S.W.A.T. Men cracked, leaders folded and the entire country demanded changes.

But these changes, like all reforms, met with stiff resistance from the old guard. Friendships turned into rivals and the infrastructure of S.W.A.T began to unravel. As resignations piled up, Grant rebuilt the entire team from hand-selected recruits. He finally had his elite team, one that would face new demons and disorders.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Percy_Procrastinator_100Percy Procrastinator says…

Things I Did Like: This is a good, quick read. As I said in the intro, this is an autobiography by a twenty-five year law enforcement veteran—first as a sheriff, then a SWAT member, then its leader—Grant Whitus. It starts out with a nice excerpt on things to come then backs up and goes mostly linear from there. The author talks about how he got into law enforcement, some of the things they did, such as stopping drugs going through the state, and what he learned. In short order, he is on the SWAT team when Columbine happens.

I had not read much about Columbine so to read about it from someone who was there was very informative. It was also quite scary, which I think was the point. The book walks us through what the author and his team did, from first response, arrival at the school, checking the school, and then finally finding the ones behind it. There is a debrief chapter where it talks about what happened and what they learned.

The rest of the book, then, is stories of other incidents that happened. More than that, though, it’s a treatise on how crime has changed in America—even as crime has gone down—and how it must be dealt with is different today. The book is unapologetic in its frank look at crime and what must be done when criminals have tanks, sniper rifles, explosives, and assault rifles. The author makes a very good case why the tactics he used, both in recruitment and in operations, were necessary. After reading the book, I agree with his conclusions.

Things I Didn’t Like: Even though this book is autobiographical, and therefore the author’s thoughts and feelings are relevant, the book also seems to want to explain why we need the team the author created. When incidents are laid out like a debriefing and the author can take a step back from it and talk about it logically, it works and it works well.

However, there are a few chapters where the author is reacting out of anger. While he deserves to be angry, “hearing” that anger as a reader shows me the downside to his job. The downsides are mentioned later, but downplayed too much, in my opinion, when the author says that the job became his life so much that he had to sacrifice his family life.

Further, one incident got aired on the internet and that caused many team member’s family lives to be ruined. It also led to the team pulling itself apart as each member went their own way. The author does say there is no good solution for this, in terms of how to have a team ready to respond to violence and be in violent situations, but also have “normal” lives. It’s not possible, and I think downplaying that is a disservice to readers.  We need to understand what we, as society, ask of our police officers (and military). I think this needs to be highlighted, not downplayed, so that support structures are created and we examine how we can help those who do this job, every bit as much as we examine how we must react to crime and criminals differently.

badge4v4This book kept me engaged and I’ve gotten into several interesting discussions on this topic. If anyone is interested in reading about Columbine or what it takes to fight home grown “terrorists,” this is a book that will explain it well along with the toll it takes on us all.

FTC Notice: This book was provided free in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacts my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Vital Question by Nick Lane

The Vital Question didn’t feel all that vital to me. I still wonder who is the intended audience for this book since it had so much hard science.

The Vital QuestionTitle:  The Vital Question
Author:  Nick Lane
Publish Date:  July 20, 2015
Genre:  Science Non-Fiction
Source: Audible Studios

Publisher’s DescriptionTo explain the mystery of how life evolved on Earth, Nick Lane explores the deep link between energy and genes.

The Earth teems with life: in its oceans, forests, skies and cities. Yet there’s a black hole at the heart of biology. We do not know why complex life is the way it is, or, for that matter, how life first began. In The Vital Question, award-winning author and biochemist Nick Lane radically reframes evolutionary history, putting forward a solution to conundrums that have puzzled generations of scientists.

For two and a half billion years, from the very origins of life, single-celled organisms such as bacteria evolved without changing their basic form. Then, on just one occasion in four billion years, they made the jump to complexity. All complex life, from mushrooms to man, shares puzzling features, such as sex, which are unknown in bacteria. How and why did this radical transformation happen?

The answer, Lane argues, lies in energy: all life on Earth lives off a voltage with the strength of a lightning bolt. Building on the pillars of evolutionary theory, Lane’s hypothesis draws on cutting-edge research into the link between energy and cell biology, in order to deliver a compelling account of evolution from the very origins of life to the emergence of multicellular organisms, while offering deep insights into our own lives and deaths.

Both rigorous and enchanting, The Vital Question provides a solution to life’s vital question: why are we as we are, and indeed, why are we here at all?

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

I can appreciate the author’s ability to construct a logical argument and walk us through the work that’s being done to determine how life came into existence and what’s happening on the forefront of evolutionary science.

Part One set the stage for why this question was even important and how other research would effect or be affected by the answers. I liked how the author made the statement that life on other planets could be determined if it was proven how life formed here and that having the right answer would make it that much easier to predict life elsewhere in the universe. I was expecting the final chapters to be about just that. Unfortunately, that’s not what the author did.

The audio version of this book really fell apart for me since there ware many references to graphics to look at. It was very clear that those were available in .pdf and easy to access, but this is where the audience is so crucial. I am not a student or a researcher and had no intention, nor the time, to go find a link and open a .pdf and review the graphic in order to enhance my understanding.

badge3v4It did help that the narrator, Kevin Pariseau, was familiar to me from the Baroque Cycle series by Neal Stephenson. I felt I was listening to a science fiction thriller. Unfortunately, it just didn’t thrill me. I give it a 3.

Other reviews…

If you like this book…

…you might try The Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner.

Atmosphere of Hope by Tim Flannery

We’re taking a break from our pleasure reading to learn about recent findings and theories regarding our planet’s climate issues.

Atmosphere of HopeTitle:  Atmosphere of Hope: The Search For Solutions to the Climate Crisis (audio)
Author:  Tim Flannery
Publish Date:  October 6, 2015
Genre:  Non-Fiction
Source: provided by Audible Studios

Publisher’s DescriptionA decade ago, Tim Flannery’s #1 international bestseller, The Weather Makers, was one of the first books to break the topic of climate change out into the general conversation. Today, Earth’s climate system is fast approaching a crisis. Political leadership has not kept up, and public engagement with the issue of climate change has declined. Opinion is divided between technological optimists and pessimists who feel that catastrophe is inevitable. The publication of this new book is timed for the lead-up to the Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, which aims to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations in the world. This book anticipates and will influence the debates.

Time is running out, but catastrophe is not inevitable. Around the world people are now living with the consequences of an altered climate—with intensified and more frequent storms, wildfires, droughts and floods. For some it’s already a question of survival. Drawing on the latest science, Flannery gives a snapshot of the trouble we are in and more crucially, proposes a new way forward, including rapidly progressing clean technologies and a “third way” of soft geo-engineering. Tim Flannery, with his inimitable style, makes this urgent issue compelling and accessible. This is a must-read for anyone interested in our global future.



Agent Annie says…

Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis, written and narrated by Tim Flannery, is an extremely current perspective of global climate change.  I have read several books on climate change and this was presented with facts and statistics of a global perspective.  I forget how ego-centric my reading is because I read from a US point of view.  There is so much more going on in the world on sustainability and energy.

This particular volume updates Tim Flannery’s earlier work, The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth. The author divides the information into 3 parts starting with what is Climate Science.  He presents the information in a well thought out and researched manner as to what changes are occurring and how those changes will affect mankind.  He then moves into presenting the situation with current energy both petroleum based and renewables.

I especially appreciated new information from around the world that I was unaware of, especially with how the cost of wind and solar has come down so much.  There are other countries that are embracing the new technology and I don’t hear much about it in my weekly news so feel I can now make more informed decisions.  The 3rd section was about the future: those breakthroughs that are just being explored and the effort we all need to put forth in order to prevent catastrophe for humans.

badge4v4I give this book a 4: it’s written at a level I could understand and engage with and it transitioned well to the audio format. The one thing I felt was missing was advice on what I can do on an individual basis.  This book seemed more about what’s going on at a distance to my personal life and me.  I would have wanted to know what could I take action on now that may bring more hope to the outcomes.


You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Reading You’re Never Weird on the Internet feels like Felicia Day is sitting next to you telling you her life story. It’s fun and personal and feels like a secret look into the media world taking the most improbable route possible.

You're Never WeirdTitle: You’re Never Weird on the Internet
Author: Felicia Day
Publication Date: August 11th, 2015
Genre: Memoir
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionFrom online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world…or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

After growing up in the south where she was “homeschooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.

Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.

Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.

Percy_Procrastinator_100Percy Procrastinator says…

Disclosure: I’d watched the first year of Felicia Day’s internet video series back when it came out and since then I have seen her in shows and movies. I’ve also heard her speak at conventions and had her sign this book the week it came out. I say this so you know that I knew who Felicia Day was before I read her autobiography and I’m a bit biased!

Who should read this book: anyone who enjoys watching Felicia Day and wants to know more about her life will absolutely enjoy this book. In addition, if you like reading autobiography’s in general, this would be a fun read only because it’s timely and the writing feels personal.

Who would get the most out of this book: besides the general quantifier of “geeks who play MMO’s & D&D” (you know who you are), she also had a very recent personal experience related to “gamer gate”. This was an attack on women in gaming by trolls on forums. If you don’t understand that last sentence, you will not get the full impact of the last few chapters although she does a great job of explaining it. This all happened in 2014, so again, this is a very recent autobiography. The rest of her life story is full of references to popular movies and books common in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy community and a lot of internet and online gaming memes. Having knowledge of these items really added to the understanding and enjoyment of her story.

As far as life stories go, this one was really unexpected in this day and age in both where she came from and grew up to how she reached the point in her life she is at today. The way the book is written really pulled me in. I’ve started a few autobiographies and I have never finished them. But Falicia’s book with the silly stories and actual family pictures of herself along with the quick pace of her writing kept me reading. As I mentioned earlier, she is constantly sliding in jokes that someone familiar with contemporary movies and books will relate to.

Another fun part of the book is her name dropping of famous people in the current geek culture. I had the impression she was a little embarrassed to do this, but it’s her life and those are the people she works and hangs with, so she really had no choice. This really doesn’t happen until the last third of the book, but it added a fun touch to the ending. Finally, the juicy parts!

One item I did notice, this isn’t a book about sex and relationships. Instead it is about how she made it to this point in her life. I really couldn’t tell how many boyfriends she had (she’s not married now) or if it was the same guy the entire time. I just thought that was odd, because some of her personal items she dealt with would have really been hard on a relationship. If the same guy stuck around, he’s a pretty standup guy. I meant to ask her when she signed my book, but I immediately became star struck and forgot how to speak.

badge4v4I would definitely give it a four out of five rating for a fun and quick read, especially if you know the world she lives in. It’s definitely her first book, so some issues with flow and tempo, but I don’t have many biographies in my lexicon to compare it to (and none that I’ve finished), so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Oh, and if you’re a huge Felicia Day fan, I’m guessing you would give it a five out of five… but then, you wouldn’t be reading this review anyway…

Other reviews…

If you like this book…

…you might like The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick, Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg, Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton, or Tough Sh*t by Kevin Smith.