Five Star Books I Read In 2017

I love to read.  I track my books read on Goodreads.  My goal is to read 52 books per year.  So far, for the last two years, I’ve exceeded this goal.  One thing I love about Goodreads is that I can track the books I read.  I can also track how I rated them.  This is great because I can look back at books I loved.  I can track authors that I’ve enjoyed reading and find their latest books.  Here are my five star books from last year.  These were the best of the best from my perspective.

Revelation – Carter Wilson

This was one of the first books I read on my Kindle during vacation, and I loved it.  Wilson is not a well known author.  The book only has 255 ratings on Goodreads.  Still, it’s a great book if you love dark reads.  A man wakes up trapped in a room with a typewriter, and instructions to write a story.  He knows his kidnapper, but he has to figure out how to write what the kidnapper is looking for.  It bounces back between the kidnapping and the prior couple of years.  It’s a very creepy and disturbing read but very intense and well written.

Setting Free The Kites – Alex George

This book was set in the 1970’s and tells the tale of two teenage boys who become friends among shared tragedy.  You really feel like you get to know both of them, and the events and experiences that bond them together are written so that you feel you’re really there.  Being able to visualize myself watching the story is a sign of a well written book.  I couldn’t stop reading this book once I started.  I think it only took me a couple of days.

A Thousand Acres – Jane Smiley

I had written a previous review on The Last Hundred Years trilogy.  While the final book in that series disappointed, I loved the first two.  This is one of her older books, that got her on the map, and I loved it.  It’s again set in the Iowa cornfields, but from the perspective of three sisters who are turned against each other when their father reveals his intention to his 1,000 acre farm to them.  It isn’t a peaceful transition by any means, and it’s fascinating to watch things unfold.  Smiley has a way of making you root both for and against characters at the same time.  I love this and loved reading this book.

Beartown – Fredrik Backman

This is a book about a hockey team.  This is a book about the players and coaches of the hockey team.  Also, this is a book about the town where the team plays.  Honestly, this book is about so many things but it’s just wonderfully written.  Characters are unfolded in layers.  You start hearing the story of any character, and you form a first impression.  As the stories are told throughout the book, your perspective will shift slightly.  Then it will change again and again.  This effect happens with a whole bunch of characters, and it’s done almost flawlessly.  This was probably my favorite book that I read all year.

Image courtesy of morguefile via beanworks

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

As you can tell, I love books about characters, and this is a book that fits the bill perfectly.  It touches on a family and the dynamics that build and break bonds.  Understanding of how parents become who they are and how it impacts who their children become are major themes.  This isn’t a book full of twists and turns.  You see much of what’s coming.  But, how everybody gets there and the stories that go into that are what make this book great.

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

Since Beartown was such a great book, I wanted to read another Backman book.  And, it did not disappoint at all.  This is a book that is about an old man who hates the world.  Or does he?  As the book unfolds, he gets ripped out of his routine.  He isn’t happy about this and isn’t afraid to let everyone around him know about it.  Even so, it happens anyways, and his acceptance of change is the story here.  You want to pull your hair out as you read about Ove.  At the same time, you nod along as he describes some of his many frustrations.  This book has a lot of laugh out loud moments, many involving a character simply known as ‘the cat’.

That’s it.  Those are the books that stood out in 2017.  I’ll definitely be checking out more from these authors, both older books and future releases.

Readers, what books did you read that stuck with you recently?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Are Our Amazon Kids Tablets Holding Up?

Our kids have had Amazon Kids Tablets for awhile.  They’re great for long car rides or when they need some down time.  We limit their time on them.  Now the Kids Tablet isn’t the official name.  They’re actually the Amazon Fire tablet.  But we bought them both with the kids bundle.  This include a kid friendly carrying case, a warranty, and a subscription to Free Time.

I’ll start off by saying that my wife doesn’t like them. She’s used to her iPad and we even use her old one for the kids as a secondary option.  So, she makes me deal with the Amazon tablets, and I have a slightly different approach.  Overall, I don’t really care for them too much, but for the value, I like them.

Here are some thoughts on various aspects.

Hardware

The hardware has actually held up pretty well.  My daughter’s buttons for volume and power are a bit harder to manage.  Overall, though, everything else has held up well.

Battery

I will admit, you get what you pay for on battery life.  By and large, it isn’t very good.  They can use them for around three hours before having to re-charge.  What I really don’t like is that when they’re not used, they still drain battery.  Both my wife’s iPad and my Google Nexus basically stop draining battery when the screen is off.  The Amazon tablets will drain about 25% or more battery in a day, even when off.  This has made for a few frustrating occasions when the kids want to use them, but have no power.

Free Time Unlimited

Each tablet we bought gave us a year subscription to Free Time Unlimited.  This gives access to a ton of kids games and books.  This was good and bad.  The problem is that it presented every single option available.  Our kids would try to check out a whole bunch.  We ended up with storage problems many times as a result.  Plus it was hard for our kids to scroll through with so many options.

After two years the free subscriptions ran out.  Then they wanted $5 or $6 per month to continue.  No thanks.  I cancelled the subscription and the apps went away from the main screen.  However, it appeared that any app data they had was still on the device.  Not so cool.

Other Apps

It took me a while but I figured out how to get the kids set up with different apps and books.  I can actually do it all from my desktop.  I browse through the Amazon App Store, find free games or books, and ‘buy’ them.  Then I can assign them to either or both tablets.  Then I go to the app setting and grant access to who I want to have the app.  Within an hour it or so it shows up on their tablet.

There aren’t as many games as are in the Google or Apple stores, but there’s still a decent amount.  They also have a fairly decent selection of eBooks.

Storage

We have the basic tablets that have 8GB of storage.  We also bought an external SD card for more storage. This works out pretty well, except the problem is that most apps put all or most application data on the internal storage.  Even if you ‘move’ an app to external storage, it seems very little actually gets transferred.

As a result we often run out of space.  Now, Amazon integrates the ‘Cloud’ where it archives apps that haven’t been used in awhile.  This sounds great but can be very frustrating.  Essentially what happens is that each app that’s actually on the device has a checkmark.  Any app that’s been archived (or never downloaded) does not have a checkmark.

This seems pretty straightforward except that there are times when an app that they use regularly suddenly disappears.  This can be especially frustrating if we’ve taken the tablet in the car and there’s no wi-fi.  This does seem to happen when the device starts running low on storage space, which is quite regularly.

Resetting

Luckily, I’ve figured out that dealing with the storage issue is pretty simple.  All you have to do is reset the device.  Since everything is associated with my Amazon account and the individual profiles, it’s no big deal to reset the device to factory defaults and start over.  This wipes the internal storage (but not the SD card) and starts over.  As soon as I enter my Amazon credentials, it downloads the kids profile info.  Then, they can just download the apps again.  Much of the app data is stored on the cloud, so they don’t lose their progress in every game.

I’ve found that resetting the device is often the quickest method to fixing problems when it starts getting slow.  I had originally downloaded a couple of programs that were supposed to clean unused files, and while it worked to some degree, it seemed a stopgap solution.

Sticking With Them For Now

As you can tell, the Amazon Fire tablet is not as straightforward as other devices.  I know my wife would disagree, but I still think it’s good for the kids.  For a bundle that cost under $100 each, it’s been worth the trade offs.  I think as they get older, the limited content might end up being an issue.  But by that point, I’d probably trust them with a more expensive piece of equipment, where I really don’t today.

 

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Qdoba vs Chipotle: We Finally Tried Qdoba For The First Time

Both Qdoba and Chipotle have been in business near our house for years.  We don’t go all that often, maybe once every few months, but when we’ve wanted a big old burrito wrap (or bowl), we always ended up in the nearby Chipotle.  However, Qdoba recently moved about a quarter mile down the road on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in the area.  The short move definitely seems to have helped business, as it’s always hopping.  It got us in the door, and we can now do a Qdoba vs Chipotle comparison.

Qdoba Vs Chipotle

OK, I’ll admit, part of what got us there was that we got a coupon in the mail.  A good ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ deal will work anytime.  But after we went, it made us realize that we’d been missing out!

It was pretty darn good!  It wasn’t perfect but it definitely made the list as far as places we’d visit now and then.

Here are some of the things we learned:

Qdoba has Queso

Chipotle is very well publicized for offering only fresh ingredients.  So they don’t offer anything the lines of gooey melted cheese.  Well, as much as I like fresh ingredients, I also like gooey melted cheese, so Qdoba gives you that option.  They have a couple of different varieties and they’ll put it on willingly for you.

Qdoba has free guacamole

I don’t like guacamole, not even a little bit, but my wife does, so regardless of my preference, it’s coming home with us.  Chipotle charges you a couple of bucks for a side of guac, where Qdoba feels that it’s part of the experience, so you get it at no extra charge.

Limit the rice

One thing that both my wife and I did was say ‘both’ when they asked what kind of rice we mb-2016-04-shellswanted.  They have two kinds.   I think that they basically doubled the amount of rice as both of ours seemed to have a LOT of rice.  Next time, we’ll either stick to one or ask for both but note that we don’t want as much.

Get some spice

I like a little spice but nothing overly spicy.  As such, I didn’t order anything that was spicy, and I probably should have.  You can get spicy queso, spicy salsa, and I think even one or two of the other things has some spice.  I got them all non-spicy and I realized that while what I had was tasty, it could have used a little bit of zip that would have come from getting something with a little extra spice.  Next time, I’ll order either the salsa or queso with spice.

Don’t forget the basics

There’s a lot to choose from when you get your burrito.  You can choose the type of meat, all the veggies, what kind of queso, salsa, etc.  I totally forgot to get sour cream, and realized it when I came home to eat.  Drat!  I love sour cream with my Mexican food.  Luckily we had some in the fridge, but considering it’s all included, I will make sure to get it next time.

So Which One Wins?

Quite honestly, the differences between Chipotle and Qdoba were so minimal that if you did a blind taste test, I would probably struggle to figure out which is which.  For us the determining factors are where we might have a coupon as well as which one is more accessible.  Believe it or not, the side of the road makes a big difference where both are located.

In the end, both can be considered, though we have been at Qdboa a lot more, as they’ve been more aggressive with coupons.

Readers, have you been to Qdoba?  What do you think?  Any ordering tips or secrets that I should know about for next time?  

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Book(s) Review: Last Hundred Year Trilogy by Jane Smiley

tI read a lot of books, as reading fiction is one of my favorite hobbies.  Every once in a while, one book hits me to where I want to share my thoughts.  The Last Hundred Year trilogy is actually three books that did just that!

I make great use of our public library, and I keep tabs on new books that they get through an RSS feed that gets updated whenever they get something in.  I’ll take a look, and will mark the book for a read if it looks interesting enough (and often, I’ll check Goodreads to see what other readers think).

mb-2016-02-booksAbout a year ago, a book appeared that I knew I’d like, called Some Luck by Jane Smiley.  It was the first book in a trilogy that she was releasing over the course of about a year that would chronicle a family over the course of 100 years, which happened to be 1920-2019.  Yes, the book goes ‘into the future’ but I’ll cover that at the proper time.

I was intrigued, the ratings for the book were good, and as she’s an accomplished author, it looked great.  I’ve recently completed the trilogy, and thought it was interesting enough to post a review, breaking down the review by each book.

Some Luck

The book starts off with Walter and Rosanna, the patriarch and matriarch of the Langdon family.  The story started with them  settling into their newly acquired farm in Iowa in 1920.  Every chapter covers one year, and each ‘year’ is told from the view of individual characters.  This early, many of the chapters are concentrated with just one person, but as the family tree expands, multiple perspectives can often be found within one chapter.

The bottom line is that I love this book.  The book talks about life on the farm, which is always of interest to me as I envision a ‘simpler time’, and keeps things interwoven with major events of the time, such as the Great Depression and World War II.

We’re introduced to their children as they are born, and we get to see them start to grow up and make their way in the world.  By the end of the book, which is now in the early 1950’s, most of the storytelling has shifted to the ‘2nd generation’ as many of them grow up and start to make their mark across the country.  This generation starts expanding the scope from beyond the farm and the town which it resides, which is very representative of the times.

This was a great book and I was extremely excited for more.

Early Warning

The second book opens after a major event took place at the end of the first book, which definitely puts the shift squarely on the 2nd generation.  The book focuses on Walter and Rosanna’s children, and of course, the next generation is introduced as the characters age.

The 2nd generation is probably the most impactful of the entire trilogy, since they’re the only generation that spans across all three novels.  You really feel that you’re getting to know these characters more so than any other ones, so this is a very enjoyable novel.

Most of the Langdon family turns out to be very successful, and again, the different events of the times are interwoven into the storyline, through the story is really very character driven.

By the time the third generation is fully ‘populated’, if you will, the number of characters to keep track of has grown substantially.  There is a family tree in the front of each book, and at about mid-way through the 2nd book, you often have to go back and reference what lineage a character might be part of, especially, as is often the case, several chapters might go by between having a character in focus.

At the end of the book, we’ve hit the late 1980’s and since that’s the time where I really became aware of the world from a ‘big picture’ perspective, it’s really cool to read this story and having a point of reference from the time and what was going on.

The storytelling was great, though with all the extra characters, it made it more difficult to ‘bond’ with the characters.  Still, I became very excited to see how things wrapped up.

Golden Age

This book wraps up the 100 years, going through present time (2015 as that’s when the book was released).  It even extended out four years into the future.

As I said before, I was really excited to see how things turned out.  I really wanted to like this book.  I wanted to love it.  But as you can maybe guess from me saying that, I didn’t.

I knew that the 2nd generation would be phased out and that the 3rd and even 4th generations would be the focus.  That happened, but the main problem is that the characters became even less relate able and more unlikeable.

The main bit of disappointment was that, as soon as the book moved into the 21st century, the family and their actions went from the primary focus to the secondary focus.  What became the primary focus, then?

Politics.

Around the turn of the century, every character became focused on politics, to the point where it was distracting.  The author obviously leans very much liberal.  While I have no problem with this, I found her insertion of her beliefs very distracting.  Up until this point, her characters were multi-dimensional.  You could have a character that did bad things but still be written as a ‘good’ person, or vice versa. Once Bush v. Gore took place, that went right out the window.  Characters were either good (Democrat) or bad (Republicans).

And, the level of this went to the point of absurdity.  At one point a couple was planning a winter vacation so that they could go somewhere warm.  The characters looked Florida as an option but they rejected it.  Why? Because Rick Scott was the governor.

Now, I’ve been politically minded about various things in the past.  I know people that are fiercely political.  Yet as cuckoo as I’ve seen people get about their politics, this was crazy.   I’ve never seen someone write off a potential trip because they don’t like the governor of the state.

Yet, this is how it is in this book.  And, it’s not just a couple of passionate characters.  Nope, it’s pretty much every one.

While reading through the first 80-85 years, I wondered why she wrote a few years of future time.  Once the book turned to politics, I suspected I had my answer.  I think she wanted a platform to stand up and preach her platform.  And that’s exactly what happened.

All in all, this was a very disappointing conclusion to the series, and the shift was unnecessary.

Rating Each Book In The Last Hundred Year Trilogy

Some Luck: 5 Stars (out of 5)
Early Warning: 4 Stars
Golden Age: 2 Stars

In summary, I would definitely recommend this series if you like fiction and the living history genre.  However, I would advise skipping anything past 1999.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.