Saturday, March 17, 2018

Book Review: Moose Country by Sam Campbell

Moose Country: Living Forest Series Volume 6Moose Country: Living Forest Series Volume 6 by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some adventures are great with a small group and some with a large, yet no matter the size of the group it’s the experience that means more than anything. Moose Country by Sam Campbell is the sixth book so his Living Forest series, as the author details happenings around the Sanctuary of Wegimind as well as a return journey to Sanctuary Lake with numerous friends both longtime and new in learning about the ways of the moose in the Canadian lake country.

Beginning the winter of 1947, Sam and Giny Campbell are taking time away from the lecture circuit and living in the town close to their home to allow Sam to focus on writing. However that doesn’t stop Sam and others from have misadventures nor witnessing interesting animal behavior to convince the couple—well Sam—to remake their Sanctuary cabin to live in all weather. Unfortunately the Campbells find their newly installed insulation being taken out by their island squirrels and their chimney inhabited by chimney swifts, which results in some uncomfortable living for weeks as they attempt to relocate the squirrels who keep on coming back to the island and not having a fire in the cold spring nights. But the Campbells keep their spirits up as they plan to return to Sanctuary Lake, that they visited in A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too, by themselves and much to the disappoint of Hi-Bub. But things dramatically change over the course of a few weeks, first the squirrels are successful relocated in an abandoned logging village and impending move Hi-Bub’s family results in them joining the Campbells for their return to Canada. The last half of the book details the week’s long trip to and stay at Sanctuary Lake with all the adventures associated around it.

This book is just a page short of the previous installments page count at 235. Yet as my recap of the book above shows Campbell packs a lot of stuff in that space, so much so I can’t really give a proper recap of entire book. The latter part of the book sees the return of Sandy and more adventures that include the family of Ray, Marge, and June who surprise visit the Campbell’s and Hi-Bub’s family at Sanctuary Lake with their newest friend, French-Canadian voyageur Ancient who’s insights into the nature of the moose comes in handy. Though Campbell is philosophical, there is not much of it as in previous books.

Moose Country continues Sam Campbell’s fine work emphasizing the wonder of nature and the uniqueness of animals in the wild. Though half the book is a natural travelogue towards a remote Canadian lake and the wildlife around it, the wonder of nature is brought through in Campbell’s prose that will make it enjoy this book just as you did previous ones.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Book Review: Games of State by Jeff Rovin

Games of State (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #3)Games of State by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The demons of hate are reemerging in the newly united Germany and finding root in various countries around the world linked through the shadowy recesses of the Internet and fueled by a businessman looking both for profit and triumph of bigotry, yet Op-Center must find a way to prevent chaos from exploding around the world. Games of State is the third installment of Op-Center that bears the name of its creator Tom Clancy, yet is written by Jeff Rovin. From Germany to the streets of the U.S. to southern France, the action and thrill are palpable as the race to prevent the rise of a new wave of hate.

Gerard Dominique, a French billionaire financier and computer game mogul, is uniting hate groups throughout Europe and the United States to destabilize numerous countries and allow France to once again lead Europe. Part of his plan is to use hate filled video games downloaded onto the Internet and well time hate crimes in various locations to bring about political and societal chaos. Yet the unplanned actions of other hate leaders resulting in a kidnapped young American woman needing to be rescued, the hate-filled enticement towards the son of Op-Center’s Striker team leader over the Internet, the unexpected meeting of Op-Center head Paul Hood with his former fiancĂ©e now a Dominique employee, and Dominique’s own hubris results in his plans failing to materialize.

Released in 1996, Games of State brought together many political and cultural threads to create the backdrop of very riveting political thriller with action-packed sequences as well. However well the set up and the ideas were, the use of formulaic tropes that are standard in one-hour TV dramas and paperbacks undermined the potential of a book. What was most disheartening was the ease in which I was able to see which newly introduced characters would result in instantly being important in a 100 or 200 pages just when they were needed, these and other plot twists decreases the enjoyment of the book. Though one can argue that my complaints are to be expected in this type of book, I would argue that one doesn’t mind if the tropes are written well.

Games of State had an intriguing plot idea, but was undermined by poor writing decisions that turned what could have been a good page-turner into an okay read. Though the book’s execution was poor, it was a better read than the previous Op-Center installment, Mirror Image, even with my rating being the same for the both of them.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Book Review: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38)I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anti-witch feelings are on the rise and rumors of old women being burned are in the air, unfortunately for Tiffany Aching she’s finding the Chalk getting infected and it could be her fault. I Shall Wear Midnight is the 38th book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the fourth to feature the young witch Tiffany Aching, who is finding out that being a witch-in-training and being on her own are two different things entirely especially when the Cunning Man is after her.

Now 16 years old, Tiffany is now the witch of the Chalk doing everything that needs to be done from tending the Baron to looking after newest of babes. Then things seem to start to go wrong from a father assaulting his daughter to the old Baron dying in front of Tiffany and the nurse accusing her of killing him. Events transpire that Tiffany attempts to persevere through but she senses something is up, especially on her way to Ankh-Morpork when she meets a “man” that the Feegles fall through. Thanks to the Feegles, Tiffany spends a night in jail but learns witches all around are feeling pressure. Upon her return to the Chalk, Roland attempts to take out the Feegle’s mound and later has Tiffany detained but the young witch realizes that Roland’s fiancĂ© is hiding a secret—she’s using magic—and confronts her getting the spell broken. As things return to normal in the Chalk, Tiffany must gear up to face the Cunning Man, a ghost of a witch hunter who’s hatred is infectious, even while attending a funeral and preparing for the new Baron’s wedding as senior witches gather and watch.

Building upon the previous three books to feature Tiffany, Pratchett continued the character’s growth by showing her face the everyday humdrum of the profession as the witch not a trainee, especially when something vicious shows up. Unlike previous books, the Feegles are more important minor characters than major secondary ones which focuses the book on Tiffany alone with her dealing with everything and everyone. Tiffany’s interactions with Carrot and Angua in Ankh-Morpork and the reappearance of Eskarina Smith, whose time traveling ability comes in handy in “assisting” Tiffany, just added to the quality of the book and connected various subseries together than just the same world.

I Shall Wear Midnight is a delightful return to the Disc and a somewhat return to form for Pratchett with a solid story that does not meander like some of the previous books of the series. Although a first time reader might want to get one of the earlier Aching books to understand some of what’s going on, any long-time fan will love this book.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Book Review: On Wings of Cheer by Sam Campbell

On Wings of CheerOn Wings of Cheer by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The sudden reappearance of a friend you thought you would not see for some time or ever again is always a wonderful feeling and is what Sam Campbell begins and ends this book with. On Wings of Cheer is the fifth book of Campbell’s Living Forest series, the author details a year’s worth of animal adventures and personal interactions around the Sanctuary of Wegimind during all seasons of the year.

Beginning in the fall of 1946, Campbell begins the book by detail the surprise return of a red-winged blackbird named Cheer as announced by his young friend Hi-Bub after everyone believed the bird had flown south. The Campbells and Hi-Bub enjoy the company of their winged friend for a few more weeks before Sam and Giny head out for their lecture tour believing they wouldn’t return until the next year. However, Hi-Bub is full of schemes to spend more time with the Campbell as he instigates a private lecture for his sick friend and then surprises them with plans for Christmas, which they find out have already been arranged for them. During their surprise Christmas trip back home, they have a run in with Indian John who fascinates young Hi-Bub, and visit their Sanctuary cabin. After returning to the lecture tour, the Campbells return to the Sanctuary and once again enjoying the company of their animal friends both old and new. One of these friends is a transplanted bear named Old Charley, who enjoyed having fun with every human he can even if he scares some of them to death. Another is Hi-Bub’s dog, Hobo, who has a run in with a porcupine and later befriends a fawn named Speckles. Yet the book almost ends on a sour note when Hi-Bub and Sam witness a fawn they believe to be Speckles get shot by an arrow as the youngster is slowly approaching to take a photograph; only on the Campbells’ last night do they discover a very alive Speckles who plays with his friend Hobo.

With a 236 pages, this book is slightly shorter than the previous book that Campbell wrote though packed with as much animal tales and misadventures as any other book of the Living Forest series. Hi-Bub is an integral part of the narrative throughout the book, especially when it comes to his little schemes that Sam as no problem admiring and writes about them accordingly. The interactions with Indian John and the reign of terror of Old Charley are both interesting and hilarious respectfully. There are fewer philosophical teachings of Sam Campbell than in previous books and they appear earlier in the book, though they are still excellent.

On Wings of Cheer is both similar too and different from the other books of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series, as the same with animal and human tales plus misadventures but different in that all seasons were covered in the book. If you enjoyed other books of the series, then this one will be just as enjoyable.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

Foundation And EmpireFoundation And Empire by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Foundation created by Hari Seldon has come through three crises and several social changes, but now it must face off against forces of Empire. Foundation and Empire, the second book of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, follows how the Foundation and its citizen responded to threats from Empire—one it’s decaying predecessor and one from a budding conqueror.

Unlike like Foundation with its several short stories, Asimov’s second book featured two novellas entitled “The General” and “The Mule”. The first followed the Imperial war against the Foundation led by the titular general Bel Riose who looked to restore the rule of the Empire, but was stopped short by the Emperor who believed him to be using the war to build up himself as a usurper. The fallout of the war leads the Foundation citizenry to believe during its war with the warlord “The Mule” that eventually something will happen for the Foundation to win. But the Foundation falls to the Mule’s forces as its leadership learns that its next crisis was to be civil war. A small ship filled with Foundation survivors makes its way towards the old Imperial capital to find a way to stop the Mule and find that the Second Foundation might be the key.

Although some might believe the two novellas a better format than the several short stories of the first book, I am of a different opinion. The longer length of the stories unfortunately exposed Asimov’s characters as very flat and his writing somewhat formulaic, especially when it came to the identity of “The Mule”. Yet I have to admit that of the two stories, “The General” was the best because it only took up a third of the book thus protecting the characters from being over exposed. “The Mule” became tedious as the reveal of titular character took its sweet time, even as Asimov attempted to show the decay of the Galactic civilization.

While Foundation and Empire was not as good as the first book of the trilogy, there are still some nice passages and ideas that Asimov has written. Though I was intrigued to find out more about the Second Foundation after finishing the book, it was a long slog to get to that point.

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Book Review: Politics by Aristotle

PoliticsPolitics by Aristotle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As Plato’s writings have been a cornerstone of Western thought, so have those of his pupil Aristotle through his own lectures and treatise sometimes agreed and disagreed with his teacher while shaping the views of millions over the millennia. Politics is one of the most important political treatise that has impacted society as it is studied alongside Plato’s own Republic not because they agree, but how they agree through different methods and disagree in conclusions.

Unlike the approach of Plato, Aristotle focused on the examples that the Greek political world knew of to determine the best approach for government of a polis. Classifying the types of government into six forms, three “ideal” and three “perverted”, Aristotle described them as showing their pros and cons in an effort to establish the “best”. Then his analysis turned to various functions of government from laws, offices, and how to pass or fill either. Yet, underlying everything is Aristotle’s insistence that human nature determines everything concerned with governance.

Politics, while thought-provoking and significant in its analysis and conclusions, is unfortunately not without its flaws. The biggest is Aristotle’s argument of natural rulers and natural slaves that is so opposite to the way many think today. The next biggest is that fact that the overall work seems like it is not coherently organized or even complete as many aspects that Aristotle says he will cover never appear and he writes about the bringing about his conclusive best government before actually proving what it is, though given his argument that the best government for a polis depends on how its population is constructed.

Aristotle’s Politics is at the same both thought-provoking and maddening especially given the soundness of his analysis and the disorganized state of the overall treatise. Yet it is one of the most important treatises of political thought of the Western world and is significant in political and historical terms as it has been influential for millennia.

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Review: A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too by Sam Campbell

A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too (Forest Life Series #4)A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometime over the years an inanimate object becomes something more than it is, whether it is a car or in the case of Sam Campbell a canoe. A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too is the fourth book of Campbell’s Living Forest ranges from the Sanctuary of Wegimind to the wilds of Canada’s canoe country featuring not only animal adventures but also the last year of the Campbell’s durable canoe, Buddie.

Sam and Giny Campbell return to their animal sanctuary in early spring 1945 and find their durable canoe, Buddie, in bad shape and because a concern throughout the book even though they’re able to repair it well enough. Recovering from the bad news of their canoe, they are happily surprised to find Still-Mo with a family only because they thought she was a male. Soon they learn their island home’s resident woodchuck has also become a mother. As they enjoy the new residents of the island, Sam and Giny have another new young neighbor boy, Hi-Bud, who met Sam in St. Louis years before and has moved close by. Throughout the spring and summer, Hi-Bud becomes a welcome guest and nature-enthusiast-in-training that the couple enjoys having over. Late in the summer they welcome their friend Sandy on leave from V-E Day injury before his deployment to the Pacific only for the war to end, suddenly allowing the three of them to take their long awaited journey to Canadian canoe country to find an isolated lake to observe and research animals without hardly any human interference. Unfortunately this is Buddie’s last trip as it’s damaged so much that after their return they decide to burn the canoe in a pyre at the end of the book.

Although the book is the a little longer than the previous two books, Campbell packs a lot of stuff in this book though in his usual engaging and easy reading prose. Like the last book, a war-experience soldier brings some of philosophical thought to the front especially as he now is looking towards his future post-combat. With young Hi-Bud, youthful exuberance brings out another kind of philosophical thought from Campbell that is very enlightening especially in connection with the imaginative youngster. There is religious faith is written about, though not as prominent as the previous book.

A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too while very much like the previous three books of Sam Campbell’s series, it is also different as it gives the reader an impression about how things changed for people after World War II ended as compared to when it was going on. If you enjoyed the previous books that Campbell has written you’d enjoy this as well.

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