Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book Review: Thud! by Terry Pratchett

Thud! (Discworld, #34)Thud! by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever long bloody feud between dwarfs and trolls heats up the cry, “Koom Valley”, springs up just before both sides decide to fight the next one but now it looks like it’s in Ankh-Morpork but not on Sam Vimes watch. Thud! is the 34th installment of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and seventh in the “Watch” subseries focusing Sam Vimes pursuing culprits across the Ankh-Morpork and beyond to bring them to justice, no matter the species.

A dwarf demagogue is killed and a troll is the only witness, all of this as the anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley is approaching with tensions in Ankh-Morpork between dwarfs and trolls reaching a boiling point. After Sam Vimes learns that the murder was supposed to be hidden from him, he leaps to action to solve the murder as well as not sending both species into war. Unfortunately Vimes has to contend with a new vampire member of the Watch, an auditor, and always making it home by 6 to read to Young Sam. And then the case begins to involve mystical elements, really annoying Vimes especially as they travel to Koom Valley in pursuit of justice.

Although the overall plot was well thought out, especially concerning Vimes there were problems. The various secondary arc, the humor, and quality of writing were noticeably not up to Pratchett’s earlier standards and ranged from bad to passable.

Although Thud! isn’t the best of Pratchett’s work nor the best in the Watch series, it is still a good read for any fan.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Book Reviews: Romans: Salvation for "All" by George R. Knight

Romans: Salvation for AllRomans: Salvation for All by George R Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Epistle of Romans is the most evangelistic book of the New Testament as the Apostle Paul gave to the church in Rome and every reader since a the best explanation of the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. George R. Knight’s commentary Romans: Salvation for “All” not only gives the background of the book, but also a clarification of what Paul means throughout his multi-layered sermon. Meant to be read alongside the Epistle, in which the reader can examine the Old Testament verses that Paul quotes extensively, this commentary allows the reader a deeper and all-encompassing understanding of the message that Paul is giving the reader in its correct context. An excellent book that comes in at only 127 pages.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Book Review: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant, #5)The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Scotland Yard detective is recovering in hospital with a broken leg and needs his mind distracted, what eventually gets him moving is the quandary on why the portrait of the reprehensible Richard III looked so different from the constructed popular history. In her 1950 Alan Grant mystery, The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey has her veteran detective investigate the mystery of the Princes of the Tower and if Richard instigated their deaths.

In a brief summary of the plot, a recovering and bedbound Alan Grant is battling boredom when his friend Marta Holland suggests he research a historical mystery. Knowing his love of reading faces, she sends him portraits of various individuals and he becomes intrigued with one of Richard III. Through the help of friends, acquaintances, and young American researcher Brent Carradine, Alan gathers information and tests out theories. After weeks of work and logical thinking, Alan comes to the conclusion that Richard did not murder his nephews and his bad reputation the result of Tudor propaganda.

Coming in at a brisk 206 pages, Tey’s novel is a quick paced mystery that doesn’t get bogged down in details that many non-history geared readers might feel intimidated with. However, for those seasoned history readers there are some problems with the book that come to the fore. Tey’s arguments in support of Richard and her theory (though Alan) that Henry VII murdered the Princes are not rock solid especially as pointed out by other authors like Alison Weir though in other areas Tey bests Weir even with a 40+ year difference between their publications and new primary sources that Tey didn’t have. There are other little mistakes, like calling the Buckingham conspiracy the Dorset-Morton plot, or completely ignoring the before mentioned Buckingham has a plausible suspect (though Paul Murray Kendall would do that a few years later).

Overall The Daughter of Time is a quick, enjoyable read that will either make you think about things more critically or simply think of it as a nice plot device.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Book Review: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world of Roshar thought it had survived its great cataclysm four millennia ago, but days are slowly counting down for when the next Desolation begins. Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy series’ second installment, Words of Radiance, brings numerous characters together in the middle of the Shattered Plains as Roshar faces the beginning of the apocalypse as well the rebirth of it’s great heroic warriors that fought to save life.

Although the four main characters are once again front and center, but unlike the previous The Way of Kings it is Shallan Davar who dominates the majority of the book’s narrative either through her own point-of-view, flashbacks, or through the eyes of other major characters. Shallan and Jasnah are headed to the Shattered Plains by ship when it is attacked, Jasnah murdered, and Shallan dissolves the ship to save the crew and herself using her recently discovered Radiant abilities. Shallan continues to learn her new abilities as she travels through the Frostlands towards the Shattered Plain meeting several interesting people including Kaladin and the ringleader of Jasnah’s killers then takes her place as the agent of the group that killed her to learn what they know of the things Jasnah has been studying. Once at the warcamps, Shallan juggles multiple balls that eventually leads her out into the Plains at a critical moment to save the Atheli army.

Kaladin, Dalinar, and Adolin take up the vast majority of the rest of the book, essentially interacting a lot with one another or with Shallan once she gets to the camps. Kaladin’s is the major secondary arc of the book as he transforms the bridge crews into a guard force to protect Dalinar and his family while also continuing to deal with his issues with lighteyes and the responsibilities of his Radiant powers. Using his new position as Highprince of War, Dalinar along with Adolin attempt to combat the political intrigue of Sadeas and attempt to end the war either through peace or crushing the Parshendi in battle. Interlaced throughout the book are interludes that were dominated by the Parshendi general Eshonai and the Assasin in White, Szeth, whose own arcs help give an epic feel to the overall story while adding to the book’s main narrative flow.

While the length of The Way of Kings and the repetitive descriptions during scenes were my main complaint, Sanderson’s Words of Radiance were and wasn’t the same. The length of the second book is something to give pause (1300+ pages), the repetitive descriptions during the same scenes were cut out and narrative replaced it. Honestly, with more narrative then descriptions the length of the book becomes less noticeable especially once you’re a quarter of the way through the book but it’s always in the back of your mind.

Overall Words of Radiance is a very good book, building upon and improving over its predecessor and setting up anticipating for the read to see where Brandon Sanderson is going to take this series next.


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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Book Review: The Came for Freedom by Jay Milbrandt

They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the PilgrimsThey Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims by Jay Milbrandt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the enduring founding myths of the United States is the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, and like all myths it was based on true events that were warped as time passed. They Came for Freedom by Jay Milbrandt explores how and why the Pilgrims came to the shores of Cape Cod as well on how they survived when other settlements failed.

The arrest and trial of one Henry Barrow, who defied the Anglican Church’s version of Christianity and maybe the authority of Queen Elizabeth by his dissent, the story of the Separatists who would eventually become the Pilgrims begins. Milbrandt followed the Pilgrims narrative through London, a small village in Nottinghamshire, to the Netherlands, and then across the Atlantic to Cape Cod. But alternating with that of the Pilgrims was the biography of Squanto, whose own life and adventures before the landing of the Mayflower led to him being a pivotal individual for the success of New Plymouth. Once the Pilgrims had landed, Milbrandt merged the two narratives together in a very readable detailed history that went up until the fall of 1623. Although Milbrandt continued his history until 1646, the last 20 years was just a glimpse of tidbits of historical importance.

At around 225 pages of text, Milbrandt’s efforts are particularly good considering that his primary sources were few and even those were slanted to give the colony of Plymouth a good impression. Although several historical inaccuracies did appear, they were mostly naming conventions and not detrimental to the overall book.

While short, They Came for Freedom is a good general history that gives the reader a sense of the real events that later became mythologized in American culture and folklore. Overall it’s a nice, readable book about a topic most American know little able.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review: Reformations: The Early Modern Era, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter? In his book Reformations: The Early Modern Era, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation. An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.

Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences. This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time. The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses. “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result. “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s. “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.

Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history. The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers. This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.

Reformations: The Early Modern Era, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe. Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does. So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

Book Review: The Division of Christendom by Hans J. Hillerbrand

The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth CenturyThe Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century by Hans J. Hillerbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christendom, the social-political-religious definition of Europe for nearly millennium was shaken at the right moment and the right place to rend it asunder for all time. In Hans J. Hillerbrand’s revision of his own work, The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation started by Martin Luther in Germany is seen first and foremost as a religious dispute that was not inevitable but due to political and societal factors as able to evolve until it became irreversible.

Hillerbrand began by setting the stage upon which Luther would burst onto the scene focusing not only on the condition of the Church, but also the political situation in Germany. Then Hillerbrand goes into what he calls “the first phase” of the Reformation in which Luther was the primary focus from 1517 to 1521, then after Luther’s stand at Worms the focus of the Reformation changes from a primarily religious controversy into one that politics begins to dominate in Germany. Yet, Hillerbrand doesn’t stop with Luther and Germany, as he begins describing the reactions to the German events in other territories before they lead to their own Reformation events. The Catholic Church’s response to the spread of Protestantism across Europe, the different forms of Protestantism besides Lutheranism, and the theological debates between all of them were all covered. And at the end of the book Hillerbrand compared the beginning of the 16th-century to the end and how each was different and the same after over 80 years of debate.

While Hillerbrand’s survey of the Reformation is intended for both general audiences and scholars, which he successes in doing, the epilogue of the book is what I believe is the best part of the text. Entitled “Historiography”, Hillerbrand discusses the various ways the Reformation has been covered by historians over the past 500 years and the trends in history as well. But in reviewing his own text, Hillerbrand emphasized the religious aspect that sparked as well as influenced the Reformation and the importance of the events in Germany which determined not only Luther’s but the Reformation’s fate in Europe. By ending the book on this note, Hillerbrand gives his readers much to think about on either to agree or disagree with his conclusion which is one of the many reasons to study history.

The Division of Christendom is a relatively, for 500 pages, compact survey of 16th-century Europe in which things both changed dramatically and yet stayed the same during a transformative time in Western history. As one of the foremost historians of the Reformation, Hans J. Hillerbrand knows this period of history as no one else and just adds to my recommendation to read this book for those interested in the Reformation.

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