Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Book Review: The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd's CrownThe Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Endings are sad no matter if it happens suddenly or you know it’s been coming for some time, but all good things come to an end. The Shepherd’s Crown is the final book of Tiffany Aching journey into mature witch as well as the 41st and last Discworld book by Terry Pratchett. Not only was this the last book, finished before Pratchett’s death, but saw the biggest development in the series ever—warning spoilers below.

While Tiffany Aching continues work as the Chalk’s witch both see and Jeannie the kelda feel something is about to happen, which it does with the death of Granny Weatherwax in Lancre that sets off a chain of events. Granny leaves everything, including her steading, to Tiffany thus making her be seen as “first among equals” amongst witches. But the death of Granny results in a weakened barrier between the Disc and Fairyland as many elves seeing the Queen as scared and cautious after her defeat by Tiffany years before and it only grows when they learn goblins have been accepted in human society and that iron—railways—now rule the land. The Queen is usurped by Lord Peaseblossom who begins raiding into Lancre and the Chalk, which adds to Tiffany’s burden of covering two steadings in to locales that becomes a bit easier when a Geoffrey leaves his noble family and travels to Lancre to become a witch and turns out to have some talent—for a man. Gathering together witch allies, the Feegles, elderly men looking for a fight, and the deposed Queen to battle an invasion, Tiffany uses the power in the Chalk to defeat Peaseblossom—who killed the Queen in battle—then summon the King of the Elves—who kills the usurper for killing his wife—to prevent them from ever returning. Afterwards Tiffany knowing no witch can replace Granny give the Lancre steading to Geoffrey then builds herself a hut from the bones of her own grandmother’s hut to have an official residence of her own.

Pratchett did not complete this book as he would have liked to as Neil Gaiman stated in a later interview and the clues were there for a more emotional ending and closure for fans, but this unfortunate missed opportunity does not detract seriously from the book. On the whole, the plot and character developments were nearly perfect with the only except of Mrs. Earwig who felt like she had more to be developed but that Pratchett hadn’t had enough time to provide it.

The Shepherd’s Crown is a book of endings for numerous reasons and because of that some people do not want to read it, especially those who have been fans longer than I have. However eventually I hope those people will eventually read Terry Pratchett’s last Discworld book and see that even right up to his own meeting with Death that he strove to create something that made you think and show your emotions.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Book Review: Typee by Herman Melville

Typee: A Peep at Polynesian LifeTypee: A Peep at Polynesian Life by Herman Melville
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While known today for vengeful captain chasing a white whale, Herman Melville’s writing career began with a travelogue of his adventure on the Nuku Hiva and was his most popular work during his life. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life is a semi-autobiographical book that Melville wrote about his approximately 4 week stay that he “expanded” to 4 months in the narrative.

Melville begins his narrative when he describes the captain of the “Dolly” deciding to head to the Marqueas Islands and then events surrounding the ship’s arrival at the island as well as the actions of the French who were “taking possession” of it. Then Melville and a shipmate named Toby decide to ‘runaway’ to the valley of the Happar tribe and execute their plan when they get shore leave. Climbing the rugged cliffs of the volcanic island, they hide in the thick foliage from any searchers but realize they didn’t have enough food and soon Melville’s leg swells up slowing them down. Believing they arrived in the valley of the Happar, they make contact only to find themselves with the Typee. However the tribe embraces the two men and attempt to keep them amongst their number, but first Toby is able to ‘escape’ though Melville can’t help but think he’s been abandoned. Melville then details his experiences along amongst the cannibalistic tribe before his own escape with assistance of two other natives of the island from other tribes.

The mixture of narrative of Melville’s adventures and the anthropological elements he gives of the Typee make for an interesting paced book that is both engaging and dull. Though Melville’s lively descriptions of the events taking place are engaging, one always wonders if the event actually took place or was embellish or just frankly made up to liven up the overall tale. The addition of a sequel as an epilogue that described the fate of Toby, which at the time added credibility to Melville’s book, is a nice touch so the reader doesn’t wonder what happened to him.

Overall Typee is a nice, relatively quick book to read by one of America’s best known authors. While not as famous as Melville’s own Moby Dick, it turned out to be a better reading experience as the semi-autobiographical nature and travelogue nature gave cover for Melville to break into the narrative to relative unique things within the Typee culture.

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Book Review: City of God by Augustine of Hippo

City of GodCity of God by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a backlash against Christianity grew after the sack of Roman in 410 AD, Augustine of Hippo took up his pen to respond to pagans and philosophers as well as inform Christians about their priorities between heaven and earth. The City of God is one of the cornerstones of medieval Christianity and thought that even influences the world today.

Augustine divides his work into 22 books divided into two parts. The first part was to refute the accusation by pagans that the sack of Rome in 410 AD was punishment for abandoning the gods of Rome for Christianity. Throughout the first ten books of his work, Augustine critiques the Roman religion and philosophy from the multitude of deities and the contradictory beliefs related to them as well as the conflicting philosophies that supported and opposed them. The second part, consisting of the last twelve books of the work, discussed the titular City of God and how it relates with the city of man—the present world.

Augustine’s critique of pagan religion and philosophy in the first part of the book is honestly the highlight of the book. Not only did he defend Christianity but also exposed the contradictions within pagan religious beliefs a well as numerous schools of philosophies which defended or opposed those beliefs. If there was one downside within the first part, it would have been the troubling theological ideas that Augustine espoused that seemed more based on Plato than the Bible. However, it was in the second part of book that Augustine’s faulty theology truly became apparent so much so that I had to begin skimming through the text to prevent myself from contradicting Augustine in my head instead of reading. While not all of Augustine’s theology is wrong, God’s omniscience and human free will is an example, some of the defining examples I want to cover is the following: the immortality of the soul and eternal burning in hell connected to it, the claims that passages from the Old Testament are analogies for Christ and the church, that all of Psalms are prophecies written by David, the angels were created on the third day, and many more. It became too frustrating to stay focused and I admittedly might have skimmed over some of Augustine’s better theological arguments, but it was that or tossing the book.

City of God is both the refutation of pagan Roman practices and the theological understanding of Augustine for Christian believers. It’s importance for medieval Christianity and thought cannot be underscored enough, however that does not mean that every reader should not look at it critically.

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Saturday, June 2, 2018

Book Review: Organizing for Mission and Growth by George R. Knight

Organizing for Mission and Growth. The Development of Adventist Church Structure (Adventist Heritage Series)Organizing for Mission and Growth. The Development of Adventist Church Structure by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Throughout the history of the Seventh-day Adventist history there has been a constant question “To organize or not to organize, and if so how?” Organizing for Mission and Growth is the third book of the Adventist Heritage Series written by Adventist historian George R. Knight. In covering over 170 years in fewer than 190 pages, the book covers the struggles to first organize then restructuring and then reinvigorating the church so as to achieve its mission to spread its end time message.

The Sabbatarian Adventists out of the Millerite movement were small and disorganized across New York and New England, but their former denominational experiences and theological beliefs in the evils of organization forces the rising leaders of the group to do much of the work themselves particularly James White. While White himself initially was against organizing and “making a name”, the essential one-man operation that he was preforming led him to reexamine scripture and rethinking his anti-organizational ideas becoming a strong advocate for the organizing of the denomination so much so that he refused to become its first president. But as the decades past and the church grew, the strengths for church structure for a small number of believers over the breath of half a nation became detriments as membership grew and expanded worldwide leading to crisis that brought about restructuring at the beginning of the 20th Century. However, the divide in ideas about how to restructure causes nearly a decade of drama before it was resolved. Yet throughout the 20th Century the organization of the church was tweaked and reinvigorated with innovation on several levels but in the 21st Century many have begun questioning the extent of how much administration is needed compared to the previous 100 years.

Unlike what he was able to cover in A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists, Knight goes in-depth on how Seventh-day Adventists got their name and how they structured their denomination’s organization and the debates for and against as well as how it innovated. Knight does not go in-depth over the entire course of the 155 year history of the General Conference, but he focuses on what needs to be in-depth like James White’s struggle to found the denomination and later the 1901-3 restructuring of the denomination by A.G. Daniels and others against the efforts by A.T. Jones and others who wanted a much decentralized organization (congregationalism). Yet the events of 1901-3 also had a theological element that while touched upon was discussed more in A Search for Identity, another Adventist Heritage Series book focused on the development of Seventh-day Adventist theology. This limited focus created a very strong book that gave the reader a clear history of its topic without going down various rabbit holes.

Although Knight intended Organizing for Mission and Growth to be the third of a seven book series related to Adventist heritage, however for over a decade it has been the last he has written. This fact does not take away how important this and other Adventist Heritage Series books for Seventh-day Adventists who are interested in the history of their denomination, it’s theological beliefs, and it’s organizational structure as they are the primary readers Knight aims for.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: Agricola and Germany by Tacitus

Agricola and GermanyAgricola and Germany by Tacitus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every one of Roman’s greatest historians began their writing career with some piece, for one such man it was a biography of his father-in-law and an ethnographic work about Germanic tribes. Agricola and Germany are the first written works by Cornelius Tacitus, which are both the shortest and the only complete pieces that he wrote.

Tacitus’ first work was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who was the governor of Britain and the man who completed the conquest of the rest of the island before it was abandoned by the emperor Domitian after he recalled Agricola and most likely poisoned him. The biography not only covered the life of Agricola but also was a history of the Roman conquest of Britain climaxed by the life of the piece’s hero. While Agricola focused mostly one man’s career, Tacitus did give brief ethnographic descriptions of the tribes of Britain which was just a small precursor of his Germany. This short work focused on all the Germanic tribes from the east bank of the Rhine to the shores of the North and Baltic Seas in the north to the Danube to the south and as far as rumor took them to the east. Building upon the work of others and using some of the information he gathered while stationed near the border, Tacitus draws an image of various tribes comparing them to the Romans in unique turn of phrases that shows their barbarianism to Roman civilization but greater freedom compared to Tacitus’ imperial audience.

Though there are some issues with Tacitus’ writing, most of the issues I had with this book is with the decisions made in putting this Oxford World’s Classics edition together. Namely it was the decision to put the Notes section after both pieces of writing. Because of this, one had to have a figure or bookmark in either Agricola or Germany and another in the Notes section. It became tiresome to go back and forth, which made keeping things straight hard to do and the main reason why I rate this book as low as I did.

Before the Annals and the Histories were written, Tacitus began his writing with a biography of his father-in-law and Roman’s northern barbarian neighbors. These early works show the style that Tacitus would perfect for his history of the first century Caesars that dramatically changed the culture of Roman.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Book Review: Calamity Jane by Sam Campbell

Calamity Jane, The Wise Old Raccoon (Forest Life Series #12)Calamity Jane, The Wise Old Raccoon by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A year in the life of a raccoon, particularly a female, is challenging and then there are the kits one must raise and teach to survive before winter comes and the cycle starts again. Calamity Jane is the final book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series, focusing on the year in the life of a raccoon introduced in Looney Coon yet in a different style than the rest of the series.

Campbell begins Jane’s story with her emerges from a several weeks long nap in mid-February to get out and about, eat some, and meet other raccoons especially one big male in particular. The book then shifts into spring as Jane reemerges on the hunt for food as quickly and as much as possible before having to feed her four kits. Taking up most of the book, the spring is when young kits are in the most danger first because they rely on their mother and then when they’re eyes open they begin exploring much to their mother’s fear in some cases. Eventually Eno, one of Jane’s kits, begins living with a nearby farmer and his family after a misadventure but later reconnects with his mother and siblings. The most shocking turn of events is the apparent death of Jane when hunters enter the Wildlife Refuge she lives in and attack her, though by then she had weened her kits off of needed her and able to survive on their own. But later that fall, Jane returns after proving harder to killer than the hunters expected to the joy of the farming family. The book ends back in the winter with Eno not comfortable his human family’s sleeping habits and heading back to his old home to get some much needed sleep with his siblings and mother.

Like Sweet Sue’s Adventures before it, Calamity Jane is written differently than other books in the series. Focusing on Jane and her kits, the book follows them in a style meant for young readers. With the addition of over 50 photographs, this book is definitely for young readers than readers for all ages. Given that Sam Campbell passed away the same year as this book was previously published, one wonders if his health changed the way he wrote the last two books of this series though interesting information for nature’s citizens isn’t diminished.

Calamity Jane like its predecessor is a children’s book to get them interested in nature and giving them a wonderful introduction to Sam Campbell’s writing so they can be interested in the other books in the Living Forest series.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Book Review: Sweet Sue's Adventures by Sam Campbell

Sweet Sue's AdventuresSweet Sue's Adventures by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The length of a mother skunk’s time with her young is less than three months, but even in those three months you can learn a lot. Sweet Sue’s Adventures is the penultimate book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series, yet unlike all of the other books in the series this one completely different.

Sam Campbell takes the reader on a journey of six hikes to a nearby farm and follow the adventures of a female skunk just before she gives birth through to the raising of her big family to when they leave, all of that under three months. However this time, Campbell writes in such a way that the reader becomes an active participant of the narrative like a student going out with an old-timer to learn instead of relating a variety of events around the Sanctuary of Wegimind or another location that his wife and he travelled to. Yet the information learned about the skunk like its eating habits, the raising of it’s young, and the warning signs before it sprays you with its pungent odor are extremely interesting.

As stated before, Sweet Sue’s Adventures is a completely different book than its predecessors. The first was the change of narrative style as noted above, the second was that instead of being easy to read for all ages this book was aimed at younger readers specifically, and third was the inclusion of 48 black-and-white photographs of Sue and her litter instead of the occasional illustrations. Being the shortest book of the entire series at around 120 pages with photographs and wide spacing made this a very quick read, though informative.

Sweet Sue’s Adventures is a quick lite read aimed at young readers about an animal that is stereotyped as always smelling. While it is completely different from previous Living Forest books, Sam Campbell packs it was information that is suited to his target audience. Though adult readers and probably first time readers might find it juvenile, for experienced readers of Campbell it’s a nice quick read on a rainy day.

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