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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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Book Review: The Wars of Gods and Men by Zecharia Sitchin

The Wars of Gods and Men (Earth Chronicles, #3)The Wars of Gods and Men by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It seems that Earth has always been a battlefield, from today all the way back to the beginning of history humans have been fighting one another, or maybe we learned from others in prehistory? In the third book of his series The Earth Chronicles, Zecharia Sitchin examines ancient texts from cuneiform tables of Sumeria to Egyptian hieroglyphs to the Bible itself to reveal long memory and devastating results of The Wars of Gods and Men.

Sitchin begins the book going over the wars of the ancient world and how the chroniclers of those wars described that the gods intervened in those wars and determined the outcome, following this he went over the wars of the gods for supremacy of Earth from Horus against Set in Egypt, the generational wars of the Greek pantheon, and battles of the Indian gods. Sitchin then set about showing that all these tales of battles reflect events in prehistory of members of the ruling house of the extraterrestrial Anunnaki, fighting for supremacy of “heaven” (Nibiru their homeworld) and Earth, with the rivalry between royal brothers Enlil and Enki extending into their children and grandchildren. Soon these wars began to include the “gods” human followers joining them in battle after the beginnings of civilization in Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus valley. Sitchin details that some of the Anunnaki put their personal interests above their own families resulting in various alliances with cousins against their own siblings, and parents in some cases, which began a chain of events that led Abraham out of Sumer to Canaan and how Sodom and Gomorrah were obliterated by nuclear weapons.

This book began as a more academic read like its predecessor, The Stairway to Heaven, but Sitchin quickly switched gears to more engaging prose as he brought forth his evidence for and the explanations of this theories. Sitchin did not rehash his evidence and arguments from the previous two books, only alluded to his findings so as to allow the flow of the book to progress along the line of thought he had focused on. Yet even though Sitchin did not rehash his arguments, he did contradict some of his findings in The 12th Planet in this book—namely with the identity of “ZU”—but did not state that further research had changed his conclusions which would have made a better book. However, the most intriguing part of the book was Sitchin’s discussion about Abraham, his family history, and his journey to Canaan especially in light of his theory that extraterrestrials were the “gods” of the ancient world (though he does not specifically name which Anunnaki sent Abraham on his journey).

The Wars of Gods and Men is a very intriguing, well written book with a theory and evidence that Sitchin lays out in an engaging matter. Even with the academic beginning and with some unacknowledged reversals in some Sitchin’s findings, this book gives the reader a worthy follow up to The 12th Planet that The Stairway to Heaven was not.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Book Review: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #37)Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The wizards of the Unseen University love their food, alcohol, and tradition which Lord Vetinari exploits to ensure that the chaotic football matches taking place get under control. Unseen Academicals is Terry Pratchett’s 37th Discworld book and the last focusing on Rincewind and the wizards of the Unseen University, even though it seemed that they were of secondary concern throughout the book.

The wizards at the Unseen University find out that their budget is tied to a trust fund that only pays out if they play at least one football match a year, after realizing this means a change of diet they decide to play a game of football. This pleases Lord Vetinari who then asks the wizards to organize the sport so it can be taken from the street. But this changing of the game has an effect on the rest of the city, especially four workers inside the University whose lives and identities turned out to be tied to the success of the new version of football.

Although the wizards do have their share of point-of-views, Rincewind hardly appears in the book as well as The Librarian but the focus on Ponder Stibbons somewhat made up for it, they turned out not to be the focus of the book. In fact the most important character was Mister Nutt, an orc, who was “civilized” and was sent to Ankh-Morpork to change the minds of people about orcs. Yet Nutt was pushed into the background several times for his friends Trevor Likely, Glenda, and Juliet who had their own story arcs. All-in-all there was a lot of narratives that created the story, but it all felt unfocused especially when it came to the satire that felt more like painting the numbers than what Pratchett had previously done.

While enjoyable, Unseen Academicals is unfortunately all over the place with the narrative focus and set in and around the Unseen University the wizards took a back seat. Overall the book was good, but it just didn’t grab me and it didn’t make me laugh like previous books.

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Review: Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo--and Still-Mo by Sam Campbell

Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo... And Still - Mo: Lessons In Living From Five Frisky Red Squirrels (Living Forest #3)Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo... And Still - Mo: Lessons In Living From Five Frisky Red Squirrels by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What happens when you decide to adopt five baby red squirrels? Based on the events in Sam Campbell’s Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo—and Still-Mo your life will definitely not be dull. This third installment of the Living Forest series like its predecessors follows the misadventures of titular squirrels and other animals in the Sanctuary of Wegimind that entertain and provide life lessons, but is different in that main story revolves around a friend of the Campbells.

The events chronicled take place over two years at the animal sanctuary run by Sam and Giny Campbell during World War II, most likely 1942-43. While the titular squirrels and their actions—especially early in the book—form a narrative thread throughout the book, the main person in Campbell’s narrative is his friend Duke. Visiting the sanctuary just before his deployment of the South Pacific and during a convalesce stay, Duke cares for the young squirrels when they first arrive at the sanctuary and is latter pivotal in finding most of them after they had left the island during the intervening winter. Yet his correspondence with the Campbells between his visits allows Sam not only relay the squirrels misadventures with one another but with other animals but Duke’s reaction to them, giving the reader a feeling of being a part of the experience ourselves.

Though being as long as the previous installment, this book’s focus on Duke and his experiences doesn’t take anything away from series focus on nature instead it provides greater depth to it. Campbell’s contrasting descriptions of Duke before and after his first deployment shows the affect that war has on an individual and how he relates to things especially those he loves. However Campbell also shows how nature can help those affect by war by providing a calming place to compose oneself, even if that individual knows he’s soon go back to “finish the job”. Religious faith, Christianity in particular, is talked about more in this book than the previous two books but not prominently and not until very late in the book close to end of Duke’s visit.

Although Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo—and Still-Mo is a little different from the previous two Living Forest books, Sam Campbell’s engaging writing of animals and nature is given a different focus during a very different era in U.S. history, though it’s still relevant today.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Book Review: Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Foundation (Foundation #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Empire has begun to decline and one man had produced a plan to shorten the resulting Dark Age and found a Second Empire. Isaac Asimov based his “Hugo Best All-Time Series” on this premise, one man setting up a Foundation for the future of mankind but not telling his successors about how to bring the plan to fruition.

Foundation is not one story, but several connected together because of the grand plan by Hari Seldon who mathematically deduced the decline of the Galactic Empire and its future fall then came up with a plan to reduce the resulting Dark Age to only a 1000 years. Three of the five stories featured the two standout characters of the volume: Salvor Hardin, the point-of-view character in “The Encyclopedists” and “The Mayors”, and Hober Mallow, the point-of-view character of “The Merchant Princes”. It is through these two characters the reader gets an understanding of the political and social situations going on as the Empire declines and the Seldon’s Foundation politically evolve to meet the conditions known as Seldon Crisis.

Although Foundation is an interconnected collection of short stories, combined they create a history of a far off future of a declining Empire and an outpost meant to build up a future Second Empire for the betterment of all men. While some might think space science fiction is all lasers and space battles, Isaac Asimov showed that it could be political, religious, and economic forces on a large scale used by individuals to pave the way for a better future. It is because of this that many consider this a classic and frankly I can’t disagree.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Review: A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists by George R. Knight

A Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists (Adventist heritage series)A Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Condensing over 170 years of history of a religious movement and denomination into a readable 156-page book seems daunting and the recipe for a sketchy history. Yet George R. Knight, one of the foremost historians of the Seventh-day Adventist church, produced a very readable summary of the Sabbatarian Adventism in A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists that is meant for an Adventist audience of both long-time members and those new.

Knight divides the book into 8 chapters that focus on different eras starting with the pre-Great Disappointment Millerite Roots of Seventh-day Adventists and with the maturity of the Church from 1955 to the present day with its achievements and challenges. Focusing on high-points, both good and bad, and trends in each “historical” era, Knight gives the reader a barebones yet informative look at history and those who influenced the Church on both large and small ways. Given the audience Knight is writing for, the book is filled with Adventist nomenclature but Knight ensures that newer members of the Church have an understanding of the terminology that is even helpful for those that have been Adventists all their lives.

If one is looking for an in-depth look at doctrinal developments and how the Church was structurally organized, this is not the book. While both elements are discussed as part of the overall history, Knight makes it clear at the beginning of the book that those looking for emphasis on either need to turn to the other two book of the “Adventist Heritage Series”, A Search for Identity and Organizing for Mission and Growth. Yet this book is an excellent first read to understand how each of those specific topics tie into the history of the Church in an overall scope.

A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists does not pretend to be more than it is. George R. Knight gives the reader an overview of the history of Sabbatarian Adventism in a very readable and quick format. However, Knight does not leave those readers wanting more information hanging as at the end of each chapter he provides numerous books that go more in-depth in relation to the topics covered. This is a highly recommended book for Seventh-day Adventists interested in understanding how the Church came about.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Review: Mirror Image by Jeff Rovin

Mirror Image (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #2)Mirror Image by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Old guard elements in Russia look to reconstitute the old Soviet Empire, however their plans run into a stumbling block in the form of Op-Center and their Russian counterpart. Mirror Image is the second book in the Op-Center series bearing that bears the name of Tom Clancy, but was actually ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin. From the historic Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg to the streets of New York to the frozen wilderness of Siberia, the action spans across the world as forces and individuals battle to reignite or prevent a new Soviet era.

Nikolai Dogin, Russian Minister of the Interior and loser of the Presidential election, convinces his old guard coalition members to go along with “Plan B” which amounts to a military revolution to reignite the old Soviet Empire. One of his most important pieces in the newly created Operations Center (ROC), a Russian crisis management center exactly like Op-Center, but its head General Sergei Orlov might not be the figurehead Dogin hopes. The old guard’s plan begins with a bombing in New York to keep the United States out of Eastern Europe, but results in Op-Center zeroing in on its Russian counterpart that is Orlov and his second-in-command (a Dogin flunky) battling for control. Yet Dogin’s dealings with the Russian mafia prove his undoing as a shipment of drug money to pay off Polish, Belarussian, and Ukrainian officials becomes the focus of the ROC and Op-Center on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Written in the mid-90s when post-Soviet era Russia provided a lot of potential to the political thriller genre, Mirror Image took an interesting tack that could have provided an very good book however there was many unfortunate mistakes that made this seem a “set up” book for later events in the Op-Center series. The first was the blurb on the back cover of the book itself which stated the hardliners wanted to return Russia to the days of the Czar, within the first 15 pages of the book this statement is proven false and things are just starting. There are father-son issues dominating the Russian side of the book as Orlov and his son’s past that would play a major role at the book’s climax, which was very much telegraphed from the onset. An important character dies at the climax, which is pretty much telegraphed throughout his point-of-views. However, the most irritating thing with the book was that characters “magically” got information or knew things that the story didn’t support them knowing or characters didn’t act like they should of (Orlov not getting into contact with the new President seems to be the most glaring). Although most of the book seemed paint-by-the-numbers, the British spy network subplot was the best of the book.

Mirror Image seemed to be a book meant to add elements to the overall “world” of Op-Center to set up future stories as Rovin relied on telegraphing the story’s direction and creating in-story plot holes. While Sergei Orlov and British spy Peggy James are the two stand out characters, it’s not saying much because previously establish characters were in a holding pattern and other new characters were two-dimensional. This book could have been very good, it just average and almost subpar.

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