Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third time I've read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, but the first since finishing Deathly Hallows and first time reading it critically.  I've tailored this review in the following in mind: the intended audience for the book (much younger than myself) and it's place in the series.

Unlike books later in the series, Sorcerer's Stone (aka Philosopher's Stone in other parts of the globe) features brevity in length, but is still backed with vivid descriptions of the magical world Harry suddenly finds himself exposed to.  Rowling uses her words carefully show the reader not only the setting, but also the story.  What also helps is keeping in mind the audience, the primary of which would be the same age as 11-year old Harry, and as a result Rowling focuses on the "big events" over the first year at Hogwarts just like children would focus on the big happenings during their school year.  And added to it all is a mystery that soon touches upon the magically communities darkest times as well as the saddest for young Harry.  Yet Rowling weaves it altogether to create wonderful story that is a joy to read the first time and many subsequent times afterwards.

[Spoilers Below]
As the introductory installment of the entire Harry Potter series, Sorcerer's Stone does an excellent job in world building and giving the reader an introduction to the characters.  As for character development, there are minor examples in Hermione and Neville, but this is to be expected for the age level and with six more books there is plenty of time for characters to grow like any pre-teen would.  Finally how is foreshadowing and are there any potential plot holes for later in the series?  Littered throughout Sorcerer's Stone are names and items that will become important later in the series, but unless they were critical to the plot those individuals and items were only descriptors.  There was only one glaring potential plot hole and that is the Snape-Quirrell interactions, especially as events unfold with Snape becoming Voldemort's right hand man later in the series.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a wonderful book both as a standalone and as part of a series.  It stands up over time as great piece of children's literature and fire the imagination of readers.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Book Review: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The HobbitThe Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hobbit, and subsequently The Lord of the Rings, is the book that is chiefly responsible for the fantasy genre today; either in influencing or reacting against it.  Nearly fifteen years after reading The Hobbit for the first time, I returned to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth to find the experience just as fun as I did back then though my memory of events turned out to be incorrect as I followed Bilbo Baggins on his adventure.

For mature readers like myself, getting into the rhythm of the text can be tricky as one has to remember that the story was originally based on from bedtime stories Tolkien told his children.  Plus the text feels like it was transcribed from an oral telling like around one told around a campfire or a warm hearth in a hobbit hole, but this only helps enhance the adventurous aspect of the story Tolkien tells.  The vivid descriptions of locales and fantastic creatures adds great detail to the story that in a way sets the stage for the more grown up tale of The Lord of the Rings.

While this particular edition does seem to have some strange word choices that forces the reader to go back disturbing the flow in a few spots, it doesn't diminish the overall book.  Others might decry The Hobbit being childish, but that's who Tolkien was aiming for in 1937 and anyone who thinks this is A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) or The Wheel of Time or The First Law needs a reality check before they begin this book.  For any fan of fantasy, if you haven't read The Hobbit I whole recommend that you do but only with the perspective.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: The Kobayashi Maru by Julia Ecklar

The Kobayashi Maru (Star Trek: The Original Series, #47)The Kobayashi Maru by Julia Ecklar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First mentioned in Star Trek II, The Kobayashi Maru is legendary in Trek fandom as the infamous no-win scenario simulation that Academy cadets must face.  Julia Ecklar gives us a look into how Kirk, Chekov, Sulu, and Scott faced the simulation while dealing with a literal life-and-death situation.  The accounts are personal to each man as we get a glimpse of these characters when they were just cadets, personally I can not pick one as the best of the four however I will say that Ecklar's version of Kirk's creative solution is more impressive than presented in the 2009 Star Trek film.  I would have preferred to have given this 4.5 stars instead of 4, but this is by far the best Star Trek novel I've read and I found it difficult to put down.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review: Doctor Who: The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs

Doctor Who: The Dalek GenerationDoctor Who: The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Doctor Who adventure, The Dalek Generation, featuring the Eleventh Doctor is an enjoyable, quick read that any fan will enjoy.  Nicholas Briggs unquestionably succeeded in capturing Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor, which any Eleven-fan will appreciate.  The overall story is fine especially the use of time travel and the Doctor’s interaction with the Blakely siblings, however Briggs did make some head scratching miscues.  These miscues are essentially story details that hurt Briggs narrative because they open up obvious alternative ways the Doctor could have attempted to stop the Daleks then how Briggs wrote the conclusion.  Putting aside the miscues, as a first time reader of a Doctor Who book this was a treat and recommended to anyone else looking to read a Doctor Who book for the first time.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency by John T. Shaw

JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the PresidencyJFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency by John T. Shaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The three-term Congressman who entered the Senate in January 1953 wasn't thought to be a future President at any time, let alone by the end of the decade.  As John T. Shaw chronicles in JFK in the Senate, John Kennedy saw the U.S. Senate as a stepping stone to achieve the presidency.  And in his nearly eight years in the upper chamber, Kennedy learned lessons that helped him to be a better politician and help secure him the nomination and later election.

Shaw’s study of Kennedy in the Senate starts with a basic outline of his life with a focus more on his first Congressional and Senate campaigns respectively than anything else, including his three-terms in the House.  Shaw’s then looks at Kennedy time in the Senate in three aspects: domestic, foreign, and finally his role documenting the institution’s history.  Shaw concludes by showing how Kennedy used the Senate to launch is campaign for 1960.

The focus on Kennedy in relation to the Senate is revealing especially as Shaw brings to the reader’s attention things not previously emphasized.  The first was Kennedy’s legislative work on the labor issue as well as he learned to balance regional and national economic issues, issues that seemed glossed over or neglected in larger studies of Kennedy’s life.  The second was Kennedy’s perspectives on foreign policy while in both the House and Senate including his critiques of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations’ foreign policy.  Shaw reveals how Kennedy’s views and critiques turned out to be astute in the hindsight of history.  Finally Shaw shows through Kennedy’s work on Profiles in Courage and the committee to designate the five greatest Senators that he seemed to show his political priorities for higher office by separating his career from those past and present who were thoroughly Senators.

In barely over 200 pages, Shaw gives a well-rounded look at John Kennedy’s career as a U.S. Senator before he became only the second person ever to be elected President directly from that body.  Shaw shows that Kennedy deliberately didn't strive to be the best Senator he could like his colleagues, his aspirations went higher.  And that is why this book is recommended for anyone interested in Kennedy.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review: Baseball's Creation Myth: Adam Ford, Abner Graves and the Cooperstown Story by Brian Martin

Baseball's Creation Myth: Adam Ford, Abner Graves and the Cooperstown StoryBaseball's Creation Myth: Adam Ford, Abner Graves and the Cooperstown Story by Brian Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The mythologized and debunked tale of General Abner Doubleday’s invention of baseball in Cooperstown, New York is the focus of Baseball’s Creation Myth by Brian Martin.  The story behind the Doubleday-Cooperstown tale brings into the spotlight three men who inspired it, who spun it, and who promoted it.  Martin tells about the lives of these three men along with the social and political times they lived in when the Cooperstown story was birthed.

Martin centers his book on the lives of Adam Ford, Abner Graves, and Albert Goodwell Spalding.  Although several other individuals for a few pages do become the focus, it is these three that propel the narrative on how the Cooperstown story came to be and of how of all places Denver, Colorado is where it germinated.  Martin explains that the backdrop of the patriotic and optimistic times of the first decade of the 1900s under Theodore Roosevelt, in which the story is first introduced, is why it became such a fixed fact of Americana.  And Martin explains the different paths Cooperstown and its Canadian counterpart St. Mary’s became homes to their nation’s respective Halls of Fame.

The understanding of both Ford and Graves is center to Martin’s text and their lives and experiences are examined throughout the book especially their relationship to baseball.  A few times Martin does take side streets in his text, most notably when discussing Mark Twain’s experiences in Virginia City.  However for the most part Martin sticks to building what he believes to be a very reasonable, though admittedly circumstantial, case on the Cooperstown story was conceived and took root.

Having no real clue about what to expect from this book, I found it enjoyable read on how a mythical event of Americana came to be as well on the lives of two ordinary men who played a part in how it came about.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from LibraryThing.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Book Review: The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American LegendThe Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend by Bob Drury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The life of Red Cloud, let alone his name or accomplishments, were unknown to myself until seeing this book.  I did not know what to expect about how the authors would treat both the Native and Settler sides of history nor did I know if it would be a readable narrative.  After finishing the book, I found that Bob Drury and Tom Clavin did a wonderful job in producing an engaging life story of Red Cloud along with describing the context of the times he lived in.

I feel it important early in my review to note that I don’t believe that Drury and Clavin were 100% accurate in everything, in particular with Lakota society, though without that knowledge myself I cannot critique it.  Another important thing is often cited Red Cloud autobiography, which turns out to be more a second-hand oral history than an actual autobiography as explained in the “Notes and Bibliography” section.  While these issues do take away something from the book, they don’t undermine it.

Drury and Clavin recount Red Cloud’s life in a very engaging way first by setting the stage for the events leading to the conflict between the Lakota-Cheyenne-Arapaho coalition and the United States Army, then piecing together Red Cloud’s early life as well as a history of the Lakota and “Sioux” nation.  Then the text details the events beginning in 1851 that led to the conflict known as “Red Cloud’s War” with particular attention paid to the military events during 1866 in the Powder River region.  Although they are chronicling the life and achievements of one man, they don’t make him out to be a flawless human being they make it out to be a man of his culture, society, and time.

The authors are not shy about showing the very cringe worthy cultural clashes of Natives and Settlers during the time frame, there are no purely good or purely evil individuals characterized in the text there are just normal humans.  The atrocities committed by both sides are told in detail as well as how the popular press at the time either sensationalized the events or barely noted it, depending on who the victims were.  The authors also noted that when a victory was won by a Native tribe it was described as a “massacre” when Whites won a victory it was called a “battle,” in reality the two terms could be reversed the vast majority of the time.  This is not a 21st-century politically correct whitewash of history; this is a full color slap in the face history.

The Heart of Everything That Is might not be absolutely perfect and accurate; however Drury and Clavin do a justice service to the life and times of Red Cloud along with numerous other individuals both Native and Settler who interacted with him.  The authors show that the settling of the American West wasn't the clear-cut Hollywood version of history, but a bloody clash of two utterly different cultures.  In the end nothing could stop American expansion across the Great Plains, but the authors showed that for a time it was stymied because of the actions by one man.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review: A Giant Cow-Tipping by Savages by John Weir Close

A Giant Cow-Tipping by Savages: The Boom, Bust, and Boom Culture of M&AA Giant Cow-Tipping by Savages: The Boom, Bust, and Boom Culture of M&A by John Close
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beginning in 1981, the business of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) started to change the American and later the world economy.  In his book A Giant-Cow Tipping by Savages, John Weir Close attempts to tell the history and the larger-than-life personalities that dominated the M&A industry.  However, the mishmash of short biographies and short stories documenting major deals is an informative, but meandering read.

The title of this book comes from Ted Turner describing his feelings about AOL-Time Warner merger; through you wouldn’t know it until nearly the end of the book and until then you wondered why Close or his publisher decided on the title.  Then there were the vignettes of Robert Campeau and Ilan Reich that were prominently displayed within the book, but either interrupted the flow of the text or where just there and only later showed to be an illustration of what was happening in the overall industry.  And then there are the sentences that have to be read more than once to understand what Close to talking about or approximate what he means.

The descriptions of the various deals throughout the 1980s and earlier 90s, the period Close focuses on the most, and the history leading up to and sometimes after are the best part of this book.  Having previously read Barbarians at the Gate I was familiar with the most famous M&A deal of all-time and with all the key players.  Close gives the reader a look at all the other major deals before and after RJR Nabisco, but also the relatively minor in financial terms but had a major impact in the Delaware courts and thus had affected larger deals.

John Weir Close was ambitious in attempting to give the modern history of M&A in A Giant-Cow Tipping by Savages, but the final product is unfortunately not equal to that ambition.  The highlight of Close writing is when he describes the events surrounding a major deal.  However connecting between these major deals is at times an intellectual trudge in figuring out how he’s tying these to one another.

I received a review copy of this book from LibraryThing.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency by James Tobin

The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the PresidencyThe Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency by James   Tobin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dream to follow his cousin’s Theodore to the Presidency seemed to be exactly on course until he was stuck down with polio and appeared to be derailed forever.  But as James Tobin recounts in his new book “The Man He Became:  How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency”, Roosevelt’s illness and his determination to regain his health and the use of his legs enabled him to make his way to the White House in a quiet unexpected way.

Tobin begins his account at his time period’s end with Inauguration Day 1933 following Roosevelt through the ceremonies of the day and how he proceeded to stand up, walk the new way he had learned, and sit down.  Then we are taken back to summer 1921 to an athletic and healthy Roosevelt just before he contracted the poliovirus.  The contrast is stark and makes the reader want to see how Roosevelt went from the latter to the former, a task that Tobin skillfully chronicles.

Within the recounting of Roosevelt’s contraction, illness, recovering, and physical rehabilitation from polio Tobin enlightens readers on a number of issues.  The first is the mechanics of the poliovirus and how it became major epidemic disease in the early 20th-century.  The second is the societal attitudes towards the disabled in the 1920s and early 1930s that many faced and were amplified when Roosevelt returned to politics.  The third was political dynamics that the nation and the Democratic party was facing throughout the mid-1920s especially when it came to New York Governor Al Smith and Roosevelt’s relationship towards him.  The fourth is Roosevelt’s dealings with the press about his physical condition and how much he actually used a wheelchair.

At 311 pages of text, Tobin for the vast majority of the book is both detailed and efficient in his writing.  The only time the text seemed to wander was when Tobin discussed the societal attitudes towards the disabled during the time period, mainly because he continued to show example after example of attitudes and biases after clearly giving the reader ample evidence already.  If being given an overabundance of information on a particular issue that Roosevelt had to confront is the only noticeable “glare” then it might come down to the individual reader and not the writer.

Upon finishing the book, Tobin’s view that polio helped Roosevelt win the Presidency does hold up.  A polio-free Roosevelt had all the talent to become President, whether he would have succeeded would be another matter.  However, it was a post-polio Roosevelt who learned to use his talents in another way like he had to learn to use his muscles in another way that helped create a recipe for a successful return to politics and then ascension to the Presidency.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book Review: To Green Angel Tower, Part 2 by Tad Williams

To Green Angel Tower, Part 2 (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #3; Part 2)To Green Angel Tower, Part 2 by Tad Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second part of To Green Angel Tower brings Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn to a stunning and thrilling finish.  The book begins with the Norn attack on Josua's camp and Simon & Miriamele's quest to the Hayholt, directly where it left off in Part 1 giving a "sense of continuity" of the overall novel.  The story arcs of the various second tier characters were either ended or brought into the main story before the last quarter of the book so as to concentrate on the major climactic siege of the Hayholt and the supernatural battle on top the aforementioned Green Angel Tower.

By the last quarter of the book every living character, save one, has made their way to the Hayholt through a variety of paths.  It is only then that all of them start realizing that they had been tricked by the Storm King and the Norns, including their human allies Elias and Pryates though the later had tried to cage his supernatural ally himself.  The Storm King's defeat is not through strength of arms, but on empathy towards the great antagonist at the right time that stymies his return to mortal plane.  The resolution to the great crisis is a unique twist that one doesn't see coming along, but given the one who expresses the empathy it goes well with that character's development throughout the book.

There were some issues I did have while reading that I have to mention, the first of which was the pace at the beginning of the book.  To Green Angel Tower was originally published whole in hardcover so one would assume that Part 2 would feel just like a continuation, but the beginning of Part 2 reads and feels like it is a different book entirely.  I mentioned in the first paragraph that Part 2 began where Part 1 left off to give a "sense of continuity" but it doesn't read that way especially as one continues on through Part 2.  It seems that To Green Angel Tower is actually two books in one that were pressed in the original publication so as to have the "trilogy" but the series would have been better served as a tetralogy when originally published.  The second was trying to keep the various timelines straight of the various storylines, especially as they started interconnecting with one another and which sometimes was maddening trying to remember what another character was doing somewhere else at the time.

Overall, To Green Angel Tower Part 2 was a fantastic finish to a memorable series.  Not withstanding my feeling that the series should be a tetralogy and my other minor issue, this is a series that any fantasy fan must read because of how Williams brought something new to the genre over a quarter of a century ago and inspired several other authors to bring their ideas forward with his success.  So consider Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn as well as this book recommended.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: Timetrap by David Dvorkin

TimetrapTimetrap by David Dvorkin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The premise of Timetrap by David Dvorkin is a slight of hand that the reader falls for from the experience of James Kirk, who himself falls for the Klingon deception.  The Enterprise encounters a Klingon Bird-of-Prey in Federation territory near the Tholian space, Kirk beams over in an attempt to grab a Klingon for questioning only for the ship to disappear as the result of an interstellar storm that also affects the Enterprise.  Kirk waits up among Klingons supposedly 100 years in the future during a period called "The Great Peace" between the Federation and Klingons to learn he is the reason it occurred.  However, the battered Enterprise arrives at Starbase Seventeen where Spock starts his investigation into Kirk disappearance.  Events quickly transpire that sends Kirk with a Klingon fleet into Federation space, but along the way the deception starts to unravel and completely falls apart as the two hostile factions face off with one another.

While the pace and overall story of the novel were good, it was the character development of Kirk that was really off putting and though at the end of the novel his behavior is hand-waved as a product of chemical manipulation it's still off putting.  The internal conflict of the Klingon undercover spy is well done and completely tricks the reader when the true is revealed.

Overall Timetrap is an quick, average read.  If your a Star Trek fan, I halfheartedly recommend it with the warning about Kirk.  If you're not a Star Trek fan then watch out because your perception of Kirk could get warped.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book Review: To Green Angel Tower, Part 1 by Tad Williams

To Green Angel Tower, Part 1 (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #3; Part 1)To Green Angel Tower, Part 1 by Tad Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first part of To Green Angel Tower hooks the reader from the first page with suspense, action, growing tensions that are unique to particular characters, and mysteries both solves and still unanswered.  Tad Williams begins the finale of his series Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn with major characters still separated throughout the vast terrain of Osten Ard, but through course of the events bring many of them together only to separate them once again.  The majority of the action takes place in and around the Stone of Farewell as newly knighted Simon Snowlock joins the battle for the survive of the town of refugees that had sprouted on the ancient Sithi site as Prince Josua begins to openly challenge his brother's rule.

The journey of Miriamele to the Stone of Farewell along with the dubious Cadrach brought together Isgrimnur, Tiamak, and the mentally lost Casamir in a journey through the dangerous Wran and enemy held borderlands.  The reunion of nearly all the major characters results in very interesting dynamics and sometimes annoying with Simon and Miramele's interactions varying on the situation.  The situation in Hernystir sees the Sithi ride to war and Maegwin lose her mind, which is neither improves or worsens her character development instead of just continuing to make it frustrating as usual.  And Williams turns his attention to Pryrates, Elias, Rachel the Dragon, and blind Guthwulf to give the situation in the Hayholt.

To Green Angel Tower (Part 1) builds on the first two books in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series as well establishing the endgame for entire story.  Part 1 ends just as important things look like they are about to take place, especially as Simon and Miriamele separate from Josua's ragtag army on a mission only Miriamele knows the objective.  It's an ending that makes the reader want to go straight to Part 2.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Book Review: Time for Yesterday by A. C. Crispin

Time for YesterdayTime for Yesterday by A.C. Crispin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On it's own Time for Yesterday by A.C. Crispin is a decent, fun Star Trek novel whether one has read it's precursor novel Yesterday's Son.  With that said, one's enjoyment of the novel and understanding of the interactions between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (as well as the majority of the TOS Enterprise crew) with Zar can only come after having read Yesterday's Son.  The book contains two plots that cross with one another thanks to time travel, but it's the initial one of the malfunctioning Guardian of Forever that comes across as the better of the two especially as the reader meets the creators of the Guardian.

Having been given this book by a relative, I didn't know what to expect.  The book was a fun read, but after the Guardian plot was wrapped up the rest of the book was missing the backstory that Yesterday's Son would have provided.  So you're thinking about reading this book without having read Yesterday's Son, I recommend you don't.  Find Yesterday's Son either on Kindle or at a used book store or at a friend's house and read it first before Time for Yesterday.  I fully intend to find Yesterday's Son so I can re-read this book and have a better appreciation (and review of it).

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams

Stone of Farewell (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #2)Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second volume Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy appears at first to be an event-laden set up piece for the grand finale series, however Stone of Farewell turned out into something more in-depth especially when it comes to characters.  From various locations around Osten Ard, characters that have survived the events of The Dragonbone Chair start heading to the legendary Stone of Farewell, a temporary sanctuary for those fighting against the tide of evil brought by the Storm King.  While others continue their noble, and sometimes misguided, personal quests.

From the north, Simon's journey begins with saving the lives of his friends from a death sentence then heads to the southern border of the Old Forest only to be separated from his friends.  In the west, Prince Josua leads a ragtag band of survivors in the Old Forest first in a battle of survival then into a quest that leads them to the vast plans in the east of the country to the Stone.  Miriamele learns her quest to bring Nabban to her uncle's side a failure before her arrival then finds herself being secretly traded from one political player to another while Duke Isgrimnur's search for the wayward Princess gets sidetracked to find small Wrannaman along with a legendary figure.  And in occupied Hernystir, Maegwin leds her exiled country in the depths of the mountains and finds a lost city.

From the first page the action is always moving forward unlike the beginning of The Dragonbone Chair.  Simon's sojourn with the exiled Sithi is a interesting and very necessary change of pace in the later half of the book as the reader continues to learn that things aren't necessary as they seem.  While the vast majority of the book is a great read, there are parts that are somewhat of a drag and questionable.  Both Miriamele and Maegwin seem to be well-written one page then clichéd the next, its very maddening as a reader.  Another is the fact that the majority of Josua's journey to the Stone comes from Deornoth's point-of-view, while Deornoth is a great character it questionable that a major player like Josua seems sidelined by the writer.

Stone of Farewell is a wonderful middle volume of a trilogy that is not only an adventure in itself, but builds up the story for the finale.  If you've read The Dragonbone Chair and are thinking about if you really want to continue with the series, I recommend you read the first 100 pages because you won't want to put it down.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Review: Star Trek Log One by Alan Dean Foster

Star Trek: Log One (Star Trek: Log, #1)Star Trek: Log One by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Star Trek: Log One by Alan Dean Foster features three short stories adapted from "the best episodes" Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS).  The three episodes are in order "Beyond the Farthest Star", "Yesteryear", and "One of Our Planets is Missing" which correspond with the first three episodes of TAS which makes one think they just adapted all the stories of TAS into books to make money, but that is another discussion all together.  The three stories are loosing connected as Foster presents them as a sequence of events transcribed from the Captain Logs of James T. Kirk, even though they are connected I feel its best to give a brief review of each story.

"Beyond the Farthest Star"- The longest story of the trio, it is also the slowest to develop.  The Enterprise gets caught in the pull of an uncharted black hole and barely are able to get into orbit when they encounter an dead alien vessel that has been in orbit for 3 million years.  Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty decide to explore the vessel and realize that it had been taken over by a malevolent energy being that transports over to the Enterprise when the four return then takes over the ship.  The standard crew versus creature-taken-over the ship trope then follows.  (2.5/5 stars)

"Yesteryear"- Whether all of TAS is considered canon or not, it seems this episode is considered canon.  The Enterprise returns to the Time Planet and the Guardian of Forever with several historians.  Kirk and Spock accompany one of the historians through the Guardian, but when they return no one recognizes Spock especially the Andorian first officer and Kirk's apparent best friend.  After examining the evidence it is deduced that Spock used the Guardian to return to Vulcan when he was seven and saved his younger self, posing as his cousin Selek.  A fair amount of the episode takes place on Vulcan following Spock and his younger self, giving insight into Spock's childhood along with Vulcan culture and philosophy.  This story is worth the buying the book alone. (5/5 stars)

"One of Our Planets is Missing"- Standard Enterprise encountering large space creature trope.  Well-written, but heavy handed with Vulcan telepathy as a deus-ex-machina.  (3/5 stars).

While the quality of the stories range from meh to great and some typos that should have been corrected during editing are present, Star Trek: Log One shows the continuing adventures of the original U.S.S. Enterprise and it's crew.  If you're new or long-time fan of the original televisions show I would recommend getting your hands on this book, especially for the story "Yesteryear".

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams

The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #1)The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first book of Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy on the surface looks like a cliché, however Williams puts his own original spins on those standard elements that in The Dragonbone Chair the reader is confronted with a fantasy that is familiar yet very different.  The main character is the young Simon, a scullion orphaned from birth, who becomes the assistant to the castle's doctor as old heroic King John's long life is coming to an end and his son, Elias, succeeds him.  Then as larger events that Simon only takes note of start effecting his life in the castle, he finds an open door in the floor.  From that moment Simon's takes him from the ancient castle of his birth to the reaches of the known world, not that he really wants to and doesn't prevent him from complaining.

Williams' story further populated by other intriguing characters, both friends and foes of Simon.  The troll Binabik who becomes Simon's travelling companion thanks to a secret message from Simon's mentor, Miriamele the only daughter of the corrupted new king who runs away under disguise only to join Simon, and Prince Josua who must confront and fight his older brother King Elias are but a few of the individuals that Williams makes the reader want to learn more about in future books.  But Williams' unique take on the "standard" elf was a pleasant surprise for those accustomed to the Tolkien version.

Coming to my first Tad Williams book, I had read and told various things to expect about his writing.  The most frequent was that he started slow and frankly this is correct, though once the action really kicks into gear all the events previously thought as tedious at the start to be seen by a different light.  Though overall not perfect, the storytelling is engaging and the worldbuilding top notch.

After finishing The Dragonbone Chair I am fully committed to seeing how story will play out over the next two (three if you have the Mass Market Paperback) books.  Yes, the book does start slow but as I said above once the action starts everything read about before will take on a different light as you along with Simon traverse Osten Ard.

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Book Review: The Price of War by Daniel Abraham

The Price of WarThe Price of War by Daniel Abraham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This second omnibus collection of Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quarter, The Price of War, is a page turner from beginning to end in a complete contrast to the first omnibus that was characterized by being a slow burner.  Otah and Maati again dominate the two novels that tell the two sides of a devastating war and its long disastrous consequences in which both men take different paths to solve, in both novels previous secondary characters return as well as new tell about how high the price of war is.

An Autumn War: Otah governs over the city of Machi continuing is nontraditional life with only one wife and one heir, in addition to hosting not one but two poets, one of which his friend Maati.  Even as Otah thinks and plans about a possible problem with the neighboring power, Galt, he doesn't know that events are in motion to end the Khaiem as he knows it.  Balasar Gice, the greatest general in Galt, has spent is life wanting to end the threat the andat present not only to his country but the world.  After retrieving information from the lifeless dessert that the Old Empire became thanks to the powers of the andat, Gice plans to forever end the threat that the poets and andat pose to the world.  These good men face off and the foundations of two great empires are shaken to their core.

The Price of Spring: A Third Empire as arisen after the Galtic War with Otah at its head looking to his old foes to save not only his people but theirs as well, but his former friend the poet Maati looks save his people by returning the andat to the world to heal the wounds he blames the Emperor for creating and neglecting with his scheme.  These two old men must navigate an uncertain future through women like that of Eiah Machi, who's  loyalty is divided between her father and Uncle Maati, and Vanjit, a survivor of the sacking of Udun.  The fate of the world, let alone the Khaiem and Galt, is in the balance as two men realize the price their previous decisions have cost.

I am going to be honest, if there are any flaws in either of these two novels I didn't notice them.  From the beginning I was gripped by the tale Abraham continued from Shadow and Betrayal.  If you are a fan of fantasy, you must read The Long Price Quartet and I recommend you read this book.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Jurassic ParkJurassic Park by Michael Crichton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had Jurassic Park on my shelf ever since the film adaptation appeared in theaters, sadly it took me this long to actually attempt to read it after my first attempt twenty years ago when I was still in elementary school.  After finishing Michael Crichton's novel of a theme park with living dinosaurs gone wrong, I have to say I waited too long before read it.  The story, the characters (with development), and the thought-provoking scientific/philosophical dialogue are top notch combination that sinks the hook into the reader with each page they turn.

Since I've rated the book only 4 stars, there are obvious flaws that I felt detracted from the enjoyment of the overall piece.  While the majority of the characters were well rounded, a few characters that for sections of the book were prominent felt flat especially Hammond.  The lack of explanation of how the larger dinosaurs were getting off the island at the end as opposed to the boat being used by the smaller species and juveniles after how everything else was figured out left the ending a tad less wrapped up  However, even though the scientific knowledge was 20-25 years it didn't turn out to be a hindrance to the enjoyment of the book.

After reading Jurassic Park, I am very much considering getting my hands on another Michael Crichton book.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review: Shadow and Betrayal by Daniel Abraham

Shadow and BetrayalShadow and Betrayal by Daniel Abraham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After years of reading recommendations about The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham and waiting to purchase all four volumes, I finally delved into the world Abraham created and I found myself pretty impressed.  This omnibus edition featured the first two volumes of the Quartet, A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal of Winter, which not only introduce the world but are separated in time from one another to be both independent and interdependent on one another.

A Shadow in Summer:  Otah Machi turns away from the traditional paths a young nobleman like him has been told to choose to create a new life for himself.  Almost a decade later Otah under an assumed name meets a former pupil, Maati, who kept on the traditional paths and succeeded in training to be a poet.  The two soon find themselves caught up on a insidious conspiracy to ruin the city of Saraykeht that is instigated by the andat, magically being that is thought made flesh and leashed to a "poet", Seedless who hopes to undermine his handler Heshai who is to teach Maati.

A Betrayal in Winter: Set fifteen years later after the first volume, Otah and Maati take different paths to the city of the former birth Machi.  The sons of the Khai kill one another for the honor to succeed their father, something Otah has no intention of taking part in as he continues his assumed existence.  However this eldest brother is murdered, but neither of the other two claim responsibility and conspire with the Dai-kvo to find the murderer is Otah by sending Maati to find out what's going on.  Both men soon find themselves caught up in another conspiracy instigated by a surprising source allied with a not so surprising accomplice.

As stated before the two stories are independent from one another thanks to the 15 years separating them from one another, however they are connected through minor storylines seen in Shadow that are expounded upon in Betrayal.  The stories center around Otah and Maati primarily, however both do feature a significant female point-of-view character that helps bring another perspective to the story that improves its overall quality.  Abraham slowly explains his magical system that employs the andat by first seeing them from the training poet Maati's point-of-view in Shadow and then from the point of view a poet handler in Betrayal in which Maati's observations expounded upon.

On grading both stories on their own merits, Shadow is the weaker of the two as it seemed to meander a few times and would have been graded around a 3.5 out of 5 while Betrayal would have rated a solid 4 out of 5.  After finishing Betrayal I was left looking forward to seeing what would happen in An Autumn War, the third volume of the Quartet, a feeling I didn't really have after finishing Shadow but was quickly forgotten since I was able to immediately start Betrayal thanks to this omnibus edition.  Overall I did enjoy both stories and so I recommend this book to lovers of characters, well-rounded stories, and fantasy.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew coming into American Gods, it was going to be a different type of book than I had read before.  It was not only different, but challenging and weird, though that doesn't mean it wasn't a good read.  The protagonist, Shadow, is released from jail days early to attend his wife's funeral and begins a surreal journey across America physically and metaphysically as a bodyguard to Mr. Wednesday.  Throughout this journey Shadow meets gods both ancient, or at least an American incarnation, and modern as his employer attempts to rally the older gods to rise up and challenge the newcomers.  Given his special relationship to Wednesday, Shadow is targeted by what seem to be forces in the government and thus has to hide away in the small town of Lakeside.  And throughout all of this Shadow must come to terms with his wife's death, though she keeps on visiting in various locations in the flesh.

The structure of the book mainly followed Shadow who, like the reader, is learning that the gods of past are real and very much in the now though because of innate privacy the reader doesn't learn much about Shadow as a person throughout the book.  Yes, we learn things about Shadow but after spending almost 600 pages that his character dominates, we really don't know him.  While some could consider this a flaw, personally I thought it was a strength of the novel.  At the end of some chapters Gaiman, through the writing of Mr. Ibis, describes how gods arrived in America through the travels of their believers.  Throughout the book there are several "interesting" scenes which might be disturbing for some readers or just frankly too weird for them.  I'll be honest some of them were pretty out there, but knowing what I was getting into I was able to bare them.

After finishing the book, I was glad to have spent the time I did reading it and there is no other thing I can say to recommend it.  But I'm going to paraphrase a statement I made earlier: it's different, challenging, and weird but that doesn't mean it isn't good.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book Review: The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima

The Crimson Crown (Seven Realms, #4)The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Crimson Crown completes Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms series in a wonderful, outstanding fashion that makes the reader not only appreciate the book by itself, but the series overall.  Queen Raisa and Han Alister, friends and both distant descendants of the infamous Demon King and legendary warrior queen Hanalea, try to bring together the peoples of the Fells in their own ways.  Raisa uses politics and her authority as Queen while Han uses his street smarts in an attempt to outmaneuver schemes of several Wizards, however both find themselves stymied or unintentionally ruining the other's plans.  Then the mysterious deaths of Wizards on Han's home turf and everything points to him, things start getting really difficult.

As Han attempts to keep his promise to the Clans, gain his revenge on the Bayars, and attempt to win Raisa's hand in marriage he continues to consult his magical mentor Crow, his ancestor Alger Waterlow and infamous Demon King, to learn his secrets and later the true events of a 1,000 years before.  Even with all his plans falling apart, Han discovers the lost Armory of the Gifted Kings, only to fall into the hands of the Bayars just afterwards at the same time Fells is betrayed and invaded by Arden.  Literally things go from bad to worse for both Raisa and Han, it looks like there will be no happy ending.

However, it was then that Chima showed her talent as a writer as she crafted a believable series of events that resolved the various storylines set up not only in the first half of the book but in the previous three books to a satisfying conclusion not only to the book but the series as well.  Not everyone the reader has met survives, not many "villains" get redeemed or die, betrayal by friends or family occur that result in either deaths or lose of trust, and the external enemies are still a threat.  It is because the Seven Realms series doesn't end like a fairy tale that makes this book so outstanding, its about how two individuals from different backgrounds were able to confront a 1,000 years of history to be together and start changing their homeland in a lifetime of work.

If you like good fantasy, or good storytelling, or good characters, or all three(!); I recommend this series to readers of all ages.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review: Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove

Ruled BritanniaRuled Britannia by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For those who have ever thought about reading at least one alternate history novel, Harry Turtledove's Ruled Britannia is the one you should try.  The premise of the novel is the successful invasion of England via the famed Spanish Armada by the Duke of Parma's army that places Queen Elizabeth in captive within the Tower of London and places Philip II's daughter Isabella on the throne along side her husband-cousin Albert.  Almost 10 years later, celebrated English playwright Williams Shakespeare is brought into a conspiracy to write and stage a play that will insight London to rise up upon learning of the death of Philip, but then Shakespeare must contend with the occupying Spaniards wanting him to write a play in tribute of Philip to by staged upon news of this death.

The novel is seen from only two point-of-view characters: Shakespeare and Lope de Vega, an officer in the occupying Spanish army fluent in English and an unpublished playwright.  Through their eyes the setting of Spanish-occupied late 16th-century London comes alive as well as the individuals the two encounter without throughout the novel, including those they both interact with.  Obviously it allows the reader to view both sides of Spanish-controlled Catholic England politically speaking, but also religiously.  Although both men are friendly with one another, especially as Shakespeare doesn't want to upset an officer of the occupying army, there is an unspoken barrier between the two the reader readily recognizes that is present throughout the novel that adds to the story.

The use of late 16th-century English speech patterns by Turtledove brought an authentic feel to the story, though it does take a little time to get use nonetheless by the end of the book its very easy to follow.  Though the story does seem to tread water around the 60-70% mark, in retrospect the events that happen therein really pay off throughout the climax of the story.  With all of this said, if you've ever wanted to read an alternate history novel this standalone work by Harry Turtledove is the one you should try.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book Review: The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima

The Gray Wolf Throne (Seven Realms, #3)The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third installment of Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms series send the reader first on a action-packed harrowing return to the Fells for both the story's protagonists only to send them into the dangerous atmosphere of the court surrounding The Gray Wolf Throne even while not entirely trusting one another.  Picking up weeks after the end of the previous book, Raisa and Han journey separately back to their home only for their paths to intertwine with them barely alive upon entering Marisa Pines Camp.  Once there Raisa reveals her true identity to Han and the fallout continues to reverberate throughout the rest of the book even as they navigate the politics of the Clans, Nobles, Wizards, and court as Raisa asserts her claim to her birthright.

Throughout the book the magical system hinted at in the previous two books is on full display, with Han and Fire Dancer each showing considerable knowledge and strength in their personal preferences but weaknesses in disliked learning about in Oden's Ford.  Also throughout the book was the various politics at play that Raisa and frankly Han have to deal with after the former's armor-clad sudden reappearance.  All the while both Raisa and Han must fine were they stand with one another.

The Gray Wolf Throne not only stands solidly on what the previous two novels built, but creates enough dangling plotlines to set up the finale of the series especially the last few pages in which you start questioning everything you had been expecting.  Just like it's predecessors this book is great standing alone as well as part of an overall series.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review: Controversy Creates Cash by Eric Bischoff

Controversy Creates CashControversy Creates Cash by Eric Bischoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Controversy Creates Cash, former WCW executive Eric Bischoff gives his side of the story against a decades worth of bad press he received in the Internet Wrestling Community.  Bischoff quickly starts off by setting the record straight on some of his early life and how he got into the wrestling business in AWA.  Then goes through his ups and downs in WCW before leading the organization even coming close to quitting and going to Hollywood.  Once in charge of WCW, Bischoff explains his philosophy to make the organization successful and how he implemented it.  Bischoff also discussed how in 3 1/2 years, WCW went from being a multi-million dollar property to being sold for chum change and all the factors that led to it.

From the outset, Bischoff tells he readers he knows they come into reading autobiographies that they expect shameless self-promotion and/or b.s.  While Bischoff tries to avoid this, he's still guilty of doing this, more so on the self-promotion than on the b.s. though.  Bischoff repeatedly brings up the "dirt sheet" writers and after a while it gets old, but one can tell that he feels they were the one most responsible for giving false information about him.  Throughout the book, Bischoff does discuss some famous situations in which he had been cast as the villain, but instead of going all defensive Bischoff is very balanced.  If in retrospect Bischoff believes he mishandled a situation he lets the reader know, but he never throws a wrestler "under the bus" however if it was a corporate officer Bischoff takes them to task.

My opinion of this book changed throughout my reading of it, the first half of the book I was very positive but the majority of the latter part of the book I felt only so-so especially as Bischoff really let his frustrations show that even his co-author couldn't improve upon.  But considering that Eric Bischoff is the top five individuals ever in pro wrestler, I recommend this book.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book Review: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

The Exiled Queen (Seven Realms, #2)The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Exiled Queen, Cinda Williams Chima takes her two main protagonists and the readers away from all they had known before and sent to the neutral city of Oden's Ford.  However, the journeys there and their experiences are not without hazard or excitement which keeps the reader very much engaged.  Chima continues the growth of her main characters as well as several secondary ones which helps develop the story, nor do Raisa (aka Rebecca) and Han really meet once again until over halfway through the book giving their story arcs independence from one another even as they interact.  Through both character's stories, the world and history of the Seven Realms is further explored without taking away from the narrative flow of the book and putting in building blocks for later in the series.  Although a few things aren't exactly explained to satisfaction given their importance or revelation in this book, I can't really complain.  The events of the last 100 pages not only were a pay off of what developed since page 1, but also left me wanting to see what happens in The Gray Wolf Throne.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: The Hardcore Diaries by Mick Foley

The Hardcore DiariesThe Hardcore Diaries by Mick Foley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hardcore Diaries is my first taste of Mick Foley's writing and I found it enjoyable reading.  Foley has a conversational style of writing that is easy to follow, even with not to perfect grammar like tense changes, especially as he's describing what he's best known for actions within the squared circle.  Although the book's main theme of storyline conception to completion is fascinating and Foley's emotional roller coaster connected is great, I found his side stories fun, enjoyable, and humbling additions.  Though Foley's repeated references to a porn star and chair shots to the head do get a little tiring close to the end of the book, overall I usually glossed over them.  Given this is my first Mick Foley book, I very interested to read his first two biographical efforts which seemed to more regarded than The Hardcore Diaries.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

The Demon King (Seven Realms, #1)The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cinda Williams Chima's The Demon King is a fantastic first installment of the Seven Realms series.  The first appearances of the two primary protagonists of the book introduces the reader to the various levels of society that inhabit the Queendom of Fells and how they interact with one another in a vivid way that makes the reader want to know more not only about the characters but the world.  Both main protagonists, Hans Alister and Princess Raisa, are well rounded and believable individuals which helps throughout the story, the secondary characters art still somewhat flat with the exception of Amon Bryne who is a little more fleshed out thanks to being only other point-of-view of the book.  A minor complaint is that many of the plot twists are very much telegraphed, however considering my reading experience and being outside the target age group, this particular complaint shouldn't dissuade others from reading this book.  The best compliment I can give this book is that several times I lost track of time while reading because it was so engaging and at the end it made me want to see what happens in The Exiled Queen.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings (The First Law, #3)Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The climatic last third of Joe Abercrombie's Last Argument of Kings, is a fantastic sequence that the reader cannot help but read in one sitting.  After the first two book's of The First Law trilogy this confluence of events is exactly what the series deserved in it's final volume, however leading up to this literally climatic battle there was a congestion of happenings to begin the book that while not frustrating just took too long to get through that made the volume feel longer than it was.  Abercrombie's characters lost none of their originality or well-roundedness throughout the book, however in a few instances they seemed to accept things or do things that seem literally out-of-character.  Like that previous two volumes, Abercrombie seemed to telegraph basic fantasy tropes then paid them off in surprising and unexpected ways though as stated before some of them happened at the beginning of the book and felt longer to get through then seemed necessary once you finished the book.  The ending of Last Argument of Kings is without a doubt a very thought provoking one, especially in the character of Bayaz who is the embodiment of the saying "history is written by the victors."  Though I was a tad disappointed with the pace of the first 375 or so pages, the last 260 pages through are what makes The First Law Trilogy great and so if you've read the first two books, The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged, then you have to read this book to see how all the story arcs play out.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Review: The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

The Princes in the TowerThe Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have read Alison Weir before, her biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her overview history of The Wars of the Roses, and have found her enjoyable.  However, I was disappointed less than 30 pages into this book and it never improved.  I read Princes in the Tower to contrast a biography of Richard III by Paul Murray Kendall, unfortunately instead of well thought out case for Richard III has the murderer of the Princes, I got Sir Thomas More 2.0 and arch villain of Shakespeare.

I give credit to Weir for the information written in Chapters 18-19 & 21 relating to the events that occurred after Bosworth and the discovery of the skeletons that are most likely the Princes and medical exams performed on them.  This later part of the book, save for Chapter 20 which will be written about below, is it's redeeming quality.

However, the rest of the book just made me clinch my jaw and bare through the essential retelling of More with interesting Weir inventions.  One of the reasons can be found in Chapter 20 about Sir James Tyrell's confession about murdering the Princes, a confession that wasn't published.  Weir stated that because Tyrell had held positions under Henry VII, the first Tudor believed that the confession would implicate him in the Princes' murder.  However, Weir also states that Henry VII's "interviewers" also questioned John Dighton about Tyrell's story and he confirmed it, why is this significant? Dighton was one of the two men Tyrell hired to murder the Princes.  Dighton was then let go while Tyrell, who had been arrested in relation to another conspiracy, was executed and afterwards Henry VII told his top officials he knew what happened to Edward V and his brother.  If Henry VII was so concerned about a confession given by someone he had given appointments to, why was Dighton who Henry VII never rewarded allowed to walk away instead of signing a confession have it published before being executed and while keeping Tyrell separate to his own fate?

Weir hoped readers wouldn't catch the problems of her arguments, but this one example shows why I gave this book the rating I did.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Review: Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2)Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The middle chapter of The First Law Trilogy is a fun mixture of epic journeys, brutal battles, political intrigue, and yes even sex (unfortunately).  Joe Abercrombie after leading all his flawed and well written characters to Adua in The Blade Itself, he sent them all far away from the middle continent of his world.  The epic journey of Bayaz, Logen, Ferro, and Jezal across the Old Empire on their way to the Edge of the World is given all the sense of an epic quest that sees all four change in their views of themselves but to the others as well.  Inquisitor, now Superior, Glokta journeys to Dagoska to find out what happened to his predecessor and to defend the city from the Gurkish any way he can while looking over his shoulder for the stab in the back he always expects is coming but is continually surprised when it never happens.  Up North, Logen's former crew join up with Collem West and together they attempt to fight off Bethod's invasion of Angland facing challenges none of them expected including dealing with the burden of leadership.  Abercrombie surprises fantasy fans, even those use to the twist and turns of GRR Martin, by how he spins the three main story arcs in this book, especially the ending to the 'epic quest' led by Bayaz.  However it's the characters that even really makes one not want to set down this book and that's why this book is so good.

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Book Review: Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles by James C. Goodale

Fighting for the PressFighting for the Press by James C. Goodale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles is a first-hand account by James C. Goodale of The New York Times’ battle against Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice for the right to publish the Pentagon Papers.  At the time Goodale was the Times’ general counsel and lead architect of the legal strategy the Times’ lawyers used in the First Amendment cases which included the Pentagon Papers.  Goodale’s first-hand knowledge not only of the case, but of the events leading up to the case gave extreme weight to this book.

Goodale lays the foundation of the Times’ strategy in the Papers case by discussing the case of Times’ reporter Earl Caldwell and the reasons for the newspapers fight against the Department of Justice’s subpoena for his sources.  As that Caldwell’s case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Goodale along with the Times’ editorial staff and management confronted the issue of the Pentagon Papers.  Goodale’s account of arguments with the Times’ management and the Times’ own lawyers before and at the beginning of the case brings a whole new dimension to the history of the case.  The day-by-day account of the Times’ Pentagon Paper case’s nine-day journey to the U.S. Supreme Court and the actions by the government from Goodale’s point-of-view are equally riveting as well as the reaction to their Supreme Court victory.

The last quarter of the book, Goodale gives a history of First Amendment cases after the Pentagon Papers including the Caldwell case.  It isn’t until the last two chapters that Goodale takes a look of the environment of government-press relations surrounding the Pentagon Papers to the current War on Terrorism under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  Though solid compare and contrast between the actions of the Nixon DOJ to those under Bush and Obama, Goodale attempts to shift the main thrust of his book from the Pentagon Paper case to the current government related actions concerning the freedom of press in a lurch, which is a tad confusing to the reader and harms the overall quality of the book.

As an author James C. Goodale, quickly and openly expressed bias that might show within the pages of this book outside of his occupation as the Times’ general counsel.  Self-describing himself as part of the ‘Eastern Establishment’ and politically opposed to Richard Nixon, Goodale gives the reader fair warning as to overall assessment of the political environment in the early 1970s.  With this in mind, Goodale gives an overview of the times which those lived through, or were well read in, the period would easily understand but tad harder for those less knowledgeable.  The legal terms and procedures were well explained by Goodale for the reader and kept the text easy to follow.

Fighting for the Press is a book not only about an important case in American legal and journalistic history for the general reader, but most importantly for historians and journalists.  While this book is excellent for a student of history, it is to journalists and journalism students that I greatly recommend this book.  If Goodale’s purpose was to give journalists a history and knowledge of their First Amendment rights and continual challenges, he succeeded without question.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Book Review: Richard the Third by Paul Murray Kendall

Richard the ThirdRichard the Third by Paul Murray Kendall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Murray Kendall's Richard the Third is a readable biographical introduction of the last Plantagenet King of England that for many only comes to mind as the sinister hunchback of Shakespeare. Even though over 50 years worth of research has outdated some of Kendall's evidence, his overall body of work gives the reader a truer glimpse of Richard the man than from Richard the arch villain. From the outset, Kendall informs his reader of personal interpretations he has made from evidence through the use of starred (*) references within the text with explanations in the Notes after the main body of text. Kendall does tackle the death of the Princes in the first Appendix as he feels a discussion within the text itself would not be proper, which given the subject seems to be the correct course. Although Kendall believes that Richard was not responsible for the death of his nephews, in fact believing the evidence points to the Duke of Buckingham as instigator if not actual culprit, but Kendall does acknowledge that Richard might have in some way acquiesced and ultimately believed he was at fault through taking the throne. In the second appendix Kendall gives a historiography surrounding Richard of over the centuries until the publication of his book, which he hopes to be a moderate addition instead of "revisionist." Although the writing and pace are a little dated, Kendall's book is a fine introduction to Richard the man.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm going to come out and just say it, The Blade Itself kicks off with action from various point-of-view characters whose storylines intertwine in an interesting and believable way.  Joe Abercrombie has created a world of fading, but still deadly magic with monuments from a legendary age made famous by legendary figures in which ordinary characters suddenly find themselves interacting with.  The narrative covers locations over three continents of the First Law world, in which we observe or learn three distinct cultures thus further building up the world.  But what most impressed me was not the book concluding with definite end, but instead "open ending" that made the reader yearn for Before They Are Hanged.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

Colonel RooseveltColonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edmund Morris' final volume in his biographical trilogy of Theodore Roosevelt, Colonel Roosevelt, is a fantastic conclusion about this colossus in American history.  Morris' writing is an easy read and his research top notch thus making this a wonderful book for students of history of any age.  Though like the previous volume of this trilogy, Theodore Rex, the book seems to be stylistically divided in two with the first stronger than the second.

Beginning with a wonderful prologue describing T.R.'s African safari, the first half Colonel Roosevelt shows Roosevelt seemingly having all the power and prestige of the Presidency without being in office.  His 1910 tour of European, including being the U.S. special ambassador at Edward VII's funeral, looks like a victory tour even now like it seemed to be then.  However, upon his return home Roosevelt starts to become disillusioned with this chosen successor William Howard Taft.  This disillusionment turned into disgust and Roosevelt aimed to unseat Taft only for the Republican establishment to prevent his nomination in 1912 resulting in a party split.  Even acknowledging defeat Roosevelt campaigned hard to score the best showing every by a third party candidate, showing up Taft in the process.

After 1912 not only does Roosevelt seemed to decline, but so Morris stylistic prose.  The second half of the book begins with the South American expedition that almost cost him his life, however it relating what happened Morris seems to give the reader an overview of what it about to happen to his subject and the style of the book starts to feel melancholy.  While Morris shows Roosevelt's resolve to prepare the country for entry into The Great War, he also shows how Roosevelt was losing is once famous balancing between extremes.  The death of Quentin heavily foreshadowed almost in league with the stylistic change, Roosevelt's own death.

The epilogue of Roosevelt's funeral followed by the course of his place in history along with short biographies on his wife and family, is welcome stylistic change as Morris looks over the course of nearly 90 years to see how Roosevelt's 60 year life is viewed and did so in great effect.

After the first two volumes of this trilogy it was hard for me to give this book only 4 stars, however the second half of Colonel Roosevelt saw seemed so much of a disconnected with the first half and the epilogue that it was jarring.  This stylist change could have been all in my own head as I knew where Roosevelt's journey was taking him, but there did seem to be change especially in comparing the second half to the epilogue.  However, as I stated in the opening paragraph Morris writing and his research are first rate and I can not recommend this final volume of his T.R. trilogy enough.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Book Review: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The finale of the Millennium trilogy is a satisfying conclusion to the story of Lisbeth Salander began in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Taking up where The Girl Who Played with Fire left off, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest follows first Lisbeth's struggle for first life and then her freedom with the assistance of Mikael Blomkvist and host of others.  The introduction of "the Section" from within the Swedish Security Service in the role as the antagonist helps move the majority of the story arcs along in an unexpected twist than what one assumes is going to happen.

The development of each established and newly introduced character throughout the book is not only well done, but welcome after devoting so much time invested in them.  The most important development is that of Lisbeth herself who transforms from someone uncompromising to someone who realizes her position as a full citizen after seeing all her demons expunged from her life, but only after a thrilling epilogue that wraps all the loose ends.

I can not express enough how much I love this book, but I read the last half of the book in just two days and as the title of my review states it hurt to put this book down when I had to.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book Review: Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

Theodore RexTheodore Rex by Edmund Morris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edmund Morris begins Theodore Rex, the second installment of his biographical trilogy, within hours of where he ended of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.  The prologue shows Roosevelt's journey first to Buffalo then escorting his slain predecessor's body to Washington for a public memorial.  Morris transitions to the main text of the biography when Roosevelt's main duty as President changes from "Chief Mourner" to Chief Executive, and the book then be divided in two corresponding to Roosevelt's two terms.

The first section of the book, detailed the first three and a half years of Roosevelt's presidency and is the strong section of the book.  Morris not only relates Roosevelt's innate political skill in dealing with older and more conservative members of the GOP in Congress he had to interact with, but also his belief that as President he needed to do things none of his predecessors had done including cultivating a relationship with the press on an unprecedented scale.  Morris' goes into great detail about both domestic and foreign topics that Roosevelt dealt with, in particular battling trusts and Panama.  Throughout this period, Roosevelt also outmaneuvered any possible rival for the Republican nomination in 1904 then got elected in dominating fashion.

After the election of 1904, the book's second section begins and there seems to be a shift that becomes noticeable as one reads.  While the first section of the book is full of action, the second is sedate by comparison.  As Morris explains in the book, because of the way Congress met basically all of 1905 was void of the anything meaningful happening on the domestic front while Roosevelt was active in foreign affairs.  But even though this in mind, the fact that not until late 1907 or early 1908 does there seem to be as much activity as what happens in the first section.  A important reason is that Morris' touches upon Roosevelt most enduring legacy, his conservationism in establish national parks and monuments for future generations.

By the end of the book, Morris has imparted that the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt has transformative not only for the office but Constitutionally as well to the consternation of long-time legislators who believed Congress should have more power than the President.  However Morris never outright states this, instead he gives all the evidence of this throughout the book giving the reader a clear picture of this transformative period in American history.  If you are interested in Theodore Roosevelt, early Twentieth Century politics, or American history in general I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Millennium #2)The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, the second installment in his Millennium Trilogy, it opens with protagonists Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander world's apart, literally.  But just like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, both Blomkvist and Salander are drawn together in a riveting mystery in which one is aiming to avenge the injustice of her life and the other looking to save her even if she doesn't him to.  The addition of old and new characters to help define give depth to not only the mystery but the dimensions of the fascinating dark version of Sweden that Larsson conceived.

For the first quarter to a third of the book, the stage is set for the event that launches the action for the rest of the book.  Though at times it is slow, Larsson's execution after the "event" shows the genius of that stage setting.  For significant portion of the middle of the book Salander is not heard from making the reader wonder what her true roll in the "event" was.  In the meantime, the reader follows the police, Blomkvist, and others as they react to the "event" until Salander shows up once again and things really start to get interesting as not only do we find out what happened to her during the "event" but also the explanation of her life before THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

Although I was a tad annoyed with all the build up at the beginning of the book, Larsson's seemingly non-stop pace throughout the rest of the book more than makes up for it.  THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is a amazing middle installment to this trilogy, building not only what came before but also setting the stage for what promises to be a fantastic finale.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The Rise of Theodore RooseveltThe Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the early afternoon of September 13, 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was eating lunch on his descent from the top of Mount Marcy where he no doubt had contemplated his future not only in politics but in life.  Now just hours after possibly concluding that his political fortunes would descend as he would from the mountain top, a ranger baring a yellow telegram message came into view that would mark the end of "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" not in political obscurity but it's mountain top.

Edmund Morris ended the first volume of his biography of Theodore Roosevelt on the cusp of becoming President of the United States after detailing Roosevelt's life to that point from his birth in October 1858.  Along the way, Morris shows the development of Roosevelt's views from youth to maturity, in life and in politics.  While descriptive and showing fascination with his subject, Morris does not gush upon Roosevelt forgiveness when confronted with demeaning views, speeches, and writings that to the 21st century would raise our eyebrows.

The detail Morris shows in this biography on almost a daily basis bring Roosevelt to life, first as a unhealthy child who fascination for learning about the natural world was cultivated by his father who also encourage him to build up his body as well as his mind.  Roosevelt's transformation from a fashionable dandy undergraduate at Harvard yearn for reform in politics into the political Rough Rider that was about to assume the Presidency is a long process that Morris shows the reader so well, the reader doesn't realize it until almost the end of the volume.

From seeing Roosevelt at the height of his power in the prologue then see his rise, both slow and meteoric, through the epilogue, Morris hooks the reader in and makes them eagerly anticipate what will be seen on the next page.  I can not recommend enough "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris to every student of history and to anyone who loves political biographies.

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