Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second volume of The Lord of the Rings continues Frodo Baggins' journey towards the dark land of Mordor while the rest of his companions deal with armies of the Great Eye and the traitorous Saruman.  'The Two Towers' is where J.R.R. Tolkien showed the reader the danger his world was in and raising the stakes by showing the effects of Sauron's darkness was already having on lands he had captured.

'The Two Towers' contains the third and fourth books that Tolkien divided The Lord of the Rings into.  The third book begins with Company, sans Frodo and Sam, battling the machinations of Isengard in various ways.  The fourth follows Frodo and Sam from their split from the Company to the very edge of Mordor itself thanks to Gollum.  Throughout Towers, Tolkien continually builds the tension and the stakes all the characters deal with as the darkness threatening their world goes on the move.  Although he separated the two story arcs into different books, Tolkien drops hints to his overall timeline by the flight of the Nazgul that all the characters see at various times.  Unfortunately Tolkien's decision to split the story arc of the rest of the Company into two created the need for a flashback retelling of the Ent march against Isengard instead of a 'first-hand' account of the battle.

Although the material in Towers was originally intended by J.R.R. Tolkien to be directly in the middle of an entire one-volume story, a publisher decision to split the tale into three volumes creating mixed results for Towers.  As intended by Tolkien the material increased the tension and action the characters experienced, only to suddenly cut off as events seemed to be gaining traction.  However, the cliff hanger quality that Tolkien intended at the end of Book Four as it finishes Towers is retaining making the reader want to see what happens next in the story of Frodo and Sam.

'The Two Towers' reads like it was intended, the middle part of one-continuous story, resulting in it never really feels like a individual book.  In Towers, the characters introduced  in Fellowship continued to grow and start interacting with various new characters stepping onto the stage of the story.  Along with character development, the increasing action and rising tensions between good and evil build up the overall story of The Lord of the Rings.  Upon finishing The Two Towers, readers can not wait to see how Tolkien's epic is completed in 'The Return of the King'.


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Friday, December 26, 2014

Book Review: Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

Pyramids (Discworld, #7)Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The seventh installment of Discworld finds Terry Pratchett giving the reader a glimpse into the Kingdom of Djelibeybi and it's Assassin Guild-trained new king, Teppic.  The story revolves various themes such as tradition vs. innovation, belief vs. reality, three-dimensional thinking vs. four-dimensional thinking, and what's the deal with pyramids all with a humorous twist.

The two main characters are Teppic, first a prince training to be an assassin only to become king right after finishing his Guild-training, and his father King Teppicymon XXVII, first the god-king of the Old Kingdom then a ghost watching as his body is prepared for his eternal afterlife.  The two face their new situations wanting to change things only to find the Chief Priest Dios standing in the way, only for young Teppic to outdo the Priest by ordering the biggest Pyramid ever for his father to catastrophic results when he along with everyone else learns what pyramids actually do.

Besides the father and son duo who dominate the majority of the point-of-view scenes, other secondary characters have several moments to themselves including the aforementioned Dios.  However only Dil the chief embalmer really stood out compared to those who technically might be more "important."  Unfortunately what was suppose to be the big joke that was foreshadowed throughout the first half of the book turned out to be a dud when it turned out a camel was the greatest mathematician on the Disc.

Overall the general story arc(s) and the humorous, yet catastrophic, events are a fun read even with less than enjoyable secondary characters and the dud "big joke.  Pyramids might be a "one-off" in the Discworld series, but it's a fun book.


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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Book Review: A World of Ice & Fire by George R.R. Martin

The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of ThronesThe World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The newest literary extension to George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series is a history of Westeros extensively cataloguing the reigns of the Targaryens and their fall, giving a backstory to the events of Martin's main work.  A collaboration between Martin and Elio M. Garcia & Linda Antonsson, "The World of Ice & Fire" is not a mystery-solving or spoiler revealing book but gives the reader the historical knowledge that the characters of Martin's series had giving them a better appreciation to the numerous references that characters give one another.

The oversized 300+ page book with over 170 original illustrations reads like a scholarly work that some times borders on being dry, however the information is pretty well thought out and expounded upon by all three authors as they give depth to the backdrop that is Westeros in ASOIAF.  The illustrations include many portraits and landscapes, some of which reveal for the first time people or places mentioned in the books but not traveled to.  "World" begins at the literal beginning of Martin's creation as the fictional author recounts the legendary beginnings of Westeros and it's peopling through with the inclusion of other parts of the world that have a later impact on the continent.  The majority of the first third of the book deals with the near 300 year history of Targaryen Conquest, Rule, and Fall.  The next third is the individual histories of the main Kingdoms of Westeros both before and after the Conquest, as well as family histories for all the leading families of the realm.  The final third deals with the world beyond Westeros, which includes many strange people and places.

Although some might dislike the sometimes dry recounting of history that in various ways still keeps certain mysteries, well mysterious, in truth it's hard not to find something to dislike in this book.  While a map with location names would have been nice for places beyond Westeros so the reader would have a better sense of a location's relationship to everything else, one could argue that was located in another literary appendage.  The artwork was fantastic though on a few occasions the same individual was depicted multiple times by different artists but looking completely different, which sometimes made the reader do a double take.  However one has to appreciate the audience-creation that each artist did in relation to the same information given them.

Overall "The World of Ice & Fire" should be thought of as a in-universe history book that allows readers to see Westeros the same as the characters, especially the nearly 300 year history of the Targaryens on the continent that shaped the landscape of ASOIAF.  As long as readers and fans approach this book in the correct way, they will enjoy it (even with the arms of House Blackfyre mysteriously on the cover).


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Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The dystopian literature classic "1984" by George Orwell is known today by the general public through catchphrases and Super Bowl commercials, however the introduction of the "Orwellian nightmare" this novel presented in the late 1940s were eye-opening at the time.

The novel begins with Winston Smith making his way to his apartment and putting his crimethink into practice by starting a diary.  We then follow Winston as continues his one-man rebellion against Big Brother and the Party.  Soon Winston finds a comrade in Julia, a rebel from the waist down, and the two begin an affair.  The affair and their rebellion ends when the Thought Police arrest them, led by Inner Party leader O'Brien, who Winston believed to be a rebel as well.  Then Winston is tortured and brainwashed into becoming a loving member of the Party, happy to return Big Brother's love and can not wait to announce his crimes.

The broken and oppressive world in which Winston lives is a stunning contrast to what the reader is accustomed to as well as the contradictory political language that the Party uses in its rule.  These foundational constructions by Orwell using Winston's internal thoughts help the reader understand the Oceania of 1984 as well as Winston's acceptance of already being dead.  The misunderstanding by Winston of who was his friend and who was his enemy is done expertly by Orwell, giving the novel breathe as well as some added character depth.  Orwell's unsettling writing of Winston's imprisonment, torture, and brainwashing make the last third of the book the most powerful as we see the character we've gotten to know for almost 200 pages change in front of our eyes.

However, Orwell's Party doesn't seem that bright given what O'Brien states during Winston's torture.  The Thought Police had been following Winston for seven years, which meant they were allowing Winston to potentially infect other Party members with his crimethink.  The fact that they were able to capture Julia, a rebel of her own, seems like an attempt by Orwell to save the Party's face but it only makes it more glaring.  For all their talk of power, they seemed pretty powerless to just let Winston keep walking around free for seven years.  This one flaw leads to the reader noticing some others less egregious flaws in the overall work, but nothing that doesn't effect the overall quality of the writing.

In the end, the themes and ideas that Orwell introduced continue to be debated even today with government surveillance and media manipulation.  However what Orwell could never have imagined was the individual people could compete with the government and media in distorting the truth by way of Photoshop.  "1984" is a warning about how man could be robbed of his human nature either through passive education or more extreme persuasion, the story of Winston Smith keeps reminding the reader that everyone needs to fight to keep their basic nature.


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Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The second book of The Moral Instruments, "City of Ashes" continues Cassandra Clare's overall story right where the first book left off as well carrying over all the "meh" worthy characteristics presented in "City of Bones".

Clare begins her book with action from the beginning and sets the plot in motion, however everything then starts going downhill.  The main characters Clary and Jace remain the same as when we first seem them in "City of Bone" only now with the added taboo sibling romantic love angle between them, which is beyond weird since both know about their familial relationship now.  The weird sibling romantic angle isn't the only love connection that is just off the rails, Magnus and Alec is completely eye rolling for the simple fact that a 300+ year old warlock is hosting a 16 year old kid in his house a lot.  Then there is the introductions of more Clave members, especially two adult women who unfortunately are some of the worst written characters of the book---Maryse Lightwood and Inquisitor Imogen Herondale.  And that is just the beginning of all the frustrating things in this book that ended with another thud epilogue like "City of Bones".

The only thing that kept me continuing reading was the quick pace of the overall narrative, which allowed me to have an overall "meh" with the entire book.


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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowlings

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third time I've read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 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.

Like the first book in the series, Chamber of Secrets features brevity in length which can be easily explained as Rowlings tailoring the book to her primary audience of tweens.  Just like in the previous book, Rowlings' word choices are brilliant in giving vivid descriptions of the events that are transpiring as well as the background information that she built upon from the series first book.  Like the first book Chamber of Secrets involves a mystery, but this time the consequences are truly life-threatening to Harry and his friends especially Hermione and Ginny Weasley.

[Spoilers Below]
The second installment of the Harry Potter series is a mixture of elements for the first and new things, a critical decision by Rowlings to advance the overall story.  From the start Harry is touched by the magical world with the introduction of Dobby attempting, multiple times, to prevent Harry from returning to Hogwarts.  The rescue of Harry from the Dursley's house by the Weasley brothers and his stay at the Burrow is a wonderful extension of world building Rowlings began in Sorcerer's Stone.  The biggest debut in Chamber of Secrets is the first Horcrux in the story with Tom Riddle's Diary, though we only find this out later in Half-Blood Prince.  The climax which has only Harry and Ron figuring out the clues as to what was in (with help from a petrified Hermione) and where the Chamber of Secrets was, different from when all three of the main characters worked together, Rowling would reverse the situation in the next book with Harry and Hermione the main actors in the book's climax.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a wonderful second installment of Rowlings magical series. The reader's view of the wizarding world grows a little without overwhelming the book's main audience too soon in the series.  Like it's predecessor it is stands up over time.


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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Two-Disc Special Widescreen Edition)



3.0 out of 5 stars Faithful to the Book For Both Good and Ill
The film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a wonderful and faithful to the book as well as to it's main audience of young readers. Director/Producer Chris Columbus worked deftly with his young stars and acting veterans to bring J.K. Rowlings' Hogwarts to life as young Harry Potter discovers his place in the wizarding world.

While the film is faithful to the book, this a determent as well. The attempt to replicate as much as possible the well loved book to cater to the film's young audience, drags down the overall product as many favorite scenes that could have been skipped or shortened were in the film whole. The decision to cater to the millions of young readers is understandable, however it created several instances of plot dragging which is very noticeable on film than on a page.

The acting is very good and natural for main of the young actors, many of whom were doing their first acting jobs in this film. The veteran actors on the cast did a superb job in their characters--whether teachers, relatives, or other adults--which provided the world Rowlings created with an air of realism and not the sense that they were doing the film for a paycheck.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a wonderful film that this faithful to the book for both good and ill. It is a fantastic first installment of the Potter film franchise that any new young reader of the Potter books would greatly enjoy.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R2YTT95H2DZN1/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Review: Helsinki Noir edited by James Thompson

Helsinki NoirHelsinki Noir by James Thompson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The fourteen story collection of “Helsinki Noir” is the latest installment of the Akashic Noir Series, focusing around the Finnish capital.  Edited by expat James Thompson, also a contributor, the stories range from dark and brutal to partially sunny and almost positive in overall tone.

The main characters of the stories generally are on the criminal side, including a few police officers, which slant the stories more to the dark side of the spectrum.  Even when the main character is on the right side of the law, their perspective is darkened by their years fighting crime or living a psychologically scared life.  If the tone of noir is meant to be dark, this collection definitely qualifies.

The further one gets into the books, the overall quality of the stories improves even though two of the best 5 stories appear early on in the volume.  The characters and story structures are for nearly all excellent with only an exception there and there.  If anything the biggest dislike of this book was amount of graphic sexual content that stressed my personal comfort zone.

Overall "Helsinki Noir" is a good collection of short stories that inclines towards being very good with only one exception.  Not knowing what to expect, I was both surprised and disappointed with what I encountered in reading.  Given the very dark tone of the majority of the stories, be prepared for some dark times.  However if dark criminal stories are not your cup of tea then I suggest passing.

I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.


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To read my thoughts on each story see the links below:

http://thechannelofmattries.blogspot.com/2014/12/review-helsinki-noir-part-i_3.html

http://thechannelofmattries.blogspot.com/2014/12/review-helsinki-noir-part-ii.html

http://thechannelofmattries.blogspot.com/2014/12/review-helsinki-noir-part-iii.html

http://thechannelofmattries.blogspot.com/2014/12/review-helsinki-noir-part-iv.html

Review: Helsinki Noir Part IV

The Broker by Karo Hamalainen
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A fantastic story of greed meeting greedier, youth getting schooled by the experienced, and all set up by an intriguing prelude. Unlike the rest the collection, this story features two criminals who see each other as a way to make more money without bloodshed or gore. Definitely the best story of the collection.

The Script by Antti Tuomainen
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The penultimate story in the collection is another strong entry as a major Finnish producer who is into drugging his conquests goes out on the town. Unfortunately he doesn't know he's not the only one out hunting, though by the end it's definitely too late as he gets a taste of own concoction and a lot more.


Stolen Lives by Johanna Holmstrom
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The final story of the collection is psychological journey as a woman dealing with long-term PTSD, who has decided her neighbor doesn't deserve the husband and child she has. Following the woman's stalking of her victim is wonderfully written, however the formatting of the dialogue is the only thing that brings this story slightly down from a 4 star review.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Review: Helsinki Noir Part III

Snowy Sarcophagus by Jukka Petaja
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

After a wonderful establishment of the setting, the story goes off kilter a tad once the main character is introduced. The investigation of the death of two Nigerian women found in snowmen outside a church is complicated by both illegal immigration as well as the assigned police detective's sour look on life, which takes a little too much time that makes the resolution to the case seemed rush when it is not.

Dead Cinch by Tuomas Luis
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The central character gets stuff on his mind at his AA meeting and notices someone new at the meeting. The new man follows him and strikes up a conversation in which the man just lets things out, all centered off his wife which lead to drinking. A few weeks later his new friend gives details on why he drinks, because he likes killing people but only does it once a year. A deal is struck, instructions given, and everything seems to go as planned until the surprising twist.

Good Intentions by Jesse Itkonen
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The story focuses on the main character's attempt to help women in situations of domestic abuse. In the end his attempts are unappreciated and he decides not to bother anymore when at least one woman goes looking for another "real man". A well written story and given more meaning because of the recent public attention that has entire issue has received after this story was written.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Review: Helsinki Noir Part II



Hard Rain by Tapani Bagge
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The central character, plus narrator, is a racist soon out of work security guard that aims to sweep the foreign and weak elements of Finnish live out into the sea. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, the "hard rain" of the title only lasts 5 minutes and ends with a cruel twist.

The Silent Woman by Joe L. Murr
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A wannabe musician deals with his girlfriend who is upset with her rich father, who want let her go to L.A. to pursue modeling. From the beginning, the course to the narrative is obvious and it is no surprise that the rich dad dies. The end of the relationship is also obvious, however the twist ending embodies the story's title as does the musicians' thoughts has he leaves her.

Little Black by Teemu Kaskinen
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A racist police officer uses his position to exploit foreign women for sexual favors. Although the officer's power trip and sudden demise leaves the reader happy for the women who brought it about, the sexual details are a little over the top for my tastes and I almost skipped the rest of the story twice.

Silent Night by Jarkko Sipila
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The grisly death of a recently released gang member spoils Christmas Eve for several police detectives. The investigation and the detective's use of it to keep from thinking about their lonely personal lives is a fantastic narrative as is use of details in the beginning before the call to the murder leads to the culprit.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: Helsinki Noir Part I



Jenkem by Pekka Hiltunen
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The opening story of this anthology collection features a gang of juvenile delinquents led by a 33-year old who lies about his age, who narrates. The narration is a bit off putting, especially if one has no clue about huffing "culture". However the ending is blatantly foreshadowed just a few pages before the story's conclusion thus rendering most of the story as elaborate window dressing. When I started this book, a story like this wasn't what I expected.

Kiss of Santa by Leena Lehtolainen
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This story was what I thought the collection was going to be like. The main character a female private detective, who can convincingly mimic a man especially in a Santa suit. A department store is getting robbed from the inside and the detective is hired to find the culprits. The detective's investigation is well crafted and the resolution to the not-so-nefarious crime wave is unfortunately ruined by the titular kiss.

The Hand of Ai by James Thompson
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The contribution by the anthology's editor, like the first story focuses on the crime but with better narrative flow. Some interesting details at the beginning of the story come into full focus by the end, a feature of a fantastically structured short story. The adolescent titular Ai, narrates the story giving a horrifying autobiography of his life up to when the reader first meetings him.

St. Peter's Street by Riika Ala-Harja
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

This story follows a young woman having a hard time with a break up, unfortunately this very short story really didn't make any sense except for the woman being delusional.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The restoration of English magic by 'Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell' is a wonderful alternate history fantasy novel set in Regency England during and after the Napoleonic wars.  The decade-long crafting that Susanna Clarke put into her genre mixing first novel rewards the fantasy reader with something different than they have read before.

The premise of the novel is that magic returns to England after disappearing two centuries with the works of Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange, who then put their 'powers' to work in helping Great Britain in the fight against the Emperor Napoleon first on the sea and then on land.  However, the personalities and magical philosophies of Strange and Norrell are completely different from one another which leads to the split of their pupil-tutor relationship and mild rivalry especially when it came to the figure of the mysterious Raven King of Northern England.  Intertwining with the main story arc are numerous secondary characters with their own arcs that combine in the novel climax that the reader doesn't see coming but is satisfying once completed.

Clarke's combination of faux-Austen and faux-Victorian prose give the novel an authentic feel to set-up the alternate historic aspects of the novel as well as the class distinctions between various secondary characters that come into play.  One of the greatest aspects of the novel is the worldbuilding that Clarke puts into her story, which can be seen in around 200 footnotes that cover everything from reference books of magic to folklore concerning various English magicians including the Raven King.  The distinctions between northern England, the former realm of the human-fairy Raven King, and southern England/London is not just rural and urban but romanticism and rationalism concerning magic that Clarke uses effectively.

Although the faux-Austen/faux-Victorian prose does give the story an authentic feel, it does take time for the reader unfamiliar with them to get use to.  Although Clarke creates a wonderful alternate history of Regency England using magic to face Napoleon, she does forget to take in account the effects of the long reign of the Raven King in northern England would impact all of British history due to the dynastic implications of various nobles not influencing the politics of England and Scotland because they no longer have their lands.  While one can forgive Clarke's mistakes in alternate history because she focused on the bigger story, the one thing I personally was upset with was that the reader wasn't given a name for the antagonistic thistle-down haired gentleman.

Upon completion of 'Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell', I felt very satisfied with the time I spent reading this wonderful novel.  Adding fantasy to Regency England and the influencing the Napoleonic wars really awakened the history buff in me adding to my enjoyment of the novel.  If you are an open-minded fantasy reader, I recommended this book to you.


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Book Review: Lincoln in the World by Kevin Peraino

Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American PowerLincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power by Kevin Peraino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The role that Abraham Lincoln had in transforming the presidency has primarily been viewed in the realm of domestic and of war powers while neglecting his contributions to the presidency in the role of foreign affairs.  In "Lincoln in the World", author Kevin Peraino aimed to explore Lincoln's dealing with the international community while engaging in a civil war that threatened to involve other nations.

Peraino divided his book into six sections, five of which he compared Lincoln to an individual in which he went up against on a particular problem in a matter of foreign policy and sixth in which the 'duality'  of Lincoln's foreign policy was examined in the career of his private secretary John Hay.  The five individuals Peraino matched up against Lincoln were his law partner Billy Herndon, his Secretary of State William Seward, Prime Minister  Lord Palmerston, journalist Karl Marx, and Emperor Napoleon III.  While the list of individuals Peraino selected seem to promise a quality read, unfortunately the results were mixed.

The selects involving Herndon and Seward were Peraino's attempt to first show Lincoln's developing thoughts in foreign policy involving the United States while the latter was a rehashing of working relationship of Lincoln and his Secretary of State.  While laudable in attempting show Lincoln's evolving thoughts on foreign policy, Peraino seemed to be reaching in Herndon's section and sounded second-rate while covering Seward, especially in comparison to other recent books.  Once Peraino focused on the international scene, the book gained momentum as he compared and contrasted Lincoln with Palmerston and Napoleon III.  While examining how Palmerston and Napoleon III lived and related to the world was fascinating and were the highlight of the book especially as they dealt with an incorrect assessment of Lincoln and Seward's working relationship as well underestimating Lincoln.  The worst stumble of the book was Peraino's inclusion of Karl Marx as a way to bring in Lincoln's attempts to shape opinion for the North on foreign populace as well as Marx indirectly affecting Lincoln's decision to emancipate the South's slaves.  Peraino's examination of John Hay's diplomatic career was an odd conclusion and was an attempt to show how Lincoln changed the nation's foreign policy, but came off as more sentimental then proving an argument.

"Lincoln in the World" had a promising premise, unfortunately Peraino did deliver in both argument and overall structure giving the reader a puzzling read that is only saved by the biographies and philosophies of other world leaders both political and intellectual.

I received a free paperback edition of this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.


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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Book Review: Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury by Paul Strohm

Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to CanterburyChaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury by Paul Strohm
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

GOODREADS FIRST READS REVIEW

The importance of Geoffrey Chaucer on English literature cannot be measured, but if not for one bad year both Chaucer and the history of English literature could have been remembered completely differently.  Paul Strohm writes in his new book, “Chaucer’s Tale”, that if not for the rapidly changing political environment in 1386 Chaucer’s life might have not provided him the opportunity to write “The Canterbury Tales”.

Strohm begins his microbiography of Chaucer by placing the author within English society as first the son of a wine importer then a courtier and finally a bureaucrat.  Chaucer’s connects to the growing Lancastrian family through family connections while politically aligned to Richard II are discussed in connection to the position he received in London.  Chaucer’s professional career in London, along with his sideline interest in composing words into poems and tales, is discussed before he is transitioned into a Member of Parliament for the fateful 1386 Parliament.

After setting the stage, Strohm shows how Chaucer became adrift in the political storm that was just beginning in 1386 which resulted in him losing his job and home leading to a change of focus.  At this point Strohm gives a glimpse into the emerging culture of English letters in the late fourteenth century and how Chaucer approached the concept of fame before and after 1386.  Strohm then relates how Chaucer did something completely different in relation to audience and creating the spark of English literature that would continue through Shakespeare through Joyce to today.

The research that Strohm put into this book is excellent, even with the lack of sources because of the seven centuries gap.  The detailed descriptions of life in medieval London were fascinating as well as the political drama going into the background that impacted Chaucer for good and ill.  However this detail in setting background for 1386 dominates the first half of the book leaving the reader waiting for Strohm to show how 1386 resulted in Chaucer’s masterpiece.  The biggest fault of the book is that Strohm continually adds detail after detail along with supporting evidence to facts he has already proven for background while not advancing towards the central thrust of the book.

“Chaucer’s Tale” shows how a minor individual in the political landscape of medieval England became a literary giant that is better remember than the kings, lords, and gentlemen of his time.  Paul Strohm shows Chaucer’s radically new idea that spawned “The Canterbury Tales” and jumped started English literature, however he takes his time to get to the point while over describing the background of life and events leading to the fateful Parliament of 1386 and the consequences of it.


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Monday, November 3, 2014

Book Review: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first volume of The Lord of the Rings begins the journey of Frodo Baggins from the peaceful paradise-like Shire towards the dark hellish land of Mordor, thus launching modern fantasy.  Author J.R.R. Tolkien took almost 20 years to write the sequel to his bestseller The Hobbit during which he created the entire history of Middle Earth from The Creation to the Bilbo's return from the Lonely Mountain to provide his epic with a grounding in a real place.  It is in 'The Fellowship of the Ring' that the reader gets a livid picture of the world of Middle Earth.

'The Fellowship of the Ring' contains the first two books of six that Tolkien divided The Lord of the Rings into.  The first details the passing of the Ring to Frodo and the journey from the Shire to Rivendell with the Nazgul in pursuit.  The second details the forming, journey, and breaking of the Company of the Ring through death and separation.  Throughout Fellowship, Tolkien continually builds the world the characters inhabit by having them relate history and lore of the part of the world they are traversing.

Unlike The Hobbit, Fellowship feels like it has been transcribed not from an oral tradition but from a dry history that the author attempted to fashion into a story.  Throughout the entire volume this can be see in the tone of the writing, which is not a laid back, but one of building even throughout action sequences such as the flight to Rivendell and race through Moria.  Although J.R.R. Tolkien intended his fantasy epic to be published whole, it was a publisher decision to split the tale that in some ways gives the entire volume this odd tone from the first page to the last.  Where the reader is left on the last page of 'The Fellowship of the Ring' is not suppose to be where they are left, they are suppose to go directly to book three to continue the story.  With this in mind, the reader better appreciate what Fellowship is and what it is not.

In and of itself 'The Fellowship of the Ring' is not a whole book, it is the first third of a complete story and thus is has to be judged on this.  Within the pages of Fellowship, Tolkien gives the reader a vivid sense of the world of Middle Earth and what is at stake on Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring.  While the action and adventure are present, they are behind the character development needed for greater needs later on in the overall story of The Lord of the Rings.  In Fellowship, Tolkien's epic has a very good beginning that will keep readers looking forward to see things develop in The Two Towers.


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Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: Henry VIII by William Shakespeare

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The last play by Shakespeare, in association with John Fletcher, features the court drama of Henry VIII and the individuals that vied for power in Tudor government. The drama of the Buckingham's fall, the divorce, Wolsey's fall, and the veiled intrigue surrounding the Reformation are all there, but pains are kept to make Henry virtuous and imply the innocence of Anne Bullen so that her daughter the future Queen Elizabeth be seen in a positive light. Not long after the Tudor dynasty ended did that drama of the period be given over to popular entertainment.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee

The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of BeautyThe Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

GOODREADS FIRST READS REVIEW

The Renaissance is always seen by popular culture as the reestablishment of learning and art after the lull of the Dark and Middle Ages, whether this correct or not it is the view Alexander Lee takes on the outset of his book "The Ugly Renaissance."  Lee focuses on exposing the dark underbelly of the Renaissance period hidden behind the veneer of the wondrous art that we only view today.

Lee uses the lives of various artists and the work they did to illustrate the various facets of the ugly Renaissance from the vast poverty and inequality to sex and scandals, of corrupt bankers to murderous warlords patronizing fabulous works of art along side irreligious popes and priests who hide their scandalous ways by showing the grandiose moments in church history whether based on fact or fiction, and how art was used to further bigotry and prejudice of any race or culture not white, Christian, and European.

The moments in history that Lee highlights at first seems to show the greatness of popular view of the Renaissance, but then Lee shows that all is not what it seems in the highlighted moments.  While everything Lee brings forth backs up his assertions these moments aren't exactly new to those interested in history, which unfortunately makes "The Ugly Renaissance" a rehashing of history that many already know to be true.  While Lee can be given credit for attempting to inform the wider public of what also happened during the Renaissance besides the masterpieces of da Vinci and Michelangelo, his prose is dull that even I had to stop myself from zoning out several times.

The history of the Renaissance world, beyond the artistic and literary masterpieces most remember, for the popular crowd is a laudable effort by Lee.  However the tone of the overall book and the dull prose, undermine the overall produce for students of history that want to go beyond "popular" history.  So while this book has good information, be aware of the prose and tone before you read.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: The Tempest by William Shakespeare

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The romantic tragicomedy is a playful delight that uses illusion and magic that begins, drives, and completes the three plots featured in this play. The interplay between all the characters whether involving magic or not is engaging and kept me looking forward to seeing what would happen next. Although the at the end Prospero says the whole timeframe occurs in three hours, even with the magic I thought it was more like a few days given Prospero's desire to see Ferdinand earn Miranda's hand. However, this is just a personal aside. This is one of the plays that I've read in my reading of Shakespeare that I'd really like to see on stage rather than an adaptation.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: Cymbeline by William Shakespeare

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Given that no "good" characters die during this play, upon finishing this play I decided that this fits the mold of a romance more than a tragedy. The titular character Cymbeline is at best a minor character compared to those who do most of the action throughout the play, although his decrees are what spurs the narrative of the play. The near tragedy of Imogen and Posthumus is the major arc throughout the play with Pisanio, the Queen, her son Cloten, and Iachimo figuring into the arc. The second and third arcs are is the conflict with Rome and the kidnapping of Cymbeline's sons years before. Within Act V all three of these arcs interact with one another until resolved in the final scene. This play is one of those that I would enjoy see on stage or an adaptation of on screen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review: The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

As I finished the last two Acts of this play, I was wondering if this was two plays in one because it went from being a tragic psychological drama to a comedy. The huge shift between the two types essentially at the beginning of Act IV changed my perception of the play from being very good to just plain alright. I guess this is considered one of the 'problem' plays for a reason.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Book Review: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters (Discworld, #6)Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Personally upon finishing "Wyrd Sisters", I felt conflicted about the sixth installment in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.  It wasn't that the story was not good nor that the parodying of various fantasy tropes along with Shakespearean plays weren't funny, but nothing seemed to click throughout the entire book.  The first third of the book felt slow paced before things really started going in the plot but it was a sign of things to come as the comedic situations were amusing but not laugh-out-loud funny like the previous five books.  While a lot of the characters were enjoyable, namely Disc's dwarf bard Hwel, it was Margat Garlick that was off-putting because Pratchett didn't seem to develop her (given she is one of the titular characters) and might have been a reason why the book didn't click.  Overall, "Wyrd Sisters" is amusing but not compared to the previous five Discworld books.


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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: A Lover's Complaint by William Shakespeare

A Lover's Complaint by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Although in the same metre and structure as The Rape of Lucrece, this poem both shorter and more compact in it's plot. A Lover's Complaint is the story of a young woman who is wooed, seduced, and then abandoned by a lover while lamenting the fact that she'd fall for his charms again if given the chance. The short length of the poem while also having a compact plot makes this a better product by Shakespeare, though the quality is not with his other poetry.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review: Sonnets by William Shakespeare

Sonnets by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The 154 sonnets by Shakespeare are the height of his poetic effort. The use of language to keep the rhyming so crisp and at such a high level is masterful. To single out one poem as the best would be impossible given the complexity and subject matter that many of them have. But for me personally, the "Dark Lady" sequence was the best.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I knew when I started "The Catcher in the Rye" that I might miss some of the meaning given that I was probably reading it 15 years too late.  However, I soon found out that I might have completely given up on the book during high school because Holden Caulfield is so annoying that I cheered when first his roommate and then the pimp beat him up.  Getting through this book wasn't a chore, but having waited for over a year with this book on my shelf I felt the need to finish just to see what all the hype was about.  Frankly by the end, the only character in the book I had any sympathy for was Phoebe given that she had no clue that her brother was nuts.

I attempted to think deeply about various symbols or themes in the book, but I soon found myself with a headache trying to figuring how critics could think anything of importance was being written.  After 214 pages, I can say without a doubt this book is all hype and will soon be sold to my local used book store.


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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The tragedy of Coriolanus was a play by Shakespeare that I had heard of and upon finishing it was surprised at how good it was. The titular character is a prideful Roman patrician showing only disdain towards the common folk, who likewise resent him even though he is a military hero. Coriolanus gains his 'official nickname' in a war against Corioli and his rival Tullus Aufidius. After his military success, Coriolanus stands up for election as consul and seemingly gets consent from both patrician and plebeians for the office only for the tribunes to conspire against him leading to his banishment. Coriolanus goes to Corioli to die at the hands of his rival, only to be embraced to lead a campaign against Rome. The only thing that stops Coriolanus is bowing to the pleadings of his mother, on his return to Corioli his pride leads to his murder by Aufidius and his conspirators.

Throughout the play, Coriolanus' pride and resentment of the common people mirrored by the common people in their resentment of him is a strong theme throughout the play. In the end this prideful behavior is his undoing, but Coriolanus doesn't explain his reasons for his disdain which is a plus as the audience knows from the beginning he likes to isolate himself from his fellow Romans. Coriolanus' downfall is tied to his mother who encouraged him to stand for consul leading to his banishment and giving in to her to spare Roman leading to his death in Corioli, though his mother is spared this knowledge at the end of the play. Overall this tragedy stands up better than Hamlet with a titular character the audience understands from the beginning and remains himself throughout.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: Tip and the Gipper by Chris Matthews

Tip and the Gipper: When Politics WorkedTip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked by Chris Matthews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The political give and take between “Tip and The Gipper” is the subject of Chris Matthews’ best-selling book.  The host of MSNBC’s Hardball is gives a first-hand account of how the Democratic Speaker of the House worked with and fought against the iconic Republican President for six years.

Although Matthews writes about both men, his majority point-of-view is from Speaker Tip O’Neill who he served as chief of staff.  However this doesn't make the book a tale of the heroic O’Neill facing off with the villainous Reagan, instead it was of two men from opposite points on the American political spectrum who held true to their convictions while still finding room to compromise with one another.  Matthews’ give insightful biographies of both men to hints about how both men thought when dealing with the domestic and foreign policy issues they faced.

Throughout the book Matthews does insert himself into narrative of events, since he was a part of the Speaker’s staff and author of the book this should is not an overall negative aspect of the book.  The path Matthews took in his career leading to his position on the Speaker’s staff and many of his earlier exploits are interesting, but in the latter half of the book some of his own biographical items are just filler that didn't need to be included.  Unfortunately most of the second half of the book seems Matthews is trying to extend his book with examples between the end of 1983 to the beginning of 1986.

Overall, “Tip and The Gipper” is a fun, informative read especially when focused from 1981 to 1983.  Matthew’s writing is engaging and keeps the book moving, even though the rough patches in the latter half of the book.


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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: Cities of Empire by Tristram Hunt

Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban WorldCities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World by Tristram Hunt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an Advanced Reader's Edition of this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The legacy of the economic and political practices of the growth of the British Empire and the implemented of those practices in colonial cities are at the root of Tristram Hunt’s “Cites of Empire”.  Instead of looking at the British Empire as either a good or bad “thing”, Hunt examines how it grew and the impact it has on our world today while not forgetting the motivations of those who implemented the policies in the first place.

Hunt examines 10 cities connected to the spread of Britain’s empire around the world, giving each city its own exclusive chapter.  While each city is given its own history, Hunt shows how the British experiences in one city affected their decisions in others he was writing about.  The history of a particular city is not the only thing covered with the individuals who impacted it; Hunt gives the reader a wonderful portrait of the cultural, social, and architectural developments along with those who promoted them.

While Hunt’s descriptive writing of the architectural are wonderful, the text would have been enhanced with illustrations of some kind of the building he was describing (thought as I was reading an advanced reader’s edition of the book there might be some in for sale edition).  The maps at the opening of each chapter helped to place the buildings and other geographical issues into context if one got confused for any reason.  Although Hunt’s insights into the society of the cities he writes about, at times the information he writes feels like a redux of previous cities’ and so slowed my reading as thought back on previous chapters.

Upon finishing “Cities of Empire” I had a better sense of the imperial history of British colonization, a topic in history that I have personally wanting to know more about.  Although not perfect, Tristram Hunt’s book gives the reader a history of the British Empire and its legacy in the 21st Century without judging or defending as good or evil.  I whole recommend this book to those interested in the spread of British culture around the world.


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Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Pericles by William Shakespeare

Pericles by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The collaboration between Shakespeare and George Wilkins, isn't bad but it isn't really good either. Overall the journeys and misfortunes that follow Pericles are interesting, but frankly a little too long to get to the point or frankly the plot. Gower's narration could have just been the story telling by itself to be honest. If I ever have the chance to see a stage performance or an adaptation on screen then I might change my mind.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Review: All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare

All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

This play is hard to have a strong feeling about. The main plot is that of Helena winning the honor a noble-born husband by curing the French King, but her selection of Bertram whom she had grown up with as a ward to his widowed mother rejects her to go to Italy for war and whores. Helena follows his wayward husband and enlists other women to bed her own husband and force him to honor her. The comedic element of Parolles provides an interesting subplot, but the comedy went a little too much at times. Overall the play is jumble of things that really must depend on a stage performance or adaptation.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"City of Bones", the first book of The Mortal Instruments series, is based on an interesting premise however the overall book is essentially mediocre in plot and characters that are not well rounded.

Author Cassandra Clare envisioned a supernatural world hidden from the mundane world through various magical means, while an interesting twist on a well-used idea (not just by a certain author from Edinburgh), in execution it was a tad flawed.  Her main characters, Clary Fray and Jace Wayland, are annoying for various reasons but mostly being illogical and a 24/7 jerk.  While Clary finds herself going from normal teenager to learning her "hidden history", she does some pretty stupid things that at time contradict previous actions and opinions she had just done or thought.  Jace from the start is a major jerk, who never seems to change, even with the major revelations at the end of the book.  Given their relationship development through the book, I wouldn't equate it to Ron/Ginny it was more Luke/Leia and to be honest it's hard to say who did the reveal better Clare or Lucas (if you can't believe I just made that comparison I dare to you to watch Jedi again).

A lot of the "surprises" and "twists" in the plot were either plain to see, the reveal of who Clary's real father is was pretty easy to guess and the character who turned out to be a werewolf was also easy to spot, while others were plainly botched and hard to read, the gay character reveal for instance.  While the main antagonist was able to get away with the prized item that drove the plot it left the story the open ended to be continued, however the epilogue with Clary's interactions with Jace, Alec, and Isabelle was cringe worthy in parts.

Overall, my opinion of "City of Bones" is simply, meh.


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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review: Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I am going to be honest from the start, I found this play completely lacking in both coherent plot and characterizations of the titular roles. After seeing Shakespeare's portrayal of Antony in Julius Caesar, I looked forward to seeing the character again only to find it someone completely different. Secondly Cleopatra seems a bit bipolar or schizophrenic as she both calculating and love sick, but the two don't mess in the same character. The plot is all over the place and less than halfway through the play I was hoping Octavian would do everyone a favor and beat the two of them quickly to end the pain. I don't think I want to see this play on stage or an adaptation.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: Eisenhower: A Life by Paul Johnson

Eisenhower: A LifeEisenhower: A Life by Paul  Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Eisenhower: A Life” is a concise, yet satisfying look at the life of the Supreme Allied Commander and 34TH President written by noted British historian Paul Johnson.  In a brief 136 pages, the reader gets a better understanding of a man who until recently was pushed into the background of American history.

Given the shortness of the biography, Johnson doesn't waste words as he details Eisenhower’s early life and the beginning of his career.  The path Eisenhower’s career took after the end of the First World War until the United States entry into the Second World War, was detailed enough to show how when the time came Eisenhower was able to keep the Allies on the same page until the end of the conflict.  The years between the war and his presidency were covered sufficiently and angled to show Eisenhower’s increasing interest in deciding to run for high office.  Eisenhower’s years in the White House were focused mostly on the international scene with only brief interruptions of domestic affairs.  Johnson covers the last years of Eisenhower’s in a page to finish the book.

While Johnson doesn't skimp attention on anything detail of Eisenhower’s life, he doesn't really go into detail due to the brevity of his text.  While this primer-like decision is fine, the occasions when Johnson used his own conclusions without detail proof to back it up hurts the overall effort.  Johnson’s conservative bent is seen throughout Eisenhower’s tenure as president of Columbia University and his White House years, although it was not an overly negative aspect to the whole work it could have been made less blatant.

Overall, “Eisenhower: A Life” is not a book for those looking for a serious in-depth look at Dwight D. Eisenhower in both the military and politics.  However, this book is good primer for those interested in the 34TH President of the United States for general knowledge of the man himself and of the time he lived in.


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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: Angry Optimist by Lisa Rogak

Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon StewartAngry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart by Lisa Rogak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

GOODREADS FIRST READS REVIEW

The life and times of Jon Stewart are more than the last fifteen years of helming The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as author Lisa Rogak writes.  The unlikely rise of the short wise-cracking Jewish kid from Jersey rising to become one of the most influential, and comedic, voices of political commentary is a told expertly and without bias.

Given Stewart’s impact the last fifteen years, Rogak could have easily just given a brief synopsis of his life prior to January 1999 instead she spent the a third of the book detailing Stewart’s childhood, collegiate years, and life before and after deciding to go into comedy.  Rogak gives the reader as glimpse to Stewart as a young man that will affect how he helmed The Daily Show, including the triumphs and the many failures that he experienced throughout the 1980s and 90s.

Once Rogak gets to Stewart’s tenure on The Daily Show, instead of just detailing the next decade and a half, she shows how Stewart made the show more in his style and how he was hands on than previous host Craig Kilborn.  Throughout the last two-thirds of the book, Rogak tackles The Daily Show years not strictly chronologically but as a mixture of chronology and themes.  This approached allowed Rogak to give the reader a fuller understand of Stewart and The Daily Show as a whole.

Rogak was very evenhanded in her approach to the overall view of Stewart, mixing praise and criticism from critics and how the viewing audience has seen Stewart.  Triumphs and embarrassments are told in their detail as well has controversies surrounding the show from his interview style, to the lack of female writers, and his liberal bias.  And as Stewart seems on the verge of a major shakeup in his professional life, Rogak writes about his possible transition to films as director not actor.

Given Jon Stewart’s continued presence within media, Lisa Rogak did an wonderful job in writing about his life and career.  Although it is hard for an author not to have some bias for their subject, Rogak is able to give a balanced portrayal of Stewart in her book from accomplishments to stumbles.   I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the host of The Daily Show.


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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

Sourcery (Discworld, #5)Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again the most inept wizard in reality must face the end of the world as Rincewind goes up against the first sourcerer on the Disc in millennia, who just happens to be 10 years old.  Terry Pratchett takes Rincewind, along with the readers, on an epic quest to save the Disc and wizardry that will obviously have epic failures with hilarious results.

Along with Rincewind is Conina, daughter of Cohen the Barbarian, the greatest thief in on the Disc who wants to be a hairdresser and Nijel, an aspiring Barbarian hero.  Along the way they encounter slave trading pirates, a villainous vizier, an aspiring poet emir, a magic carpet with lamp.  For part of the journey Rincewind is accompanied by Luggage who gets annoyed and leaves to begin its own interesting journey in the desert of Khali before wanting to return to Rincewind's side.  The situations and conversations that all the characters have are top notch hilarious throughout the book, save for the vignettes of the drunkenness of three of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse that dragged on a little too long.

Overall at the end of Sourcery, the reader has a smile on his face and can't wait to see how Pratchett hilariously gets Rincewind out of the predicament he's in and what Luggage will do next.


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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

"The Scottish Play", the shortest of Shakespeare's plays but one of the best known of all his tragedies. Obviously not close to history, but nonetheless a great play. The titular character is front and center throughout the play, but has strong secondary characters like his wife Lady Macbeth and Banquo followed by Macduff. Although the tragic theme could be considered ambition or corruption of the moral order or giving away one's free will in the case of adhering to the weird sisters' prophecy, in any case the heroic Macbeth of Act I is turned into a corrupt, paranoid tyrant by the end of the play. However until like Richard III, he is not given the benefit of a death scene. This along with the short changing of Malcolm and absence of Fleance (though in the 1983 BBC production his is the last image before the credits) does hurt the play, but not by much.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Review: Avengers vs. X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis

Avengers vs. X-MenAvengers vs. X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title "Avengers vs. X-Men" alone brings to mind many ideas and debates about who would win a contest, especially in light of how some have moved from one time to another over the course of Marvel history.  The epic event "Avengers vs. X-Men" is the result not only of recent events in the Marvel Universe but over the whole course of the Marvel Universe and how each side interrupts the advent of the Phoenix Force upon the Earth.

Overall the story is coherent through the entire saga, though there are several rough patches that disrupt things from time to time.  The custody of Hope Summers, the Mutant Messiah, and future host of the Phoenix Force is the trigger the conflict between the two teams.  But things only get interesting when Tony Stark seeking a scientific way to stop the Force instead makes things worse by splitting it into five pieces that inhabit five different X-Men.  The mistrust of the Phoenix Five's work and intentions followed by the mistrust of the Five of non-mutants is a recipe for disaster that the darkening effect of the Phoenix Force uses to its advantage to become whole.

Those not versed in all the recent events of the Marvel Universe up to the start of Avengers vs. X-Men won't be lost as the writers deftly put in hints without going into just plain dumping information on the reader.  The subtly of the Dark Phoenix, actions of others to cause conflict between members of the Five, and the mistrust of the Five amongst themselves over time was a wonderful subplot upon looking back upon the story.  The action and battles are drawn wonderfully, however they come at the cost of character development especially when it comes to the root cause of the conflict as well as the ultimate solution, Hope, who disappears the scene or is in the background for a large portion of the middle third of the story.  In addition, the mistrust of the X-Men to the Five resulting in them aligning with the Avengers is alluded to but not seen which hurt the concluding chapters of the saga.

Even with some story missteps, the overall work of "Avengers vs. X-Men" is very good and a delight to read.


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Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This problematic tragedy of the noble Timon who gives too lavishly to false friends, who abandon him when his wealth is spent is an interesting but only okay play. The dramatic change in character for Timon throughout the play was a fascinating arc, but the subplot of Alcibiades' banishment then war on Athens through the last two Acts of the play derails the overall work. When Timon dies off-stage, the ending of the play limps to the finish after a very promising start.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: Band of Giants by Jack Kelly

Band of Giants: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America's IndependenceBand of Giants: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America's Independence by Jack Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

The soldiers of the Continental Army were not professionals when the American Revolution began in 1775, neither were their commanding officers.  But as Jack Kelly writings in his book “Band of Giants”, these amateur soldiers took on and defeated the greatest army in the world to win independence for their nation.

Kelly’s chronicle of the Revolutionary generation’s military journey starts in 1754 following an inexperienced George Washington as he ignites the French and Indian War and the military lessons he learned.  As each significant leader is introduced within the narrative, Kelly gives the reader insight into their previous military experience or lack thereof.  As the war goes on, Kelly explains how the commanders learned through failure and success that eventually resulted in the victorious siege of Yorktown.

The best part of this book is that Kelly just doesn't follow Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, Horatio Gates, and Benedict Arnold who always seem to be at the fore of Revolutionary history.  The lives and careers of Henry Knox, Nathaniel Greene, ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne, Daniel Morgan, John Stark, Charles Lee, and many others are given their just do in the relating of events during the war.

Yet there were sections of the book that seemed that Kelly let stray from the overall thrust of the book.  Kelly introduced the wives and family of many of the men he follows in the book; overall this is not a bad thing since at times family situations did interfere with a commander’s duties.  However at times, the details Kelly relates while interesting little facts were just that and nothing more in the overall context of the book.  Another glaring error was Kelly shifting from chronicling the course of events and why the individual made the decisions he made, only to then suddenly armchair quarterback the decision before continuing on the narrative.  These moments were few and far between, but left the reader scratching their head.

Overall “Band of Giants” is a very readable, researched, general history of the American Revolution and the commanding officers of the Continental Army.  Although author Jack Kelly does stray briefly into unrelated details and on a couple of occasions interjects his opinion, those errors cannot take away from a well written book that introduces the reader to a better understanding of the history of the American Revolution.


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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: King Lear by William Shakespeare

King Lear by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The tragedy of King Lear is one considered one of Shakespeare's greatest plays and after finishing it, I understand why. The great King decides to divide his realm between his daughters, but in his hubris asks how much they love him and the results sow the seeds of the destruction not only of himself but his family. Within the context of the interplay between Lear and his daughters is also of the Earl of Gloucester and his two sons, Edgar and Edmund. Like Lear, Gloucester allows himself to be fooled starting a chain of events that results in his own downfall and despair. The two story arcs intertwine along with the banished, yet disguised Kent who attempts to help the King his loyal regain his sanity and bring to justice those who have done himself and others to evil. However, Kent's story comes to unsatisfying end and Cordelia's French connection doesn't make any sense save getting her out of the play for two Acts. Despite these personal criticisms, King Lear was a fantastic read and a must see on stage or adaption.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Hallowed Hunt (Chalion, #3)The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third venture into the Quintarian Universe by Lois McMaster Bujold introduces animal magic that gives "The Hallowed Hunt" it's name.  The reader follows Ingrey kin Wolfcliff as he first investigates the death of the youngest son of the hallowed king of the Weald only to find himself mired in a conspiracy involving the ancient animal magic of the Old Weald that he is already personally familiar with.

From the first page the narrative hardly lets the reader take a breathe as the story unfolds before them thanks to the great craft of Bujold.  The introduction of the animal magic of the Old Weald does take time to understand both for the characters and the readers, though this might have been the intention of the author from the start.  However, the animal magic itself is a wonderful addition to the Universe that Bujold created.  "The Hallowed Hunt" is a solid, good story that only suffers when compared to the first two books in the Quintarian Universe because there were no already familiar characters the reader knew from either previous book like there had been in "Paladin of Souls".

After finishing this book, I felt a great sadness that Bujold hasn't written another venture into this fantastic world.  If you haven't read any of the books in this series, you're missing out.


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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review: Othello by William Shakespeare

Othello by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

If I had to boil this review down to one word it would be: envy. Although Othello is the titular character, Iago is the play's central character. Iago's enviousness towards his Moorish commander results in him destroying numerous lives to get revenge for his lot in life. Through Iago's enviousness other character's enviousness comes is exposed to the audience and manipulated by Iago for his own ends like Roderigo whose purpose is used up Iago "vengeance" kills for attempting to murder Cassio.

Iago's interactions with Desdemona, Emilia, Cassio, and Othello continue his grand manipulations, through Act III sees the him at his best. In fact Act III is truly one of the best Acts I've personally read during my Shakespeare read-through and if anything I would see a production or adaptation of this play just for Act III alone.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book Review: Mort by Terry Pratchett

MortMort by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Death takes on an apprentice then takes some time off vacation that results in some interesting events on the Disc in the fourth book of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.  The idea of having the Disc's Grim Reaper as a major character who is interested in experiencing the "fleshy" side of things could have turned into disaster if not handled right, but Pratchett just uses it to create more laughs and hilarious situations for not only Death but his apprentice Mort, daughter Ysabell, and servant Albert.  The mistakes of Mort as he tries to properly fulfill the role of his boss and his resulting continual screw ups in trying to fix his mistakes without informing Death while dealing with two other living occupants of Death's timeless domain.

Ever since watching the miniseries based on Hogfather, I have been waiting to read a Discworld book in which Death was the central character and I wasn't disappointed.  After finishing this book I can't wait to see what else Pratchett has up his sleeve for Discworld.


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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Book Review: Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin

Infinity GauntletInfinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Infinity Gauntlet is one of those comic events that makes an impact when it debuts and then casts a long shadow in the universe in which it is set.  The story within the six issue collection is very well written and illustrated as it shows the effects of Thanos' use of the Gauntlet as the universe's new deity and as Marvel's heroes, villains, and cosmic entities battle to save existence.  Starlin's use of foreshadowing in the saga itself is well done for the conclusion of the entire story by reminding readers of previous conflicts, however this also undermines the entire volume.  Background of how Thanos achieved gaining possession of the Gauntlet is a big missing piece that leaves a hole in the narrative that hurts the collection for first time readers like myself.  But once a reader like myself is able to see how Thanos gained possession of the Gauntlet then this collection will really shine.


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Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

Paladin of Souls (Chalion, #2)Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Paladin of Souls", the second chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion trilogy is just as fantastic as "The Curse of Chalion" and maybe slightly better.  Shifting the focus from Cazaril and royal court, Bujold followed the formerly mad dowager royina Ista through a false pilgrimage into the heart of a war in which the mortal, demonic, and the divine are twisted together.

Set three years after the first book, the book begins with Ista having finished with the funeral rites for her own mother and dealing with stigma of her former madness.  Wanting to just escape her childhood home, later asylum, Ista uses the uses the idea of a religious pilgrimage for the purpose if only for a little while.  But hardly has it begun when her party is first attacked by demonic and then enemy forces.  After being made a special prisoner, Ista is rescued like in a children's tale by Arhys dy Lutez, the commander of the border fortress of Castle Porifors.  And it's only when Ista arrives at Porifors that things get really interesting.

Although Ista is the main character, Bujold returns two other minor characters from the first book the dy Gura brother though the younger Foix is given more attention than his elder brother.  Attending Ista as her lady-in-waiting is "tomboy" courier Liss, who is both feisty and clever as well as been naive creates a well rounded character.  The various inhabitants of Porifors and the their links to the great mystery that Ista and her party stumble upon are ingeniously constructed.  Bujold further develops her theological system, which is one of the most unique and clever that I've personally read.

To be honest I couldn't find a fault in this book, from the first page I was hook and always wanted to follow along with Ista as she attempted to figure out what was happening in both the realms of the mortal and the divine.  I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of fantasy and enjoyed "The Curse of Chalion."


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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This Shakespearean play is considered either a comedy or a "problem play" by well learned authorities, upon finishing this play I side with the latter. There are three main arcs throughout the play: the Duke disguising himself to view his dominion with another perspective, the upright Angelo using his authority for dishonorable behavior, and Lucio. Overall the first two arc intertwined pretty well, though I can't remember if Angelo and the disguised Duke had an interaction before Act V but I think it didn't; if an interaction had taken place it would have made Act V that much better. Lucio could be argued as being a comedic element, but he was just an annoyance throughout most of the play especially Act V.

Given how the play finishes, it isn't a comedy. Because Claudio doesn't die (though others supposedly do/will at play's end), it can't be a tragedy. Thus the label "problem play", maybe in the end it was just a morality play and nothing more or less.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

After finishing reading this play, I did some research about it and learned it is considered one of Shakespeare's "problem plays." Thank goodness I am not the only one who thinks so because this piece was a chore to get through starting with Greek and Trojan characters uttering the names of Roman deities then the love story that made no sense and various characters who couldn't decide to be honorable or comedic. I never want to see this on stage or adapted in any way; like the Brad Pitt film Troy I consider this a travesty to the ancient classic of Homer.